Oregon Foster Youth Connection Achieves Another Legislative Victory!

Two bills aiming to increase independence and opportunity for Oregon’s foster youth received final approval today in the Oregon Legislature and now head to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for her signature. Both bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, thanks in-part to the efforts of Senators Sara Gelser and Michael Dembrow, and Representatives Alissa Keny-Guyer, Duane Stark, Jodi Hack, Carla Piluso and more!

Members of Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) created House Bill 2889, which will allow the creation of savings accounts for Oregon foster youth. The accounts will provide an additional tool for foster youth to achieve financial independence by saving their own money for future educational opportunities and other vital living expenses.

OFYC members also created House Bill 2890, which will provide opportunities for youth in foster care to participate in at least one extracurricular activity. Extracurricular activities provide critical, formative experiences which help youth develop physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.

“Like all of our legislative proposals, these ideas came directly from current and former foster youth,” says Lisa McMahon, OFYC Program Director. Both bills were featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda and were also supported by NAYA Family Center, New Avenues for Youth, and Oregon CASA Network and others.

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Oregon Foster Youth Celebrate National Foster Care Month

OFYC 2013 Advocacy Convening: Day at the Capitol

OFYC 2015 Advocacy Convening: Day at the Capitol

Note: This is the first of a week long series of articles highlighting the Oregon Foster Youth Connection. Check back daily for more stories.

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize and promote efforts to enhance the lives of children and youth in foster care. It’s a month set aside to renew our commitment to ensuring a bright future for the children and youth in foster care, and celebrate all those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Here in Oregon, more than 12,000 children and youth will spend time in the foster care system this year. That number is one of the highest percentages of youth in foster care in the entire country. The good news is that Oregon is also home to a unique advocacy group focused on improving the lives of kids in foster care.

Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC), a program of Children First for Oregon, is a statewide, youth led, advocacy group of current and former foster youth between 14 – 25 years of age. OFYC trains and empowers youth to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of kids in foster care.

Youth members work to educate lawmakers, administrators, and the community about the unique issues facing foster youth. They share youth-created recommendations with the Oregon Department of Human Services, state and federal legislators and local citizens.

OFYC also creates legislation and advocates in the Oregon Legislature. Their two proposed bills during this 2015 session already passed the Oregon House of Representatives by a wide bipartisan margin and now await movement in the Oregon Senate.

On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, OFYC will be honored by the City Club of Portland as a Civic Hero at their annual award ceremony. The award recognizes organizations that empower youth to use their civic voice.

There’s little doubt that OFYC members are using their voices – and using them well – for Oregon’s foster children and youth.

The 2013 legislative session is over. How did children and families fare?

The 2013 legislative session drew to a close this afternoon, wrapping up an intense budget negotiation defined by gridlock over revenue and PERS reform.

By failing to reach a compromise on revenue increases, legislators were unable to strengthen the strained human services budget, impacting programs for low-income children and their families. Although the final budget allowed for small reinvestments in child care, low-income assistance, and child welfare, several vital programs will remain underfunded in the coming year. As a result, thousands of families who need assistance will not be able to access services.

Here’s a summary of how our policy priorities fared this session:

Keeping Kids Safe:

The Foster Youth Bill of Rights passed with unanimous support. We are thrilled to have received such strong support from lawmakers for Oregon’s most vulnerable children. This bill will ensure youth know their rights while in foster care and will finally provide them with a safe way to report violations by establishing a foster care ombudsman in the Governor’s Advocacy office. This is also a big win for the members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, who are enjoying their fourth consecutive legislative victory. For updates on the work of OFYC to engage foster youth in child welfare policy, follow them on Facebook.

Although legislators did not fully restore child welfare prevention programs to their pre-recession service levels, the final budget allows for modest increases, including 113 new child welfare caseworkers. This will bring staffing levels from 67% of the minimum standard to 75%. While there is still room to grow, this is a much-needed first step. More staff will reduce caseloads on individual caseworkers, allowing them to perform more critical home visits and implement the Differential Response model, which connects families to the community resources they need to keep children safely at home.

Strengthening Families:

While lawmakers increased Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) by 500 families (up to 9,000 total), the program will remain capped well below the estimated need. Research released by Oregon State University last month shows that child care in some Oregon counties now averages twice the cost of college tuition. This cost places a significant burden on low-income working families trying to get a new start or struggling to get by in these difficult times. We urged lawmakers throughout this session to fully fund ERDC so that all 12,000 eligible families have the opportunity to work and provide their kids with safe child care arrangements. Learn more about how ERDC supports families, businesses, and the economy here.

In a big win for children experiencing poverty, lawmakers maintained, rather than reduced, the 60-month lifetime limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and invested additional funds in its job-training program. While this does not fully fund TANF, the added investment will allow the agency to serve more of its most vulnerable clients.

The budget maintains the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) at the current level (6% of the federal credit). Because EITC has proven itself to be the most effective approach to keeping working families out of poverty, we had hoped to see it expanded to the federal limit of 18%, so families could achieve greater financial security by keeping more of what they earn.

Senator Jackie Winters summed up the need for these investments best, saying “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had jobs where individuals could have their self-worth and dignity to take care of their own families? In the absence of that, we still need to have certainty that children and families are taken care of….”

We couldn’t agree more, which is why we will continue to advocate each session for budgets and programs that safeguard children and families through periods of hardship.
Thank you to all of you who participated in our action opportunities this session and wrote your legislators in support of ERDC and the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. We couldn’t do this work without you.