Blog post written by Jerry MIlner, Acting Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, on what he has learned from listening to families involved with the child welfare system.

Rethinking Foster Care <https://rethinkingfostercare.blogspot.com/>

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Hope

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Posted: 20 Aug 2019 09:37 AM PDT

 

*Hope*

 

A few days ago, I walked into a room full of young adults who had spent time in our foster care system, including some who had emancipated after many years. Entering a room full of folks who have experienced our foster care system personally is a familiar situation for me, and it’s one of the greatest privileges and joys of my job.  I meet and speak with as many young people and parents with lived experience as possible.  In fact, this group was the second group of young people I had meet with that day.

 

In looking around the room, I realized that I knew nearly all of the young people in the room*.  I mean I* *really knew them - *Kayla, Joshua, Diego, David, Leroy, Scout, Lupe, Eric-lee and so many others.  I had met these people on multiple occasions. We had been in meetings together, attended the same events, and had lots of conversation.  I had heard their stories, been in photos together, and befriended many on social media (the only reason I stay on social media).  I even mentor one of these young people as best I can although, truth be told, he should be mentoring me.

 

I was struck by the reality that in two short years, these incredible young people have become an indispensable part of my world.  Their experiences and wisdom are now integrated into my experience and wisdom - an unexpected gift.

 

As always, the staff of the organization or agency holding the meetings I attend thanked me profusely for making the time to attend, to listen to the young people, to make them a priority in my busy schedule, and so on.

 

When this happens I always smile politely and say what a pleasure it is, but the response swirling in my head is, *really*?  You’re *really *thanking me for doing this?

 

If listening to and making an effort to understand the voices of those we purport to serve are not our priorities, what should our priorities be?

 

If we do not make time to meet with them and give them the respect of a system that has alternately aided and failed them, what should we make time for?

 

If we do not use the wisdom and words that people with lived experience share with us to guide our decisions and polices, then what should guide them?

 

In early August, the Children’s Bureau issued Information Memorandum 19-03 that calls on the field to solicit and use the voices of parents and youth who have experienced the child welfare system first-hand.  We provided specific recommendations on how it can be done and why we believe it is foundational to our work.

 

It will not happen unless we consciously cede space for it to happen and commit every day to ensure their voices are sought out and heard.

 

It may not always be easy or comfortable to give up our thinking that *we know best* and to share decision-making with those whose lives are so deeply affected by our work.

 

It may not comport with our crisis-driven work days to step back and listen.

 

But the value that their voices bring to our programs and services and, ultimately on the outcomes they experience, outweighs the effort and discomfort.

 

A couple of days after that meeting, I walked into another room - this time in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there for another meeting to co-present with a parent with lived experience (who I also feel I know quite well) and a young woman with lived foster care experience (who I look forward to becoming better acquainted with).  My colleague, David Kelly, moderated the panel.  Midway through the session, he asked the three of us a very simple question - *what gives you hope for the future of our child welfare system?*

 

My response was simple.

 

The advocacy and strength of the young adults I met with a few days ago give me hope.

 

Shrounda and Christina, the two remarkable women seated to my left, give me hope.

 

Sharing the stage with *them*rather than other bureaucrats like myself gives me hope.

 

Knowing that their resilience and tenacity were stronger than the difficulties they faced gives me hope.

 

Knowing that they and others like them have answers to our hardest questions gives me hope.

 

Knowing that they are leaders in reshaping child welfare in our country gives me hope.

 

*Hope* *is a powerful thing*.

America's Christian Credit Union - August 13, 2019
America's Christian Credit Union (ACCU), a faith-based financial institution headquartered in Glendora, CA, recently conducted a financial literacy workshop serving foster youth at Pasadena City College (PCC). In keeping with one of its key corporate priorities of building stronger futures, ACCU provided the students with basic financial knowledge. https://www.cuinsight.com/press-release/accu-partners-with-community-college-to-teach-financial-literacy-serving-foster-youth

Held at PCC’s Foothill campus, the sessions covered topics such as balancing a checkbook, building a good credit score, setting financial goals, and budgeting. A dozen ACCU staff members volunteered their time on three consecutive Saturdays—July 13, 20, and 27.
Workshop presenter Rachel, an Accounting staff at ACCU, had personal reasons for her involvement. Having made financial mistakes in the past, Rachel felt she had something to contribute based on her own experience. She was also inspired by her mother, who had grown up in foster care. “When I told my mom what we were doing, she was really excited about it,” recalls Rachel. “She said that as a foster kid you don’t feel like you belong to yourself, and it’s great that ACCU can come alongside and help these young people.”

