Current and former foster youth presented policy recommendations for improving foster care to an audience of lawmakers, Oregon Department of Human Services 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 36 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
About Oregon Foster Youth Connection
Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) is a statewide, youth led advocacy group of current and former foster youth between the ages of 14 and 24. Members shape every aspect of what OFYC is, how it is structured, which policies to focus on and what activities to participate in. Through peer support and adult mentorship, members have the opportunity to build community with other foster youth and grow as leaders by developing solutions for Oregon’s foster care system. Learn more at www.ofyc.org.
About Children First for Oregon
Children First for Oregon (CFFO) is a statewide, nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower communities to advocate for kids so all children in Oregon can thrive. Since 1991, CFFO has worked across the state to galvanize community support for children and inform decision-makers about the solutions kids need. CFFO convenes and engages communities through four program areas: legislative solutions, foster youth advocacy, child abuse prevention and research and data. Learn more at www.cffo.org.