From the looks of Teen Court, our future is bright
Many headlines and news stories deal with the negative activities of teenagers. I have the pleasure of working with a group of teenagers that truly proves otherwise.
I have the privilege of working with the Gaston County Teen Court program. This program is sponsored by the Alliance for Children and Youth/ Communities in Schools of Gaston County. The purpose of the Teen Court program is to work with first time offenders in our county to offer them an opportunity to be held personally accountable for their actions but also allow them to have the charge dismissed once they have completed all the requirements handed down by a jury of their peers. This dismissal allows these students to pursue college entrance, military careers and enter into the workforce as productive citizens.
One particular group of teens that plays an instrumental part in this program are those teens that serve as volunteer attorneys and clerks. This group puts in countless hours preparing to defend and prosecute these first time offenders before a jury of their peers.
Each year, Gaston County sends a competition team to the N.C. Teen Court Summit to compete against other groups from across the state of Teen Court attorneys, clerks, bailiffs and defendants. The group of young men that represented our county this year at the state level finished FIRST in competition.
Twelve teams competed and the competition was challenging but our group of seven young men rose to that challenge. Gaston County can truly be proud of how we were represented. The following young men composed the team: Steven Morris, James Wilkes, Sam Amarasinghe from Highland School of Technology, Jared Lowe and Alex Szucs from Forestivew High School, Steven Allen from Gaston Day and Dakota Whisnant from Bessemer City High School.
Numerous adult volunteers make this program a success — the Alliance Board, JCPC Board, Sheriffs Department staff, District Attorney’s office, Public Defender’s office, various courthouse staff, local attorneys,parents and others. However the dedication that these young people make to the program and our community is a truly commendable. They are our future and our future looks very bright.
Congratulations to the team. Job well done!
28 March 2012
Court orders aid resumed to former foster child despite some bad grades
A state appeals court ruled that the DCF was wrong to cast a former foster child out of a financial aid program.
What makes a good student? And does a good student have to be good all the time?
Such questions might prove challenging even when they involve children and young adults who go home to moms and dads and tidy homes in affluent neighborhoods. But what if the youth had been in foster care?
In a ruling that could have significant implications for former foster children throughout Florida, a Miami appeals court last week said that a young adult who “aged out” of foster care need not have pulled good grades and attended faithfully all year in order to qualify for state-funded financial aid that is contingent upon successful academic achievement. Redeeming herself after a short educational setback may have been enough.
The case involves a 20-year-old woman — and her 2-year-old daughter — who entered state care six years ago due to her parents’ substance abuse and neglect. When she left foster care in November 2009 at age 18, the girl earned a Road to Independence scholarship and stipend from the state, intended to put a roof over her head and food in the pantry while she continued her education. Such scholarships are, generally, the only financial assistance ex-foster kids receive after age 18.
But the young woman, who is not being named to protect her privacy, ran into a rough patch while she was finishing a high school program for pregnant teens and attending Miami Dade College. “She attributed her academic problems to her infant daughter’s recurring illnesses and the difficulties of obtaining transportation and day care,” said the opinion from the state Third District Court of Appeal in Miami.
On the advice of both her case manager and her court-appointed guardian-ad-litem, the young woman withdrew from Miami Dade and enrolled in Beauty Schools of America, a vocational program in Homestead which was near her home and offered greater child care options. Through October 2010, the woman had maintained a “B” average in the program, records showed.
That same month, though, the private Our Kids foster care agency pulled her scholarship and stipend, arguing her spotty attendance and poor grades at Miami Dade rendered her ineligible for the assistance. Fran Allegra, Our Kids’ executive director, said the young woman continued to receive aid from the state while her appeal proceeded. In all, she has received a total of $36,424 from the state since her 18th birthday.
Professor Kele Stewart of the University of Miami’s Children & Youth Law Clinic, who is representing the woman, said the decision to drop her client from the program shows the callousness child welfare administrators often display toward foster children, many of whom drop out of school and would be ineligible for the program, to begin with. Nationwide, foster children get poorer grades, are held back and fail to graduate at significantly higher rates than children who grow up with their parents.
“We are their parents. The state is their parents,” Stewart said. “We have a responsibility, and, really, the state does not live up to its responsibility even before these children turn 18.”
