Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) empowers current and former foster youth to share their voice and to be heard in key decisions affecting children and youth in foster care. With peer support, leadership skills, and civic engagement, these inspiring youth take the lead in improving their own lives and the lives of thousands of kids in Oregon’s foster care system.
Foster youth grow as leaders by developing solutions for Oregon’s foster care system. From their unique perspective as youth who have experienced foster care, OFYC members participate in key child welfare advisory meetings, provide education on foster care issues, and advocate for policy change in the Oregon Legislature. They learn to communicate effectively, problem-solve, and work on a team to achieve their goals.
Through peer support and adult mentorship, members have the opportunity to build community with foster youth from all walks of life. Participating youth gain confidence from their experiences in foster care while building a foundation of support for a productive and successful adulthood.
OFYC youth establish long-term change within the foster care system by developing and advocating for policies in the Oregon Legislature. Wins secured by youth include the Foster Children’s Sibling Bill of Rights, a tuition waiver at state universities and community colleges for youth who spent time in Oregon’s foster care system, and the ability for foster children to open savings accounts in their own name. Alumni of OFYC have moved on to higher education, leadership roles in government, and career paths that build on the skills gained in OFYC.
OFYC was founded in 2008 by a staff member of Children First for Oregon who experienced foster care as a youth. The very first OFYC meeting included four youth and two adults. Today, OFYC has members from all over the state, and we have been successful in passing every piece of legislation that our members have developed and advocated for in the Oregon State Legislature.
Sibling Bill of Rights | 2017
Ensures that youth in care are supported in preserving and strengthening relationships with their siblings.
“When you are in the foster care system, siblings are all the connection that you have. They know what you are going through; they know everything. They want to help you. They want to stick by you.” — Raven, OFYC member
Extracurricular Activities | 2015
Gives youth in care the opportunity to participate in activities with their peers, develop their talents, and build lifelong relationships by ensuring that Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and foster parents work together to support youth in joining at least one ongoing extracurricular activity.
“I knew that I needed something to help me get through my challenges or I’d shut down. I put all I had into extracurricular activities and found that it helped immensely. I came to realize I love helping others, being a leader, and standing up for what I believe in. Because of my activities, I have a plan of what I intend to do after I graduate.” — Alexis, OFYC member
Savings Account | 2015
Ensures that foster youth 12 years old or older receive direct assistance from DHS in establishing their own savings accounts.
Bill of Rights | 2013
Establishes clear requirements for informing foster youth about their legal rights and establishes a hotline answered by the Foster Care Ombudsman, which is an independent resource to investigate complaints, concerns, or violation of rights for children in the custody of Oregon DHS Foster Care.
“As a foster child, all you want to know is that someone has your back. By educating foster children about their rights, and setting up a grievance procedure if their rights are violated, we make one solid push to give foster kids safety and protection. That’s the very minimum any parent wants for their kid.” — Patrick, OFYC member
Tuition Waiver | 2011
Waives tuition and fees at state universities and community colleges for youth who spent time in Oregon’s foster care system.
“I want the chance to succeed. I have the grades, now I know I’ll have the resources.” — Nicole, OFYC member
Medical Assistance | 2010
Grants eligibility for Oregon Health Plan Plus healthcare coverage for all youth in Oregon’s foster care system when they turn 18.
Driving Privileges | 2009
Requires DHS to provide assistance to foster youth in obtaining a driver’s license.
Meet Some of OUR MEMBERS
“OFYC is like my family — we can all relate in some way. Speaking up for myself and others has made me a stronger person, knowing I am not alone.”
Raven joined OFYC in 2014 and has been involved in a number of activities and events, including the bi-annual Policy Conference and the Advisory Committee. Raven has also been instrumental in developing and passing several bills impacting foster care, including the Savings Account bill in 2015 and the Sibling Bill of Rights in 2017. One of her proudest moments was working on the Sibling Bill of Rights, which ensures that siblings are supported in staying together as they navigate the foster care system.
“What I love about OFYC is we all feel like a family,” says Raven. “No one in OFYC has to feel alone because we all understand. We work together to make a change within the child welfare system, speaking up for those who have no voice or are afraid to speak out. Because of OFYC, I’m no longer afraid to speak up for myself about what I think is right for me.”
Outside of OFYC, Raven works for an after school program with kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. She wants to become a teacher one day so she can make sure children are loved and cherished. In her free time, Raven loves to paint, listen to music, and spend time with friends.
“I love having an environment that people who have been through hardships can come together, feel safe and heard, and share in confidence their stories as they grow together and make change.”
Elsana first got involved with OFYC during the 2017 Advocacy Convening. At age 16, Elsana was houseless and living in a tent, but they jumped right in. “It was such an amazing and empowering few days,” says Elsana. “Knowing that I made a difference as a former foster youth, and at the time a houseless youth, gave me so much courage and strength to get up and fight more, so I started doing everything I could handle.”
