‘Aging out’ of foster care can bring difficulty

‘Aging out’ of foster care can bring difficulty

By Liz Thompson
July 3, 2017
ThisWeekNews

Her mother died of cancer when she was 10. Her father was physically abusive and she was removed from the home. In foster care, she lived in an emergency shelter, an all-girls group home and a co-ed group home.

Lisa Dickson was inspired by these experiences to become an advocate for change. At 16, she was accepted into college — her lifeline into the future.

“I remain forever grateful to Randy Mills, former admissions counselor at the University of Kentucky, for literally walking me down the hall to financial aid and telling them, ‘This girl has no family to help her — this girl needs grants,’ ” said Dickson, now a Westerville resident.

“It sounds great to say that I started college at age 16 — but by age 17, I was homeless due to trying to rescue my former roommate from a group home. This urge to rescue others is so strong that we Ohio foster-care (alumni) currently lead a workshop called ‘When Helping You Is Hurting Me,’ ” Dickson said.

During her time in foster care, Dickson said she often had no voice. Today, she listens to the voices of current and former foster youth. They stand side by side to improve outcomes for people in and from foster care.

Dickson considers it an honor to volunteer as communications chairwoman of Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio, and as co-facilitator of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board. She helped create both groups in 2006. Their initiatives include annual trips to Washington, D.C., to share their hard-won experiences and advocate for policy change, such as ending the “pipeline” from foster care to homelessness.

“What I don’t get is this: I aged out of foster care in 1989 and ended up homeless,” Dickson said. “Why are today’s youths still aging out into homelessness? We could and should and must do better.”

U.S. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Dayton) created the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act as a direct result of one of those visits to Washington.

This act, with no additional spending required, allows foster-care youth who are close to “aging out” of foster care to jump to the front of the waitlist for housing assistance when they reach 16 years old.

ACTION Ohio’s Suits for Success program provides professional attire to current and former foster youths who are preparing to enter the workforce. Suits for Success needs a future storage location for donated suits. The organization welcomes suit donations on an ongoing basis. It often pairs distribution of the suits with job-interview simulations and resume practice.

“Time and time again, our young people tell us that it’s not enough to know what the resources are — they need coaching and guidance regarding how to access them effectively.”

Two such places are Capital Law School’s free Family and Youth Advocacy Center (http://familyyouthlaw.org/fyac.php) for current or former foster youths and Columbus State Community College’s Scholar Network. (http://www.cscc.edu/about/ssi/)

“Even after graduating college, as a foster-care survivor, it can feel lonely to be ‘one of the ones who made it,’ ” Dickson said. “Our young people today deserve to have campus liaisons like Randy to support them.”

Holidays and birthdays can be lonely for current and former foster youths, when many families gather to celebrate.

“I’ve been married for 17 years and have two beloved stepdaughters, but I don’t expect them to understand what the foster-care experience was like for me,” Dickson said.

On Thanksgiving 2007, Dickson and other former foster youths from across the nation traveled to Washington to encourage the federal government to extend foster-care support to age 21. They shared Thanksgiving dinner on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

From 2008 onward, Ohio has held statewide and regional early Thanksgiving dinners for foster-care teens and alumni. Dickson serves as lead planner.

“When we come together as brothers and sisters of the foster-care system, we can encourage and support one another. We celebrate each other’s success and continue to improve outcomes for the next generation.”

Much needs to be done, as an average of 150 children in Franklin County (Ohio) alone age out of foster care every year.

For more information, email info@fosteractionohio.org.

 

 

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Communities shouldn’t forget fostered youths

Communities shouldn’t forget fostered youths

May 8, 2017

By Liz Thompson

This Week News

At age 18, I had a home and family. I still do, 47 years later.

But each year, more than 23,000 18-year-olds age out of the foster-care system, never having been adopted, with neither home nor family.

That is more than the population of Worthington and Canal Winchester combined.

Don’t believe the myth that children are in foster care because they have done something wrong. They are victims who were removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. In 2015, almost 428,000 children were in foster care in the U.S. These children dream of an enduring home.

Ohio Fostering Connection shows grim statistics on Ohio youths aged out of foster care: By age 19, 14 percent have a child; 24 percent work full time; 12 percent work part time; 26 percent had been homeless; 36 percent had been incarcerated; and 53 percent had not finished high school or received their GED.

Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, said she quotes the foundation’s namesake every day: “These children are not someone else’s responsibility — they are our responsibility.”

Deborrha Armstrong, communications director with Franklin County Children Services, said the goal of the agency’s Youth Transition Program is to assist youth 16 and older to live independently.

“During this time, case workers are still a contact for youth,” Armstrong said. “Some families opt to keep children after 18, providing housing and life-skill instruction as a host home. Many more are needed to serve in this capacity or as foster parents.”

Many, at 18, just want out.

“Many opt out of the emancipation transitional program thinking they can do it on their own — they want out of the (welfare) system,” Soronen said.

Ann Bischoff, executive director of Ohio State University’s Star House, agreed with Soronen. The Star House is a drop-in center for people in transition, ages 14-24, who are experiencing homelessness.

“We have a place for everybody,” she said. “Our goal is to establish a relationship with the youth and then help them seek permanent solutions.”

At Star House, young people are able to do laundry, eat, rest, bathe and receive clothing. It also is a place to connect to the services available through other agencies that provide educational, health, financial and food subsidies along with chances to build job-seeking skills.

“Imagine being 18 and walking into a shelter with 110 grown men,” said Sue Villilo, executive director of Faith Mission. “We have a partnership with Huckleberry House to help young adults with the transition into shelter.”

The Huckleberry House has a transitional living program that provides a safe, furnished place to stay for 12 to 18 months while residents work on independent living skills, along with counseling to help with educational and employment goals.

“They shouldn’t have to come back (anywhere) and ask for help,” Soronen said. “Many think, ‘Was I not good enough to be adopted?’ ”

People considering fostering or adoption often fear they won’t get the support they need or feel like they’re jumping into the unknown.

“The adults need to genuinely believe it’s worth it to give a child a home and consider the child’s needs before their own,” Soronen said.

Children Services’ mentoring program helps teens and college-age youths feel connected with positive adult role models in the community.

“We need to bring community back for our children and families. This used to be natural in neighborhoods,” Armstrong said.

“We have a moral obligation to provide a safety net and the core of a safe community for our children,” Soronen said.

Call one of these numbers or visit the websites: mentoring, Children Services, 614-275-2690; foster parenting and serving as a host home, fostercare.fccs.us; adoption, davethomasfoundation.org or 800-275-8832; Star House, 614-826-5868; Huckleberry House 24/7 crisis hotline, 614-294-5553; transitional living program, 614-294-8097.