Under the Road to Independence law, signed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, a young adult must “maintain appropriate progress” as outlined by their high school, college or vocational program in order to have his or her stipend renewed each year. But the law also adds: “If the young adult’s progress is insufficient to renew the award at any time during the eligibility period, the young adult may restore eligibility by improving his or her progress to the required level.” Young adults may remain in the program until age 23.
By terminating the woman from the program, the appeals court wrote, child welfare administrators imposed a more stringent set of requirements upon [her] than the statute actually requires.”
Carol Marbin Miller
26 March 2012
Israeli program helping at-risk children succeed
Of 2.3 million children and youth growing up in Israel, an estimated 350,000 are considered to be “at risk,” according to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Most of those youths come from families struggling to break the cycle of poverty and/or from homes where they are experiencing abuse or neglect.
With widening economic gaps, the number of at-risk youth keeps growing, visiting speaker Shai Lazer told the Federation staff recently. At the same time, he said, “There is a social paradox which exists: The more you’re at risk, the less you’ll receive services.” The paradox results from lack of funds, awareness and motivation, he said.
Helping to improve the plight of at-risk youth is Youth Futures, a program created in 2006 by the Jewish Agency for Israel. One of the founding fathers of Youth Futures was Federation president Stephen H. Hoffman. The Federation’s Overseas Connection Committee sponsors Youth Futures in Beit She’an, Cleveland’s partnership city, where the program serves 192 children and their families.
The key to the program is mentorship, said Lazer, national director of Youth Futures in Israel. Nearly 400 “trustees” in Israel are professionals who each works one-on-one with 16 children and their families for three to five years. “They create a significant adult for the children,” he said. “They create a relationship of trust and help them create a network.
“We believe people succeed in life if they believe in themselves,” said Lazer, who grew up in Israel and has master’s degrees in philosophy and history. He was part of the team that set up Youth Futures pilot programs in six localities. The program has grown to 35 locations.
Youth Futures works with children in grades three to nine, Lazer said, setting goals and helping children complete them. Trustees work every day in the morning at school and with the children in a peer group during after-school activities. They mentor the children, help them develop social skills, deal with violence, and resolve conflicts. In addition, trustees act as intermediaries in making resources and community services accessible.
“They see the child in different spheres in a holistic way,” Lazer said. Families receive the mentorship free of charge but must assume responsibility for participating in the program and helping their children receive services from psychologists, social workers or other professionals.
“The most inspiring thing is meeting trustees who want to change the world,” said Lazer, who’s married and has three children, ages 8 to 14. “There are long-lasting effects.” Youths served by the program complete high school, join the Israel Defense Forces, and many have plans to attend college.
“Youth Futures is based on the understanding that it is not enough to work with these children in order to create a change in their situation,” said Ilanit Gerblich Kalir, the Federation’s senior associate of international operations. “We understand that it is fundamental to support their families and siblings as well, to stay in constant connection with various educational systems, the community services, and even the local municipality.”
Using educational, social, familial and personal data, Youth Futures has had positive results, Gerblich Kalir said. “In the communities, the program creates a synergy and sweeps along many different elements into a thriving and widening cooperation.”
22 March 2012
Cash assistance for former foster children continues unchanged
The idea to scale back Florida's cash assistance for former foster children is dead this year, but so are the reforms proposed for the Road to Independence Program.
Currently, about 2,600 young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 receive monthly checks of about $1,100 from that program. It aims to help them transition out of foster care.
The Florida House pushed to lower the maximum age from 23 to 21, but that idea failed along with the bill.
Bill sponsor Sen. Nan Rich is disappointed because her plan passed the Senate unanimously but never got a hearing in the House.
However, Sen. Rich is relieved the monthly stipends will continue for young adults up to the age of 23. She says they've led difficult lives, frequently changing homes and schools, and faced a tougher time graduating from high school.
"Seventy percent of them don't graduate by the time they're 18 when they age out of the foster care system. So to expect that at age 21 for them to be able to go out on their own and be ready for the world, so to speak, is highly overrated at this point."
Sen. Rich's bill would have restructured the Road to Independence Program and included establishing stricter controls over how assistance can be spent.
She says she'll give the bill another shot next year.
21 March 2012
Local parties hope funding continues for youth justice program
It has been making a difference in the lives of youth for the past 11 years.
The Haliburton Youth Justice Committee (HYJC) is a provincial program that helps those who have committed a first time minor offence get back on the right track.
