- Posted byon May 26, 2015 at 7:15 PM EDT
"Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. But it requires courage. It requires strength. It requires that we speak the truth not just when it's easy, but when it's hard."
— President Obama
Last Friday, President Obama spoke to the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., which became the first synagogue to host a sitting president when President Grant attended a service back in 1876. It was also the first synagogue to host Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This reflects how deeply Jewish heritage is woven into the fabric of American life -- both in our values and our vision for the future.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 4:20 PM EDT
Nicole Dobbins is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Youth
The great Muhammad Ali said, “Champions aren´t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”
Reflecting on becoming an advocate for children and families, I’m reminded of my childhood. Growing up was chaotic, filled with instability, abuse, poverty, and a parent with long-term substance abuse challenges. I longed for a healthy family. I hoped my family would get the help they needed and life would become less stressful.
In elementary school I grew aware of the importance of education and I knew I didn’t want to grow up and struggle the way my mother did. Having never finished high school, she stressed the importance of education, but for me it didn’t feel attainable. Even when I was young, I was aware of my family circumstances and the cost of college felt insurmountable.
In 5th grade my elementary school principal changed this belief. In an assembly, she told my graduating class that all of us could make it to college if we did just three things: got “C” letter grades or better, didn’t do drugs, and didn’t get pregnant. She also said she would help us pay for it through a scholarship fund. My world shifted; I now had hope for a better future.
With this, I made it to college, but not before abruptly exiting the foster care system. I “aged-out” of foster care just one day after graduating from high school. My saving grace was that I was already accepted to Oregon State University. I had three months of summer to survive before I had stable housing in the dorms.
In college, I felt lost and alone. Various people helped me along the way, but there was something missing. I was navigating a challenging transition to adulthood, which included managing and healing from past trauma. I masked my emotions on the outside well, but secretly contemplated suicide often. I seriously lacked a support system.
In my junior year, a case-worker I came to know after foster care encouraged me to apply for an internship. It was one of the first times I felt someone believed in me. I interned and later worked for FosterClub, an amazing organization. It was an opportunity that gave me purpose in life. Discovering other young people who had experienced similar circumstances gave me passion to create change. I learned how to build what was missing, my supportive network.
The following year I became the director of the internship, and was responsible for training former foster youth to become young leaders, using their experiences to improve the lives of our peers.
All children need champions. Because of instability in care, my peers often lack an anchor. They lack consistent people in their lives to guide them, hold them accountable and love them beyond their mistakes. From a young age, my desire was to change my family’s trajectory. Today, my vision is clear: I have a dream that no more young people will “age-out” of foster care without committed people who love and support them in their transition to adulthood. With more than 100,000 children waiting to be adopted and nearly 23,000 youth who age-out of foster care annually, often to poor outcomes, we have work to do.
Maybe you can’t adopt or foster, but what about mentoring, volunteering, or even making donations to your local community organizations? There are so many opportunities to become champions for children in foster care.
Nicole is the Executive Director of Voice for Adoption. She is a graduate of Oregon State University.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 4:09 PM EDT
David Ambroz is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
As a former foster youth, having spent more than a decade in and out of care, I have lived through the best intentions of institutions in multiple states. The Child Welfare Industrial Complex (CWIC), made up of the myriad of actors in the life of a dependent child, acts to perpetrate the agency’s particular interest. Often, this coincides with the best interest of a child, but not always. For example, in the name of privacy, there was often a slow transfer of educational documents, preventing my timely enrollment. While serving a valid privacy interest, this is a lack of common sense in the youth's interests – and education is the victim. Actors remain in their silo, serving their agency goals, but doing so inadvertently causes the youth to suffer. Structural reform requires collaboration between all parts of society, and especially public engagement. Public engagement can translate into political attention, power and resources that can change outcomes. Yet the public only hears from (or about) the CWIC during times of tragedy, leading to benign neglect or short bursts of brutal attention. Achieving fundamentally different outcomes, requires all parties to work together in telling the full story about Foster Care.
In order to effect structural change in Child Welfare, the CWIC must convene as a larger societal ‘movement.’ FosterMore, is an effort in that direction. Between what works, evidence based practice, and sustained implementation, is a gulf – a gulf made up of a lack of public awareness and engagement. Instead of speaking to the vast majority of Americans, the CWIC uses terms and language that disenfranchises the public. Forming a partnership with the public, private groups, foundation and government – FosterMore came together to bridge that gap – engage the public, and therefore their elected leaders. In much the same way as the environmental, women's cancer, and other movements have come together; FosterMore is a brazen attempt to recruit Americans to join a movement to understand and end the inherited poverty of foster care.
