Salem, Oregon — Current and former foster youth have presented policy recommendations for improving foster care to an audience of lawmakers, Oregon Department of Human Service administrators, service providers and community members.
Developed by youth at the Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) Policy Conference, the policies address systemic issues in the foster care system and include: Prioritizing the housing needs of foster youth at risk of houselessness, expanding mental health and dental services available to foster youth, creating sexual awareness classes for foster youth and increasing funding for Independent Living Program (ILP) services.
“These policy recommendations have the potential to create needed change in Oregon’s foster care system,” said Marilyn Jones, Child Welfare Director at the Oregon Department of Human Services. “Foster youth are the experts when it comes to how we can improve foster care. The Oregon Department of Human Services values the insight and leadership of Oregon Foster Youth Connection and looks forward to continuing to work with youth leaders to better serve children in care.”
Through its youth-led model of civic engagement and leadership development, OFYC trains current and former foster youth to be heard in key decisions affecting children and youth in foster care. From their unique perspective as young people 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. Every piece of legislation proposed by OFYC members has been passed into law and signed by the Governor for the past five biennia, and it all starts with the bi-annual OFYC Policy Conference.
“OFYC is like my family,” said OFYC member and former foster youth Raven Sherrett. “We can all relate in some way. Speaking up for myself and others has made me a stronger person, knowing I am not alone.”
The OFYC Policy Conference brings together current and former foster youth from across the state to share personal stories, identify pressing issues within the foster care system and develop concrete solutions. Topics discussed by the 35 youth in attendance included supporting foster youth ages 18-21, preventing houselessness for transition age foster youth, and ensuring foster youth are placed with caregivers that meet their needs.
“In my time in care, I’ve experienced things that as a young child I only dreamed of changing,” said OFYC member and foster youth Whitney Rodgers. “OFYC not only trained me how to create policy, but gave me the opportunity to build a family with other youth. As an OFYC member I am honored to advocate for policy change for all of Oregon’s youth.”
OFYC is a program of Children First for Oregon and is celebrating 10 years of advocacy, activism and leadership this month. Thanks to OFYC youth leaders, children in foster care in Oregon now have: assistance obtaining driving privileges (2009), a tuition waiver for foster youth entering community college or state university (2011), a Foster Child Bill of Rights & Foster Child’s Ombudsman (2013), access to ongoing extracurricular activities (2015), the ability to open a saving accounts starting at age 12 (2015) and a Foster Children’s Sibling Bill of Rights (2017).
2018 Policy Recommendations
- Increase funding for Independent Living Program (ILP) services, including services for foster youth exiting treatment centers.
- Increase funding for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) and increase the diversity of CASA volunteers.
- Create sexual awareness classes provided by DHS caseworkers with curriculum designed by doctors, psychologists, and those with lived experiences, with a focus on the mental and emotional aspects of sexual health.
- Expand Oregon Health Plan (OHP) coverage to include more options for alternative mental health services and treatment, and improve access to dental specialists such as orthodontics.
- Provide youth in care with a complete list of mental health resources and all available mental health services.
- Establish crisis plans in order to facilitate permanency by preventing unnecessarily moving foster youth from their homes.
- Youth transitioning into care must receive mental health counseling and foster parents and the caseworker must interact with youth for one month before conducting the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment.
- Hire former foster youth to bridge communication barriers between DHS and current foster youth so youth know their rights and opportunities for obtaining housing.
- Foster youth must receive an in-person meeting at age 14 informing them of housing opportunities, followed by a mandatory follow-up meeting every 6-12 months to document progress. Prioritize the housing needs of youth with a higher risk of houselessness, including LGBTQIA2S youth and youth of color.
- Support relationships and bonding between foster parents and foster youth by requiring caseworkers to provide classes, trainings, and resources regarding religion, lifestyle, and bonding in easy to access formats such as posters, packets, and websites.