Facilitated by Point in Time Centre for Children and Youth, the initiative falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Attorney General.
Under provincial review, the program was recently not renewed for a full year of funding, as it has been in previous years, instead only receiving four months worth of funds.
The shift threatens the program’s future, leaving youth workers concerned about its viability.
The program aims to bring together those who have committed an offence, their parents, the victims and members of the community, with the purpose of providing a way for the youth to make amends for their actions.
Stressing its importance to the community, Marg Cox, executive director of Point in Time, is hopeful those who have been impacted or involved with the program will speak out in support of it.
“I think it’s something like $80,000 to $90,000 that it cost to keep somebody in a correctional facility for the course of a year. This program has seen, in the last year, just over 20 people. If it kept one person out of a correctional facility that would more than pay for the program,” said Cox.
Under the coordination of Donna Austin, the program has helped more than 200 people since its inception, Cox estimated.
Aside from financial benefit, the program also provides life-changing effects to a young offender.
“Research is showing more and more the way to turn
people away from not doing it is to develop empathy and understanding for
the impact of their actions,” said Cox.
The HYJC is comprised of dedicated and skilled volunteers who work with Austin in finding a suitable way for the young person to make amends and learn from their experience.
“Because this program does this, not just once but 20 times a year, that’s very powerful in helping youth change the trajectory of their life,” said Cox.
The community support is something that can make all the difference in turning an offender into an active, healthy member of society, said Cox.
According to a press release issued by Point in Time, their research shows that 93 per cent of victims and 100 per cent of offenders surveyed reported they found the restorative justice meeting helpful in resolving the incident, and over 96 per cent of both parties would recommend this process to others.
“If you look at this from an economic perspective it doesn’t make sense to cut this program,” said Cox.
Carolynn Coburn has been practising law for the past 16 years, primarily working as a defence lawyer in both adult and youth criminal court.
As a volunteer Coburn was involved in bringing the restorative justice program to Haliburton County as a pilot project and believes it is worth fighting for (see letter on page 7).
“Since it got started I was one of a number of people who put their names down as someone who would co-facilitate the circles, which I have done periodically over the years,” said Coburn.
The idea for restorative justice was examined in a book titled Return to the Teaching, based on the First Nations approach of embracing the wrongdoer, said Coburn.
In Haliburton County those who qualify for the HYJC can be referred by law enforcement officials, such as a police officer.
“If they think this is not worth the trouble and expense of the court system, but this kid needs to be redirected, they can call up the youth justice program and say can you see if you can help this kid? Just laying a charge is the beginning of a significant expense to the system,” said Coburn.
In a community as small and tight-knit as Haliburton, a program such as this one can go a long way.
“What I’ve seen in the circles is the youth has to describe what happened and has to take responsibility and it’s really difficult … it’s not a piece of cake for these kids. I’ve heard the kids afterwards feeling so relieved and satisfied with themselves, that they have owned up to it and taken responsibility,” she said.
Looking to the future, Coburn would like to see the program become a permanent part of the system.
Point in Time has not been given any indication of when the review will be completed or what is in store for future funding, said Cox.
20 March 2012
Youth Development Trainings Focus
A nationally renowned trainer will present two workshops in northwest Indiana to help youth workers better understand challenging behavior and to provide youth program managers with best practices in behavior management.
The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) is offering two half-day trainings on April 11 featuring Scott Arizala, founder and CEO of The Camp Counselor, a national consulting and training company for summer camps. Arizala will teach one morning and one afternoon session, each focusing on a different topic and aimed at different, though related, audiences.
“Bullying, Bravery and Behavior Management: The Road Map to Success” will run 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and is designed for youth workers, teachers, youth ministers, family service providers and others who work directly with children, youth and families. Participants will gain knowledge of developmental causes of challenging behavior and learn techniques for confronting behavior issues with consistency.
The afternoon session, “Behavior Management: A Facilitated Discussion with Executives, Administrators and Managers,” runs from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. and targets executive directors, managers, school principals and other senior staff members responsible for leading and directing employees. This session will explore a practical approach to youth development and outline key principles in behavior management. Participants will hear ideas for training and supporting staff and administrators in addressing challenging behavior.
