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House Bill 50: The Fostering Connections Act-Update

You may have read our last post,House Bill 50: The Fostering Connections Act . If you did, you know that this bill will expand foster care services to the age of 21 in Ohio, if not check it out! This bill has excited a lot of youth, parents and staff working to emancipate children successfully from Ohio’s foster care program. So what has happened since the bill passed? We wanted to let you know!

The Foster to 21 Program has officially been given a name and is now known as, Bridges. It was given this name to best convey what it actually will be: a voluntary “bridge” from foster care to independence. Youth who age out of foster care will be able to request housing or other supportive services at any time between their 18th and 21st birthdays.

An advisory committee was put together by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services back in October and has been meeting regularly to discuss how to build the Bridges program and implement it effectively. They have been tackling tough issues surrounding the program’s infrastructure and policies such as how youth will smoothly transition from foster care to Bridges, identifying Ohio Administrative Code rules that may be affected by the program, as well as new rules that may be necessary to support the program, and how to effectively market this program so youth will want to take part in it.

There is still much to figure out, but we do know that in order for foster youth to be eligible for the Bridges Program they will have to meet one of the following criteria:

  • Completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential.
  • Enrollment in an institution that provides post-secondary or vocational education.
  • Employed for at least 80 hours per month.
  • Incapable of doing any of the above activities due to a medical condition, and incapacity is supported by regular documentation from a medical professional.
  • Participating in a program or activity that is designed to remove barriers to employment.

We also know that youth enrolled in the program may be in a variety of supervised living situations, including:

  • Apartment living
  • Room & board arrangements
  • College or university dormitories
  • Host homes
  • Shared roommate settings

The Advisory Board will continue to work along with The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to build the Bridges Program and support one of our most vulnerable populations; youth emancipating form the foster care system. Right now, the program is set to be implemented on December 11th, 2017.

What do you all think of this new program? Share your comments below and be sure to check in for more updates as information is released regarding this impactful change on our system!

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House Bill 50: The Fostering Connections Act

Think about it; you just turned 18 and are on the brink of adulthood. The world is your oyster and you now have to figure out what to do as you end your high school career and move on. Now think about having to figure this out without the support of a family or mentor in your life. What would you do if you left home at 18 with nowhere to call home or no one to fall back on? Each year more than 1,000 Ohio youth age out of the foster care system when they turn 18. For many, this means the end of many supports that the foster care system offers including financial, educational, familial and social. According to a report by Ohio Fostering Connections, by the time foster youth had turned 19 years old the following statistics applied:

* 14% had a child

*24% worked part time; 12% worked full time

*26% experienced homelessness

*36% experienced incarceration

*53% had not completed high school or received a GED

The good news is Ohio is trying to change these statistics by recently passing House Bill 50. This bill will expand services to foster youth until the age of 21. It will also expand services to those youth adopted after age 16, through their 21st birthdays. The passing of this bill in Ohio comes after similar programs have been started in 26 states nationwide. According to Fostering Connections, these states have seen an increase in education and employment and lower levels of incarceration and homelessness among foster youth. House Bill 50 does not simply mean that children will continue to stay in foster homes until the age of 21; instead it brings an array of services including independent housing, and college and career preparation that foster youth can voluntarily participate in.

Officially, the bill will become a state law, The Ohio Fostering Connections Act on July 1, 2016. From there, The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services along with the Ohio Fostering Connections task force will take the next eighteen months to fully design and implement the specific services for emancipating youth. UMCH is proud to be a part of this monumental change and will work along with ODJFS in providing support to emancipating youth. Please stay tuned to see how this implementation will change Ohio’s foster care system and strengthen our support to one of our most vulnerable populations- youth aging out of the system.

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Fostering Teenagers: It doesn’t have to be so scary!

It is no secret that most people looking to foster or adopt want to care for little ones, usually those under the age of 6. Of course, these children need a home, but what about the growing number of older children in the system? In Ohio alone there were over 4,500 children aged 11-20 in the foster care system in 2013* and the number is only growing. Many families shy away from taking teenagers citing reasons such as “they are scary,” “they may make allegations,” or “they are aggressive.” With less homes willing to take teens, some face life without a family or a place to call home. We spoke to three foster parents who have fostered adolescents to see what it has been really like!

Delois Yates and her husband Charlie Yates have been fostering for about 13 years and estimate fostering around twenty teenagers. Initially the family was called to foster through their church and thought about offering a home to a young child in need. They were soon approached by one of their children’s psychiatrist who thought the family would be good at caring for teenagers. Mr. and Mrs. Yates decided to give it a try and have not turned back, sometimes having up to five teens in their home at once!

Terri Gabriel and her husband, Walter Gabriel also did not think they wanted to foster teens in the beginning, but after about 25 years of fostering and caring for around 100 adolescents, they realized all kids become teenagers at some point even if you start fostering them at a younger age. Like the Yates, their house is also always full of five or more kids.

Foster Parent, Phillis McDonald, on the other hand knew she wanted to foster teens from the beginning as she previously worked in case management with this population and enjoyed the work greatly. Ms. McDonald has been a foster parent for about six years and has maintained a house full of five teenage boys all on her own.

All three families shared that fostering teenagers is not always easy, but what they need most is a place to call home before they emancipate from the system. Foster children emancipating from the system face dire outcomes such as homelessness and incarceration, but if they have a family willing to offer them support and teach them how to be successful adults, these statistics can change. Mrs. Gabriel shared, “They need structure and to be taught daily living skills to be able to move on.” Mrs. McDonald agreed and also added, “They just need your time; hands on time. I like to eat dinner as a family and talk with them.” All three families also agreed that getting their youth to graduate high school were some of their biggest success stories and something that kept them going through the tougher times. Some of these youth may be the first to graduate in their families and a lot of them, with the proper support want to go on to higher education such as college or a vocational school. Mrs. Yates also shared that she often hears from former youth who call back after being in the “real world” and share how much it meant to them to have she and her husband’s support. To Mrs. Yates, this has made it worth it and made it feel like they must have done something right.

All three families hope to see a better outcome for the teenagers in the system and hope that more families can step up to the challenge. So what advice do they have to offer? Mrs. Yates stated, “It is not always easy, but just know that you are making a difference even if you don’t see it right away.” Ms. McDonald added, “Be patient and devote as much time as you can to them.” Mrs. Gabriel offered, “Don’t take stuff personally and know your Achilles’ heel.” If you are considering fostering teenagers, talk to someone who has done it, or try a respite first to get your feet wet. And remember, unlike younger children, you won’t need to change diapers with teens and you may even get to sleep in!

Through our conversations an overarching theme presented itself, although you may not be able to help them all, changing the outcome for one child; stopping the cycle of abuse, helping them graduate or get a job, or teaching them life skills made it all worth it. Mrs. Gabriel shared the story of the jellyfish. She said, “One day a man found a beach littered with thousands of jellyfish that had washed up on the shore. He began picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the ocean. Someone walking by asked him what he was doing and he replied he was throwing the jellyfish back in the ocean so they did not die. The individual then said to the man, “There must be thousands of jellyfish on this beach; you won’t really be able to make a difference.” The man then picked up yet another jellyfish and threw it into the ocean. Then he said, “It made a difference to that one!”

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent, please call 614-559-2800 or email fostercareinfo@umchohio.org. You can also checkout our website at: www.umchohio.org

 

*Statistics were collected from The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Database