Much as “Race for the Cure,” represented by the pink ribbon, seeks to orient our passion and attention around curing women’s cancers; FosterMore seeks to have “Education” as the north star, a rallying point to do right by our children. Education is the communication of knowledge and culture, from one to another. Education can be communicated passively, through the culture or more succinctly, through formalized settings. The remarkable nature of this knowledge is its ability to act as a key to unlock potential. At times, one aspect of education is valued over the other – yet both are vital to thrive. Foster youth have "graduate degrees" in resiliency, but have their progress in education impeded by circumstance. The cumulative effect of this is to lock foster youth into a cycle of inherited poverty.
Educational access can be the bridge out of this cycle – but extra care must be taken to empower this last generation of educationally impoverished; and that requires an army, a movement that must include the general public. Working together, FosterMore has raised awareness, chipped away at ignorance, prejudice and indifference to shine a light on the amazing potential of foster youth and families. FosterMore has created an “American Indian College Fund-equivalent,” a national scholarship for foster youth, to underpin all of our efforts in public engagement. The Scholarship will help the public think of our foster youth differently, but just as the Pink Ribbon is a symbol, it will be a gateway that allows the public to be part of the solution.
The work of the movement will not end, as every other movement has taught us. Yet, the movement must start – and FosterMore is that start.
David Ambroz is the Executive Director of Corporate Citizenship & Social Responsibility for Disney | ABC Television Group and in that role created FosterMore. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 3:51 PM EDT
Briana Osbourne is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Youth
Over 400,000 foster youth are in foster care across the United States of America, and each year over 23,000 young adults will emancipate or age out of the system and enter the world of adulthood. Statistics show that out of those who age out, one in four will become involved in the justice system within two years, more than 1 in 5 will become homeless after age 18, only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 of all 19 year olds), and fewer than three percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds). Although many of us have dreams of pursuing higher education after exiting care, many more fall victim to homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration.
Some may consider this information unimportant when considering that current and former foster youth, like myself, make up a relatively small percentage of the general population. However, while we may be few in numbers, many of us experience more traumatic incidents involving abuse, neglect and exploitation before the age of 18, than many adults will face in a lifetime. Foster youth matter because many of us can be found in the faces of your classmates, colleagues, friends and even your family members. We are filled with untapped potential and hold the keys to the success of our communities and our nation.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between my educational journey and the countless youth in care that fall victim to those daunting statistics. As children, we held the same dreams, aspirations and many of us even shared the same classrooms. Conversely, I found solace in seeing those who share my experiences obtain success. I found mentors in individuals like my Court Appointed Special Advocate, foster mother and the numerous others that helped cultivate and encourage me to pursue my seemingly impossible dreams. Their assistance, coupled with the resources I was able to access, such as college-geared workshops, field trips and educational programs planted in me the seed that educational success was truly within reach.
I firmly believe that there is hope for many other youth in care, not just because of my own success, but because of the other foster youth I’ve seen defy the odds as well. There is a great need for more mentors, advocates and supporters of the groundbreaking innovations that are making headway in the child welfare system. There is a need for youth to be encouraged to voice their opinions and for their voices to be amplified. There is a need for more youth to be told that their lives matter, that their past doesn’t determine their future and that they too can be champions for future generations to come. There is also a need for more funding and educational programming that will allow our foster youth to obtain the knowledge they need to succeed. I am calling for more people to stand with me and begin the work needed to create change in our education system.
In everyone lies the power to create an impact. There is no one solution or quick fix to address the education crisis that youth in care face. However, with your help there is hope that each generation of youth will have a better experience than the last. All it takes is a willing spirit and a commitment to not turn a blind eye to the perils youth in and out of care face each day.
Briana Osbourne currently works as a Youth Peer Mentor at Visions Unlimited, Inc. in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of Howard University.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 3:03 PM EDT
Sixto Cancel is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
For millions of foster youth in the United States, significant life lessons get lost in transit. Learning to emotionally cope, apply for college, and prepare for the future is difficult when any sense of stability could suddenly collapse.
As Americans, we grow up believing that it is our country given right that if we work hard, we will be able to see a better tomorrow.
However, that was not the case for my older brother who died of gun violence, my sister, who despite engaging in many job trainings, still lost her life to unhealthy choices, or my younger brother, who is incarcerated as a result of stealing food while homeless. Although this does not represent all of my ten siblings, it calls attention to the tragic outcomes of the majority of my siblings who have had interactions with state systems.
The interaction with a system should be an indication that one's life will be better because of the state's involvement, not an indication of negative life outcomes.
I was able to learn how to navigate life by tapping into the supportive adults around me, TV shows like Law and Order, and online resources. However, succeeding required me to overcome the outdated methods of our country’s foster care system, which does not adequately prepare youth for the challenges of aging out, happening for most at 18 or 21 years old. For many youth, leaving the system leads to disillusionment rather than a better life.