The trainings will be presented at Geminus Corporation, 400 Louisiana St., Room B16, Merrillville, 46410. The cost of each session is $20 and individuals can register online with a credit card at www.iyi.org/training_registration. Onsite check-in begins 30 minutes in advance of each session. Individuals are welcome to attend both sessions for $40.
Arizala is a leading expert and trainer on kids, staff and the summer camp experience. He has been involved with camps and youth development for more than 20 years and authored a best-selling book on summer camp and youth development, “S’more Than Camp.”
In addition to training and consulting, Arizala is the director for two camps. Dragonfly Forest is a camp in Pennsylvania that focuses on children with autism and medical needs. Camp Kesem is a nationwide network of camps affiliated with college campuses that focuses on children with parents fighting cancer and developing leadership in college students.
Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for both workshops are available through various professional organizations; details can be found at www.iyi.org. These workshops also will be presented in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Evansville, New Albany and Indianapolis.
These trainings are supported by Lilly Endowment Inc., The Clowes Fund and the Nicholas H. Noyes, Jr. Memorial Foundation.
The Indiana Youth Institute promotes the healthy development of Indiana children and youth by serving the people, institutions and communities that impact their well-being.
18 March 2012
Free The Children founder
speaking in Alberta
Craig Kielburger in Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton
Well-known activist and founder of Free The Children and Me to We, Craig Kielburger, is coming to Alberta as a speaker in a leadership and innovation series put on by the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Management and the Certified Management Accountants of Alberta.
In an interview with the Herald, Kielburger said he will be speaking about the power of social entrepreneurship.
In time of recession, budgets for non-profits are being cut but at the same time the needs are rising, he said, and there’s a need to do more with less.
“Maybe we produce these socially-conscious products and services that exist so that people can, not only by purchasing them help support the work for the children, but the very product itself somehow betters the world,” said Kielburger.
“It’s something that people are embracing.”
Kielburger will be speaking Wednesday, March 21 in Lethbridge at the U of L Students Union Ballroom at 7 p.m.; Thursday, March 22 at 4 p.m. at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton; and Friday, March 23 at noon at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary.
Tickets for the events are free with limited seating and
open to everyone. Online registration at
For more information visit http://www.uleth.ca/management/CMAspeakers.
At age 12
Kielburger co-founded Free The Children in 1995 when he was 12. The international charity delivers programs to more than 4,000 youth groups and hundreds of thousands of young people in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. It is the world’s largest network of children helping children through education.
He is also co-founder of Me to We, which provides people with socially-conscious and environmentally-friendly products. It also organizes international volunteer trips and leadership training programs. Each year Free The Children’s We Day reaches millions of youngsters around the globe.
The University of Lethbridge speakers series features entrepreneurs, philanthropists, businesspeople and others who have achieved a high level of success in their fields and/or made an important contribution to their community.
Bob Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Management at the University of Lethbridge, with campuses in Calgary and Edmonton, said the idea for the speakers series is to bring in leaders from business and society to talk about key issues that are confronting society and also to inspire young people to become leaders.
In the past, high-profile speakers have included Calgary entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson and David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber.
“We actually built into our mission statement that our graduates will become leaders in the organizations in which they work and the communities in which they live. That really captures what we try to do. We have an emphasis on both teaching management and fostering leadership and building really strong connections to the communities,” said Ellis.
Kielburger’s life story and success fits in nicely with the speakers series.
“Really if there’s one theme, it’s around innovative models to do good and how we need that innovation desperately in the non-profit sector,” said Kielburger.
“I hope (people) will come and hear some ideas of how in their daily life choices they can change the world for the better. The CMAs and business leaders who come to join us can look at these innovative models (as to) how they can increase the philanthropic change and how they can integrate these within a company. So not just writing a cheque but how corporate social responsibility can become much more than just a buzz word but in fact be integrated and be something that’s good for the heart and good for the wallet at the same time.”
14 March 2012
DHS slashes number of kids in its care by fostering new ideas
BEFORE WE marvel that there are 30 percent fewer Philly kids in foster care or delinquent placement today than three years ago, let's marvel that Rashan Clarke survived the system at all.
From the age of 3 months until he aged out of foster care last year, Rashan, 18, bounced from placement to placement. A few of his caregivers were well-intentioned, he says, but those relationships were short-lived. Mostly, he endured abuse or neglect by people who were supposed to protect and care for him.