Since then, Elsana has participated in number of OFYC events and projects, including being a member of our Advisory Committee. Elsana also helped to pass the Sibling Bill of Rights, is involved with regular meetings with Child Welfare director Marilyn Jones, has educated future caseworkers about how to make youth feel heard and meet their mental health needs, helped to plan the 2018 Policy Conference, and much more. Elsana says that OFYC has helped them discover a passion for speaking and taught them how to give others the strength to share their stories.
Outside of OFYC, Elsana enjoys biking, writing poetry, and working with houseless folks of all ages. Elsana hopes to start college soon and is deciding between pursuing a career as a judge or a senator.
“I have learned that my voice matters. I can make a change in a lot of things just by speaking up.”
Glayz had no idea what OFYC was when she first joined. She decided to check it out because she likes helping people, and it just stuck. Glayz has participated in several OFYC Policy Conferences and Advocacy Convenings, where she has helped to formulate and refine policy recommendations and the bills that OFYC takes through the legislative process.
“My favorite things about the Policy Conference is the different dynamic of people that show up each year and the amount of change that we’re able to make from our different ideas,” says Glayz. “One real thing I learned at the Conference was that you don’t have to pretend to be someone else to fit in. Just be yourself and people will flock to you.”
Glayz is currently going to school to become a peer support therapist and is looking for housing in order to live on her own.
MEET OUR STAFF
Lisa is OFYC’s Program Director. During her time at OFYC, she has been able to assist youth in making substantial changes to Oregon’s foster care system; a system they themselves have experienced. The youth Lisa works with have done this by using their knowledge of the system to bring forth legislation, inform rules and policy, and educate those who work directly with youth in care.
From the beginning of Lisa’s career as a high school Special Education teacher, to studying self-determination for nearly a decade while at Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute on Human Services, it has been clear that Lisa is passionate about and dedicated to empowering young people. Lisa loves helping youth find their “spark,” while providing them the support necessary to succeed in their goals.
When Lisa, a Michigan native, is not focused on improving the lives of youth in care, she likes to spend time with friends and family. Lisa also loves to travel, take hikes, listen to live music, and eat at the many amazing restaurants in Portland.
Kate Rosenstein Houston
Kate is OFYC’s Program Coordinator. Kate grew up in Oregon’s child welfare system and has been a longtime advocate for youth in foster care, going back to the start of OFYC! Kate was one of the founding members of OFYC and later became Co-President. She has continued advocating for youth and working with child welfare, interning with the FosterClub AllStars, serving as a Youth Partner for Washington County Wraparound Mental Health Services, and working with Boys and Girls Aid and Youth MOVES Oregon. Kate has worked directly with youth in a variety of settings — as a mentor, as a Peer Delivered Service Provider, and as a Skills Trainer in Special Education. Kate’s experience in Special Education and child welfare has helped her target her passion in order to strengthen and build better systems of care for Oregon’s children. Kate believes that nothing is more powerful than advocacy for change, and she’s passionate about using her voice and working with youth to do the same.
In her free time, Kate enjoys hiking, road trips to the beach, baking goodies with her family, and exploring Portland’s foodie scene.
Do You Have Questions About OFYC?
Read our FAQ
What is OFYC?
We are a statewide, youth led advocacy group of current and former foster between the ages of 14 and 25. Members shape every aspect of what OFYC is, how it is structured, which policies we work on, and what activities we participate in. With support and training from Foster Youth in Action (FYA) and OFYC staff, members are empowered and given the tools they need to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of thousands of youth in Oregon’s foster care system.
Who can be a member?
If you are a current or former foster youth between the ages of 14 and 25, you can apply to be a member! Maybe you were adopted or are now in a guardianship, you are welcome too! All you have to do is fill out the application here. We can provide assistance if you need support in filling out the application.
I want to connect youth to OFYC. What should I do?
What do OFYC members do?
Members take action and make change in lots of different ways. From our unique perspective as youth who have experienced foster care, we participate in child welfare advisory meetings, provide education on foster care issues, and advocate for policy change in the Oregon Legislature. We build community with foster youth from all walks of life while learning how to communicate effectively, problem-solve, and work on a team to achieve our goals.
Do I have to be a member to get involved?
What is the OFYC Advisory Committee?
Our OFYC Advisory Committee is a group of youth, young adults, and supportive adults who work together to make decisions about the OFYC program and its future. In partnership with our staff and members, the Advisory Committee ensures we follow the vision and mission of OFYC, guides the strategic visioning for OFYC’s future, and helps to prioritize program activities and efforts.
Oregon Foster Youth Connection is a program of Children First for Oregon.
Learn more at www.cffo.org
HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Your gift to OFYC empowers current and former foster youth to improve their own lives and the lives of thousands of kids living in Oregon’s foster care system.