Your daughter is so lucky to have you.

As I was riding the train home from work last night reading essays from some of the 120 Foster Youth Intern (FYI) hopefuls, a conversation behind me caught my attention.  There was a man on the phone evidently talking to his soon-to-be college graduate daughter.  He was giving her advice on upcoming job interviews, telling her how many days to wait before she should follow-up, even right down to a specific reply when turning down a job offer.  I sat there reflecting on how beneficial just one conversation like this would have been to the foster youth whose life stories I was reading.  I wanted to turn around and say to the man, “your daughter is so lucky to have you.”

I went back to reading the FYI essays wondering where these former foster youth would receive guidance such as this that each young adult needs.

One applicant spoke about the need for people to step up and offer guidance to youth who have the desire to attend college, “This was a challenge I had to face alone and I think that many youth give up on this dream because they don’t know where to start.  I think if educational opportunities were provided to youth, they would take it.”

Another applicant wrote, “Many times foster youth only need someone to take an interest in their future and well-being.  Providing them with tools and resources will help to ensure youth are on the path to receiving degrees instead of homelessness, unemployment, or incarceration, as many foster youth face once they are emancipated.”

Instead of feeling proud and excited about being celebrated for the achievement of graduating from high school and being accepted into college, I was troubled by the fact that I knew that there were many other foster youth should have been there with me.

In a few short months, the 2011 Foster Youth Interns will arrive in DC full of passion and ideas for improving the road ahead for those still left behind in the system.

FosterClub’s All-Stars Internship Deadline Feb. 15

FosterClub’s All-Stars Internship Program – Deadline Feb. 15

Do You Know a Young Person Who Could Be An All-Star?

FosterClub will select a team of young adults, ages 18 to 24, who have experienced foster care at some point in their lives, to participate in an internship program called the All-Star Program. After two weeks of intense leadership and public speaking training, the All-Stars  travel the country participating in foster youth conferences, speaking to child welfare professionals, advocating to policy makers, and more!  All-Star interns have an opportunity to improve the foster care system and life for other youth in foster care — plus earn over $3,000 over the summer.  Completed applications are due by Feb 15, 2011. For more information, click here.

Does privatization of foster care work?

Nebraska’s child welfare system has been a focus of the press lately.  The reason?  They are in the process of privatizing parts of their child welfare system.  The effort to privatize state foster care systems has long been a topic of heavy debate.  Back in 1996, Kansas became the first state to privatize its foster care system.  Florida and Colorado soon followed suit with the goal of increasing the efficiency and accountability of child welfare services.  Other states, such as Michigan and Ohio have privatized parts of their system, such as adoptions.

An op ed was published in late September of last year in the Grand Island Independent which states, “The evidence continues to mount that Nebraska’s move to privatize the foster care system has been an utter failure. Day after day brings more evidence that the system is broken.”  The author cites inadequate funding, lack of communication between foster parents and agencies, and confusion about the process as some of problems.

In October, the Nebraska Foster Parent Review Board wrote a letter to state legislators to raise their concerns.  The letter cites “staff changes, payment delays to foster parents and service providers, documentation issues, difficulties accessing services, visitation supervision issues and delayed permanency.  Based on 340 case reviews conducted by the Board in September of 2010, 34.7 percent lacked home study documentation; 30.6 percent lacked immunization records; 29.4 percent lacked placement reports; and 27.6 percent lacked visitation or other such reports.”

In November, Governor Dave Heineman responded to the many statements, stories, and reports on the topic saying, “I hope everybody realizes what we’ve been doing in the last 40 years hasn’t worked,” Heineman said of child welfare and foster care. “Nebraska has one of the largest percentages of out-of-home placements in America.  […] What is best for the kids is in-home placements, not institutional care.  […]  The idea of reform is to change the system so a large majority of children and families are getting services in their homes, and a minority are being removed from their homes and put in out-of-home placements. The state has opted for a public-private partnership to do that.  […]  The government’s not a very good parent.  I think we have to involve the private sector, nonprofits, charities and others in this effort.  […] It’s real easy to sit there and say, ‘I don’t like the direction this is going,’ but I don’t hear a lot of solutions …”

State legislators are weighing in on this move, saying that there is not enough legislative oversight to the process.  With pressure from constituents wanting to know, “Is it adequately funded? How much private money is being invested? Is it sustainable? And do senators need to address any public policy issues regarding child welfare?”.  The encouraging news is that state legislators are taking action.