Thus, I have made it part of my life’s work to leverage technology, data and multimedia to change the narrative for America’s foster youth. In 2014, I made a commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative University to launch Think of Us, a nonprofit organization that is developing an online space for youth to access content that helps them navigate the world around them. An integral part of our program entails producing interactive videos that coach young people in the foster care system through life challenges large and small on a data driven platform. Through our videos, young people can learn how to do everything from preparing for court to connecting with new biological family members.
It is important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth—after all, they are a part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation. Gone are the days of checking encyclopedias or reading manuals to obtain new information. Today, lectures on Algebra and world history are accessible on Kahn Academy with the click of a mouse, and YouTube offers lessons on everything from dating to doing taxes. Likewise, Think of Us is providing a new generation of foster youth with the how-tos that can set them on a trajectory to build confidence, skills, wealth, and a brighter future.
Beyond the interactive coaching videos, Think of Us is also planning to use and develop new technology innovations that have the potential to change the way people learn and engage with digital content. We seek to continue to crowdsource softwares to allow us to innovate our work even further, and collaborate with rising leaders in the technology field to advance progress.
We see technology not as a replacement for the human aspect of developing young people, but as an opportunity to build on what works and to reach Millennials where they are—and that’s online.
I hope our efforts inspire others who serve foster youth to join us in embracing the potential of technology to prepare this vulnerable demographic for the world ahead of them. With a united effort, we can ensure that young people can leave the foster system ready to succeed.
Sixto Cancel is a college student founder of Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to innovating with data, technology and multi-media to serve vulnerable populations. Sixto is a fourth year student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 2:55 PM EDT
Maria Burgos is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
Growing up in California and studying on the East Coast for the past five years has made me realize my story is unique. School, service, and faith have been my light, even when it appeared that I was navigating a seemingly endless dark tunnel. It is this perspective that I hope to leave as my legacy.
Permanency became a front and center issue when my former foster parents blatantly told me they would not support me with making the down payment on the summer home I was going to sublet. The National Human Genome Research Institute had offered me a paid fellowship and I needed financial assistance to make the first rental payment so I could move to Bethesda, Maryland. Upon turning to my foster parents for help, they gave several reasons as to why they would not help me, including that at my age, they were making payments on their own home with their pooled income. With no other options, I opened a Credit Deposit with all of the small scholarships I had won during my senior year of high school. I had initially set these to mature in four years, but decided to withdraw to be able to pay the first month's rent. It was then that I also signed up for my first and only credit card. Both of these elements made it possible to make it in the Washington, D.C. area until I received my first paycheck.
During my senior year, I began to panic about my post-graduation plans. I did not have a safety net. This was on top of the fact that the prior year, on my 21st birthday, the Chafee Independent Living Services had been discontinued. It became that much tougher to remain calm because buying a good winter coat for all of the blizzards that hit the Northeast, medical treatments for unexpected pneumonia, textbooks, and even laundry would deplete my paychecks.
When I was younger and long-term foster care was the case plan goal for me, I was okay with the court’s decision. It was not until faced with my post-graduation transition that I realized a more solid foundation would have prevented a lot of panic attacks and bouts of anxiety.
I do not wish for another young adult to go through their college years choosing between paying for an asthma inhaler and getting a much-needed long-sleeve t-shirt. This is why I completely support President Obama’s efforts to allocate more funds to prevention services, to eliminate long-term foster care as case plan goal for teens, and to propose extending the Chafee Independent Living Services grant to age 22 when most students are seniors in college. This is less expensive than funding prisons or ongoing welfare support for unemployed adults.
Because of the experienced hardships that come from aging out of the system and because medicine is a respected part of the social structure, I plan to channel my energies and talents to capitalize on this platform to help educate stakeholders and legislators about the detrimental effects of foster care and poverty. This is why I want to be a pediatrician and part-time social worker. I wish help combat these educational and health effects by influencing policymakers to level the playing field and referring my patients to the educational, nutritional, legal, housing, and transportation services they require to ensure the best possible health and relationships. My medical expertise could then be shared with decision-makers to help improve the outcomes and the overall health and safety standards for minorities, foster youth, incarcerated populations, and the undocumented. I would also write articles on these intersections in order to assist in raising awareness on the distinct experiences faced by these populations.
I have the motivation to give my 110 percent and capitalize on various opportunities that can help me become the greatest public service servant I can be.