After more than a decade of declines in the foster care caseload in the United States, cases have risen steadily since 2012.1 Between 2012 and 2017, the number of children living in foster care and entering care increased by 12% and 8%, respectively.1 One proposed explanation for this recent growth is the opioid epidemic, but supporting evidence is scarce.2,3 In this exploratory study, we examine trends in the number of children entering foster care because of parental drug use and describe changes in their characteristics over time.
Research Letter.
Meinhofer, Angélica. Angleró-Díaz, Yohanis.
2019
JAMA Pediatrics - Prepublication
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2737904

This report turns the lens on young people who age out of foster care and explores four areas — education, early parenthood, homelessness and incarceration — where they fare worse than their general population peers. Readers will learn the economic cost of this shortfall and see how targeted interventions can help these youth while also erasing billions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (Annie E. Casey Foundation)
2019
https://www.aecf.org/resources/future-savings/
https://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-futuresavings-2019.pdf

 

New Foster Parents Gain Experience with Incremental Challenges

Policy & Practice - April 01, 2019

The new foster parents are ready for their first foster children. Seemingly, there should be no hesitation. But are these brand new foster parents really ready for any foster child? From a social work and legal perspective, would it be acceptable to put a young sibling group into a foster home if the parents have little or no parenting experience? There is a giant learning curve from licensed foster parent to successful foster parent and it is the obligation of the licensor and case managers to ensure that new foster parents are not overloaded beyond their capabilities.

http://yeshiva.imodules.com/s/1739/images/gid10/editor_documents/new_foster_parents_gain_experience_with_incremental_challenges.pdf?sessionid=c0111e53-2cd9-4e52-952f-371237a9b6c1&cc=1

 

Youth Today - April 22, 2019

Youth homelessness is a pervasive problem throughout the United States, and its rate has steadily risen over the years. According to the Center for American Progress, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are disproportionately affected by homelessness compared to their percentage in the overall population.

https://youthtoday.org/2019/04/homeless-lgbt-youth-how-we-can-fight-their-invisibility-including-youth-of-color/

Brookings - April 24, 2019

The number of children in foster care has risen for the fifth consecutive year, reaching nearly 443,000 children in 2017, in part due to child welfare agencies' response to the rising incidence of parents' opioid addiction. Given this increase in caseload, coupled with the fact that between 30 to 50 percent of foster families step down each year, there is a growing need to prioritize effective recruitment and retention for foster parents, including relative (or kinship) foster parents.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2019/04/24/keeping-up-with-the-caseload-how-to-recruit-and-retain-foster-parents/

Published in Children's Justice Act

This report turns the lens on young people who age out of foster care and explores four areas — education, early parenthood, homelessness and incarceration — where they fare worse than their general population peers. Readers will learn the economic cost of this shortfall and see how targeted interventions can help these youth while also erasing billions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

Read this new report from Annie E. Casey Foundation - click here.

Released January 2019

Advocate - February 16, 2019

They first came to the Legislature as part of a fledgling internship program through the nonprofit Louisiana Institute for Children in Families. But they are expected to be key players this session, as the Legislature debates extending foster care beyond age 18.

https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_cd6e7cb4-3185-11e9-84d3-073002927bd6.html

Published in Children's Justice Act

A new study reveals what many people working in the foster care system have known for years - older children are falling behind their peers who have not experienced foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation collected data across all 50 states and found older children who've been in foster care are on track to face higher levels of joblessness and homelessness as adults. "Older" is defined as 14 and up. And, in Arizona's foster care system, that includes one in five kids.

Study: Fostering Youth Transitions: https://www.aecf.org/resources/fostering-youth-transitions/#summary

 

Published in Children's Justice Act
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