Just this month, a state Senator from Lincoln, Sen. Kathy Campbell, who was newly elected to lead the Health and Human Services Committee announced a resolution will be introduced that “would allow the committee to review and evaluate how child welfare reform has been conducted since its beginning, and report to the Legislature.”

Photo credit: FRANCIS GARDLER / Lincoln Journal Star

Adoptions from Russia

In New Zealand, intercountry adoptions from Russia were suspended in 2006 due to changes in Russian legislation amid speculations regarding the well-being of children after their adoptions.  Just the beginning of this month, adoptions from Russia to New Zealand are resuming as a result of a permit granted.  This article reports how one family was just two months away from bringing home their child when adoptions were halted back in 2006.  Another family waited two years and made three trips to Russia in hopes of completing their adoption. These are similar to the frustrations now faced by American families who are currently waiting to adopt a Russian child.

Meanwhile, the needs of Russian orphans remain significant.  UNICEF estimates there are 4 million orphans in Russia who have lost one or both parents.  A New York Time article states, “The percentage of children who are designated orphans is four to five times higher in Russia than in Europe or the United States. Of those, 30 percent live in orphanages. Most of them are children who have been either given up by their parents or removed from dysfunctional homes by the authorities.”

Since June 2010, the U.S. State Department has continued to work with Russia to finalize a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoption.  Russian officials traveled to Washington, DC last month to participate in a fifth round of talks regarding this agreement.  The U.S. Dept. of State’s website reports, “the talks were fruitful, and further progress was made.”  The focus of these talks include ways that both U.S. and Russian officials can ensure that adoptive parents are both better screened and prepared for the realities of parenting.

In addition to the U.S. and New Zealand adoption agreements, Russia began drafting agreements with France, Spain, Britain, Ireland, and Israel last year.

Haiti: One Year Later

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary since the earthquake that devastated Haiti.  As we move into year two, CCAI’s report Renewed Promise: The Welfare of Children in Haiti highlights lessons learned from the emergency relief and recovery efforts that have taken place this past year, and focuses federal policymakers on the needs that continue to exist related to orphaned and vulnerable children in Haiti.

Be sure to also check out reports from other organizations:

Photo Credit: The Haiti Orphans Project


Streamlining in child welfare

Across the country, several states are working to make processes in child welfare and adoption more efficient.  Just last week in Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court issued new rules meant to streamline the intercountry adoption process for PA residents.

The current intercountry adoption procedures that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State operate under say that in order for a child’s adoption to be finalized abroad, both parents must be present in child’s country of origin.  This child would then enter the U.S. on an IR-3 or IH-3 visa and gain citizenship upon entering the U.S.  If only one parent is present, that parent receives custody for immigration purposes, however, the adoption will be legally finalized after entering the U.S., and the child is eligible for citizenship after the adoption is finalized here in the U.S.  In this scenario, the child immigrates with an IR-4 or IH-4 visa (the distinction is simply made depending on if the child’s country of origin is party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption).

In cases where only one parent is present, Pennsylvania courts have decided that parents are allowed to file a form petition and several required documents, instead of requiring a time-consuming process of duplicating paperwork from other government agencies.

Another example of child welfare-related processes being streamlined is in Iowa where child abuse and neglect complaints will now be directed to one centralized intake center, compared to their previous practice of having 99 separate counties accept reports.  The efficiency of this new process could prove vital in the state, which has a rate of reports at 59.6 per 1,000 children, compared to the national average of 43.1 per 1,000 children.

In Tennessee, a project was undertaken last year to improve the timeliness of foster care adoption.  The ultimate goal is to streamline the adoption process and move children into loving families  as soon as possible.  The idea grew out of a CCAI Advisory Board meeting conversation when Rep. Jim Cooper expressed concerns about inefficiencies in the child welfare system, and Elmer Doty, CCAI Executive Board Member, offered experts from his company to examine ways to improve the system.  Using Lean/Six Sigma tools and methodologies, experts from Vought Aircraft  (now owned by Triumph Group, Inc.) partnered with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to examine adoptions involving children who are in full guardianship with a family identified. What  resulted was a thorough, fact-based examination of the key processes of finalizing these adoptions, and finding ways to reduce the variance across regions.  Tennessee DCS officials began implementing recommendations last June and will begin tracking data over the next year.