Maria Burgos is graduating from college in a few short days. She is a senior at Brown University.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 2:42 PM EDT
Chelsea Faver is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
Removal from home, no matter the length of time, can be a traumatic experience for any child or youth. Relationships are broken, families can become permanently torn apart, and it can feel like every piece of normalcy is completely ripped away. Fortunately, foster care can also bring many positive opportunities. My time in care afforded me the opportunity to take control of my life. I was placed in a group home with supportive staff who motivated me to finish high school early and begin college. After transitioning from care, I graduated from Indiana University, fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a Marine, and began law school.
While I did encounter many obstacles that youth around the country face as they enter into and transition out of care, the supportive network I gained through Indiana’s child welfare system pushed me over each and every hurdle I faced, both while in care and even long after care. I was extremely fortunate to find this strong network of support, but many youth do not have this same experience. While in care, I witnessed the struggles of many of my peers who were not able to overcome the overwhelming odds facing foster youth. These experiences are what motivated me to use my voice to advocate for youth currently and formerly in foster care and play an active role in the national dialogue on improving outcomes for what is often a forgotten population.
As a nation, we have made great strides in identifying best policies and practices for our youth. Permanency, a word I never heard while in care, is becoming a high priority. There has been an exciting emphasis placed on finding permanent connections for each and every youth who enters into the child welfare system. Additionally, many states have been implementing extended foster care which, among many things, helps youth maintain stability as they emerge as a young adult pursuing higher education or entering the workforce. The National Youth in Transition Database is now collecting data on our young people as they transition into adulthood and is providing a new way to better understand the services provided to youth and how they are really doing in response to these services. These are just a few of some of the exciting results and initiatives that can happen when we focus on the overall well-being and support of one of our most vulnerable populations.
The success and well-being of our youth hinge on much more than physical safety. My hope is that every state will continue developing cutting edge, innovative services meant to support youth currently and formerly in care. Additionally, supportive infrastructures for our youth can be created through cross system collaboration in partnership with authentic youth voice and engagement, giving every child that comes in contact with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems a better chance for success. Infrastructures built through collaboration between systems, agencies, and even states are key to ensuring that every child in the system takes foster care to the next level and allow all of us to invest in our youth through time, support, understanding, and advocacy. Now is the time to make sure that each and every child in the system has equal access to these supportive services.
Chelsea Faver currently serves as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps while also pursuing her Juris Doctor. She is a graduate of Indiana University and a student at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law.
- Posted byon May 20, 2015 at 2:17 PM EDT
Daryle Conquering Bear Crow is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
Understanding your identity is important for any young person, whether or not they are in foster care. Culture is a big part of an individual’s development and identity. Although these issues of identity and culture are important for every child and foster child’s development, they are, perhaps, even more so for native foster youth. Native youth who are not in care and are connected to their tribe have opportunities to attend sweat lodges, vision quest, and various other native rites of passage that are important to the native culture. Many Native American youth in foster care do not get to experience these milestones in native life and lack a connection to their culture and identity as a result. The development of self-esteem as a Native American is critical for young people. Without cultural connections, native youth may suffer from low self-esteem. And if they return to their reservation after care, they can feel like a spectator, because they do not know how to participate in activities with the community, such as dances at pow-wows.
A sense of purpose is also important to the Native culture. In Native ways, the Creator has put us all here for a purpose and that purpose in life comes through milestones in a young Native person’s life. Native foster youth in non-native care do not get the opportunity to connect with the Creator during these Native ceremonies and events and they may struggle to find a sense of purpose as to why they were put here on earth.
My work over the last 10 years has geared to helping states understand why we need full compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. ICWA states, “It is the policy of this Nation to protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian Tribes and families” and “reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” The best interests of the Native American child include an understanding of his or her identity and connection to his or her culture as a native youth. Currently, however, ICWA is failing to provide this expressed best interest of every native child in care. Too many Native youth are not connected to their culture while in foster care and, as a result, many native youth exit out of care with unanswered questions about their identity.
I have had the opportunity to collaborate with national Native American organizations to speak out on youth development and the identity of our youth in care, the importance of cultural connections. My two most memorable internships included the summer of 2012 when I interned for United States Senator Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota). It was this summer that I was able to really sit down and talk to congressional members about the importance of ICWA and the identity of native children in foster care. I wrote a congressional report and presented it to numerous congressional members at the end of my internship. Following the summer of 2012, I interned for the National Indian Child Welfare Association, with the Government Policy department. There, I was able to fully dive into ICWA, work with numerous staff, tribal elected officials, and present the importance of ICWA. I believe the internship with NICWA has developed my professional career and love for youth development and identity.
The importance of keeping connected to culture and identity is important for any children and youth in care. My work will always continue to help the future generations of native youth. Decisions we make today impact the generations after us. Leave No Indian Child Behind; they all deserve a chance.
Daryle Conquering Bear Crow is the Healthy Living Program Assistant at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center. He is a senior at Oregon State University.