"Too many of them are just in it for the money. They don't care about you. I ran away a lot," says Rashan, who also did time in a juvenile center for assault - a result, he says, of his anger at being so thoroughly unwanted.
"Once I got old enough to protect myself, I stayed in my room with the door locked, so no one could hurt me," he says.
Now on his own, he has a supermarket job and stays with friends while he tries to find a permanent home. The thing is, if the Department of Human Services had worked to keep Rashan with kin or in his own neighborhood long ago, he might be better off today.
For too long, admits DHS Commissioner Annemarie Ambrose, foster placement in Philadelphia has been used as a first-time response to family crises instead of as a last resort. Indeed, Philadelphia has the highest rate of foster placement in America, beating out even Los Angeles and New York in the number of children removed from their families. The outcomes can be especially miserable for those who age out of the foster system and wind up back with family anyway.
"They have to try to rebuild relationships, because placement cut their ties to family. They're like strangers. It's heartbreaking," says Ambrose, whose department meets regularly with Rashan and other former foster kids to learn how DHS can improve services to families in jeopardy.
The good news is that DHS has slashed the number of children it removes from families. In 2005, 6,482 children were removed. By the end of 2011, the number had dropped 35 percent, to 4,182.
In its place, the department is focusing on providing services to children and families right in their communities.
Ambrose says the cost of placement is about $150 per day, compared with $50 per day to keep the kids at home.
Meaning it's cheaper to help a family stay together than it is to rip it apart. And the long-term consequences are better for all.
"By reducing the number of kids in placement, you strengthen the community and create stronger safety nets for families," Ambrose says.
Importantly, DHS has also reduced out-of-state placement of children in both foster and delinquent care: In 2008, 250 kids were sent out of state; currently, there are fewer than 60.
"When a child is out of state, it's harder to monitor their care," she says. "You can't do visitation or family therapy and talk through problems in a way that helps you arrive at a good, long-term solution. By offering supportive services in the community, we can work through those issues in better ways."
Although she lauds city Behavioral Health Commissioner Arthur Evans and Family Court Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty for working with DHS to create alternatives to removing a child from the family, she concedes that she and her colleagues still have work to do. About 25 out of every 1,000 children under DHS care are in placement, well ahead of the 18-per-1,000 rate of the second-highest city, Los Angeles.
But the downward trend is notable enough that a frequent DHS critic was encouraged when I asked his take on the reductions.
"This is certainly better than it used to be," says Richard Wexler, head of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
"If you're going to take a child out of the home, then the least harmful option is almost always placement with a relative. The worst option is an institution. And the worst institution is the one out of state.
"Therefore, within the context of taking away children, DHS is not doing as badly as it once did. But Philly still has a long way to go."
No argument there.
But good news is still good news. Just ask the Rashan Clarkes of the city.
13 March 2012
A 'little toughie' survives the
Foster child Kori had developed a tough-girl shell and kept her emotions well hidden. Then she met Anne and Don Marsh and everything changed
On meeting Kori and Anne Marsh, it's impossible not to see the bond between daughter and mother that's been built through three decades of laughter and tears.
They rejoice in each other's company, correct each other's grammar and don't shy away from fearlessly admonishing each other in the way that only mothers and daughters can do.
As a tour director for an internationally renowned travel company based in Vancouver, Kori is away up to nine months of the year. But when she puts down her bags for a much-needed rest, she's at 'Marsh Manor' in North Vancouver with Anne and the two dogs.
Their physical resemblance is uncanny, considering that Kori was 16 when she first showed up at Anne and Don Marsh's door with her suit-case in hand.
She was a foster kid, born in Churchill, Man. At three-and-a-half, she was adopted by a West Vancouver family who returned her to government care when she was 12. The Marshes were her seventh foster family in four years.
They had no children of their own. And Anne only made the decision to take in a child after days of passing a billboard calling for foster parents on her daily commute to the law firm where she worked.
"I always enjoy a challenge," says Anne, who told her stay-at-home husband that they ought to take a teen-age girl.
Don said okay and signed up for a course. He was the one who was there when Kori came home from school. He was the one who asked how school was going. And he was the one, Kori says, to whom she could tell the truth, even if it was bad, because she knew he would be okay with it.
"I remember the day she arrived. She was this little toughie with the attitude 'see-what-you-can-make-of me,'" Anne says with a laugh.
