Foster Youth Fight to Strengthen Sibling Connections

Long-term connections are rare for many children in the foster care system. Caseworkers change and foster parents are often temporary, but for foster youth with brothers or sisters, siblings can feel like their only permanent relationships. Unfortunately, many siblings struggle to keep in contact over the course of their time in foster care.

Maintaining and strengthening sibling bonds was the goal of 31 current and former foster youth who gathered earlier this month at the Advocacy Convening organized by Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC). A program of Children first for Oregon, OFYC empowers and trains youth to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of kids in foster care. OFYC members gathered for the weekend to gain support from each other while learning how to advocate for their policy priority aimed at keeping siblings in foster care connected: the Foster Children Sibling Bill of Rights (HB 2216). In addition to discussing the importance of sibling connections and their experiences losing contact with siblings, OFYC members learned how to talk to legislators about the bill and effectively tell their stories. The weekend of preparation culminated on Monday when OFYC youth attended a total of 43 meetings with Oregon legislators to discuss their experience in foster care and advocate for their bill.

The Sibling Bill of Rights was one of seven policy suggestions OFYC members developed at their annual Policy Conference in July 2016. Many OFYC youth were separated from their siblings and struggled to maintain those relationships during their time in foster care. Right now, most siblings separated in foster care have difficulty keeping in contact with one another. The Sibling Bill of Rights would grant foster youth the right to maintain contact and visits with siblings, including their right to transportation so visits can take place. OFYC youth have led legislative wins for foster children within each of the past four longer sessions. Because of OFYC, foster youth in Oregon now have: Assistance Obtaining Driving Privileges (2009); A Tuition Waiver for former foster youth entering community college or state university (2011); A Foster Child Bill of Rights & Foster Child’s Ombudsman (2013); and access to savings accounts at the age of 12 (2015).

The Oregon House will vote on the Sibling Bill of Rights soon. For many OFYC members, this is their first experience advocating for themselves and their needs — let alone statewide policies to improve foster care in Oregon. To keep track of the progress of the Sibling Bill of Rights and other legislation aimed at making Oregon the best place to be a kid, join United for Kids.

2017 Children’s Agenda Calls on Legislators to Prioritize Kids

For the past 25 years, Children First for Oregon has reported on the well-being of kids in our state. In that time, we have seen Oregon’s national rank in child well-being plummet. Ten years ago the state ranked 15th and now it is 32nd, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

We refuse to allow this trend to continue. That is why we launched United for Kids — to improve Oregon’s rank in child well-being to number one by ensuring that legislators make kids a top priority.

Today, the 2017 Children’s Agenda was released, which contains concrete legislative solutions that will improve the economic security, education, health, and safety of kids in Oregon. The Children’s Agenda was developed with the expertise of nearly 100 organizations that specialize in child and family issues, and provides a roadmap for policymakers to solve the most pressing problems facing kids in our state.

Two-thirds of the policy and investment solutions proposed in the 2015 and 2016 Children’s Agendas were successful. But that work is not over and significant barriers remain in the path of progress for Oregon kids.

One of those barriers is the expected state budget shortfall that leaves our kids at risk. Constraints imposed by previous ballot measures and a lopsided tax structure have prevented the state from keeping up with the needs of its growing population. Without a balanced revenue stream, Oregon can’t ensure the future our children need. The data prove that there is no investment that garners greater returns than the investment in children’s economic security, education, health care, and safety. It’s unrealistic to cut investments in Oregon’s children and expect successful outcomes.

Protecting investments and policies for children starts with all Oregonians standing together to hold policymakers accountable. Check out the 2017 Children’s Agenda and make your voice heard by joining United for Kids. Together, we will make Oregon the best place to be a kid.

Joining Forces to Prevent Child Abuse

Children thrive when they are confident their most basic needs will be met, including safe and nurturing relationships.  Abuse and neglect erodes the foundation of childhood, leaving too many kids in Oregon struggling to survive. In 2015 alone, there were over 10,000 confirmed victims of child abuse in the state. Nearly half of these victims were younger than six years old.

Ensuring all children are cherished and protected is fundamental to Children First for Oregon’s mission. When Children First advocates for child well-being, we start with policies, programs, and investments that strengthen families and keep children safe.

To this end, CFFO is proud to announce a new partnership with Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon (CTFO) to advance our shared goals of strengthening families and preventing child abuse. Combining efforts and leveraging each organization’s expertise and resources is a smart strategy to maximize our impact for kids.

A long-time funder of proven prevention strategies in Oregon, Children’s Trust Fund is now joining forces with Children First to also expand policy research, public awareness, and legislative advocacy related to child abuse prevention. In addition, the collaboration with CTFO supports the United for Kids initiative at Children First, building the broader children’s advocacy community in Oregon.

This new partnership presents a unique opportunity to improve child safety and well-being. Read more in our press release announcing the partnership here.

Recognizing Bing Sheldon

The Board and staff of Children First for Oregon are mourning the loss of their colleague and friend, Bing Sheldon. Bing may be best known as an architect who built or preserved some of the most well-known buildings in Portland, but his heart was in more than the buildings of the city he loved. Bing understood that children, their health, education and well-being, are the future of our state. As a member of the Children First Board of Directors, Bing advocated tirelessly for children’s policies and programs, as well as the funding that makes those policies work. He was a kind and supporting presence—truly a First Citizen—for all those he worked with and fought for. He will be missed. Click here to read more about his legacy.

Bing Sheldon

Placing the “Care” in Foster Care

You’ve heard the news and read the headlines. Foster care in Oregon is in disarray, resulting in personnel changes, increased oversight and sanctions. These are appropriate responses to an imminent issue.  But if you are an 8-year-old boy taken from your home due to abuse or neglect and placed into the home of someone you’ve never met, you need a caring, stable support system. If you are a foster parent opening your home to someone else’s child, you need more than a “thank you”. You need to feel respected and supported in this role.

Children are taken into care in Oregon for good reasons. The majority of foster parents are wonderful people doing very hard work to make their home feel like “home” to these displaced children. The majority of case workers at the Department of Human Services (DHS) dedicate their life’s work to help children in need. Yet they are faced with heavy and complicated caseloads that exceed the number of hours in the day.

While some solutions to these problems are difficult, many are not. Foster parents can be provided with childcare to receive respite from the challenges of day-to-day life. They can be provided additional training, in settings that work for them, where they can talk to other foster parents. They can have a 24-hour call line, so someone can provide help, support or advice at any time. These solutions come with relatively inexpensive price tags, while providing foster parents with the feeling of support and respect that they deserve.

While caseworkers are overloaded, DHS is only funded at 85% of the positions they are allotted. This means that if DHS were funded for the staffing levels they need, caseloads could be reduced. More caseworkers could be working with children in a more-timely fashion, offering them the support and care that they deserve. Children in state care should be truly cared-for by the state, and funding DHS at a full 100% of staffing level for $21.9 million would help to do just that.

Most of us will never know what it is like to be a child taken from your home and put into someone else’s. Most of us will never know what it is like to open your home to a vulnerable child in need at a moment’s notice. Most of us will never know what it is like to feel like you could work for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never give children you are responsible for enough time and attention. But there is something we can do for them all: demand better. Demand the funding to truly support foster care.