She could feel a bond right away - "I could see right away the spirit that Kori has ... I could see her great intelligence."
Kori, now 47, doesn't recall having had any such feeling. What she recalls is that, like every other move, it was one of the worst days of her life.
"I detested the move to a new house. My stomach would get all ERRRrrrrr and I'd be thinking I'm a loser and I had that image of being this poor, ratty, little street kid. And that was horrible growing up in West Vancouver."
Kori cloaked herself in a tough-girl shell. She hid her emotions and trusted no one.
"When you go to court and the judge deems you a ward of the government and bangs his gavel, you're done. When you get into the foster system, you're pegged as a bad person and you start believing that. It's a revelation when you finally realize that you're not. But that branding of kids is so terrible."
Kori decided to talk to me about her experience because she says foster children shouldn't be stigmatized. They should be given the help they need to succeed, not labelled as losers. It's not fair, she says. It's not their fault that they're in government care.
At school, everybody knew she was a foster kid and expected her to be a troublemaker. Kori fulfilled those expectations.
Adults who should have been helping her called her stupid. One told her she'd likely die in a ditch with a heroin needle stuck in her arm.
Kori had just been readmitted to high school when she arrived at the Marshes. She'd been kicked out for - as Anne puts it - "the usual, unfortunate things that happen to foster children."
She'd seen the Marshes before at Presentation House, but not met them. The vice-principal/drama teacher at her school was helping Kori jam two years of schooling into one and to earn a credit in drama, he'd got her a volunteer job as a production assistant at Presentation House. The Marshes were also volunteers. For three years, Anne was president of Theatre B.C. She acted in a Nicola Cavendish-directed production of Hay Fever and still acts on the rare occasions when there's an appropriate part for a lively, 75-year-old woman.
Kori was awed and a bit frightened by Anne. She'd never been in a home where the husband stayed home and had dinner waiting for his wife when she came home from work.
"Kori thought I was a bit remote," says Anne.
"I thought you were weird and that hasn't changed," says Kori with a laugh. "But now that you're older, we call it eccentricity."
On her second night at Marsh Manor, Kori was left home alone. Nobody had ever trusted her like that. It was a revelation to think that they believed everything would still be intact when they returned.
Of course, Anne and Don were also naive and Anne admits, "It took me quite a while to clue into some of the things Kori was doing."
At Christmas that first year, after all the presents were opened, Anne pointed to a scroll hanging on the tree. It was for Kori and it was a hand-written promise that they would take her to England when they went to visit Anne's relatives.
Kori couldn't believe it - didn't believe it until she was at the airport. She'd been convinced they'd lied and really planned to leave her behind. But they didn't and Kori's love of travel and English history was sparked.
"That was very special to me. I saw this commitment that I had never seen before. It was so different from the one home where they [the foster family] were only doing it for the money. Everything was clean and shiny when the social workers came, but after they'd left they went back to beating the kids or throwing things around."
Kori finished two years of high school in one and the Marshes proudly watched as she accepted not only her diploma, but the first, Most Improved Student Award.
When Kori turned 19, she was no longer a ward of the government and the Marshes' official responsibility for her ended. But their door was always open to her. Anne and Don took in two other girls. Neither stayed long. Anne felt no bond with them and neither responded to their outstretched hands and open hearts.
When Don died, Kori was 21. She moved back home to be with Anne.
It's not always like that. Among the startling statistics about foster children is that 45 per cent of them end up homeless at 22, three years after "aging out" of the system and that 65 per cent of all homeless people came from foster care. This odd government policy of setting kids adrift is why Anne recently started volunteering at Aunt Leah's - a non-profit that helps kids who have "aged out" of foster care" and are set adrift by the government.
By 24, Kori was working at a hotel job that she hated. But on the same day that she heard about a course in California that trained tour directors, she told Anne about it. "Let's do it," Anne said, agreeing to pay the tuition and off Kori went and her career was launched.
Throughout her 20s and 30s, Kori moved in and out of Marsh Manor several times. Even though Kori kept it well hidden, those were difficult years of binge drinking, abusing drugs and struggling with depression and anxiety.
Anne never turned her away. How could she? She'd made a commitment that wasn't time limited.
It's interesting to trace the trajectory of their 30-year journey through the names that Kori has called Anne.
Mrs. Marsh. Then, Anne Marsh ("It was always Anne Marsh, not just Anne," says Kori). Eventually, as the decades rolled by, Kori began calling her Mama Marsh.
Finally, five years ago, Kori began calling her Mama.
Anne and Kori don't believe their story, or Kori's success, is unique. But they believe more success stories would be possible if a few changes were made to the system.
More care should be taken in the placement of foster children. Better screening ought to be done to weed out those who are only in it for the money.
Social workers need more time to assess what really goes on in foster homes.
"It just takes one person to recognize the talents that a child has," says Kori. "And if foster parents are not going to do that, what are they doing taking in foster children?"
She also says it's crazy that because of a shortage of foster parents the government signs contracts with children in their mid-teens and lets them live on their own - at a time when they're most in need of support.
But Kori is happy and believes she's finally peeled off all the layers of distrust and pain.
"I think of myself as somebody who has won through the system and become successful," says Kori. "I wouldn't change a thing about my life because what I went through made me who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished."
As for Anne, it's been worth every minute.
"If we had had our own daughter, I feel sure it would have been someone very like Kori."
10 March 2012
Teenage brains still active, just offline for construction
Your teenager hasn’t lost their head – their mind is just under construction.
While it may seem like your teenager is speaking a different language and, judging by the clothes they wear, from another planet some days, it’s still them in there, and it’s important to know the changes that their minds are undergoing so as you can still reach out to them.
“Some changes are due to hormones,” admitted Steve Martin of Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth during a presentation on the adolescent brain at the Municipal Drug Strategy Networking Day at the Brunton Community Hall in Blacks Corners, Beckwith Township, on Friday, Feb. 24. “But the first sign (of change) is not physical, it’s attitudinal.”
Martin added that if your teenager seems to be just this side of a coma considering the amount of sleep he or she is taking, don’t worry – it is normal.
“The average teen needs more than nine hours of sleep per night,” said Martin. “The catch-up sleep time is needed for brain development,” so letting them sleep until noon on the weekend might actually be healthy for them.
But because teens’ brains are changing so quickly, it puts them at greater lasting harm from experimenting with drugs. It’s like writing your name in cement that is drying.
“Teens are much more affected by nicotine than adults,” said Martin.
In fact, the period of “major growth and re-wiring,” lasts from mid-adolescence until the early 20s. While someone’s brain may not be fully formed until even after they graduate from university, the battle of the sexes also comes to the fore in this subject as well.
“Men take a little bit longer to develop…because our brains are bigger,” said Martin, taking in a deep intake of breath, his eyes darting around the predominantly female room, before very quickly adding a caveat to this fact. “But, they are not as complex as the female brain.”
“I’m on a real tightrope here,” he added, with a sigh of relief.
In his own life, he has seen how learning certain skills in his teenage years proved to be a boon. Now in a band called Judge A Book, he started studying music at the age of 13.
“So, when I am old and senile, I will still be playing guitar,” he said.
Teenage boys are slavishly devoted to their video games, often harmlessly feeding in to another fact about teenagers – that they look for something with “high excitement, low investment…The video game, you don’t have to put in a lot of effort, and it is exciting.”
Unfortunately, drugs are a similar low investment, high excitement hit.
While body language is important to dealing with people at any age, teens have a harder time reading facial expressions than older people.
“Teens tend to react explosively rather than rationally,” said Martin. “Teens tend to misread faces as being angry.”
It’s not unusual for parents to have a reaction like “Whoa! Where did that come from?” because of a disproportionate response from ones teen.
“Apparently, when I come home from a hard day’s work, I look angry,” said Martin.
The parts of the brain that deal with behaviours like setting goals, controlling emotions and impulses, and making plans and judgments are also in the development stage. Adding drugs to the mix can have long-term effects on the person’s brain.
“Yes, they are more vulnerable,” said Martin. “They are not thinking ahead…and they have a more emotional social life.”
In fact, smoking one marijuana cigarette or “joint,” can have effects that still show up on brain tests long after the buzz or “high” has gone.
“Impairment of complex cognitive skills (after marijuana use) is much longer term than in adults, even three weeks into abstinence,” said Martin.
Peer pressure is also an external force that may make otherwise sane kids do stupid things.
“They will do really stupid things when they are with their friends,” said Martin.
In fact, while choosing to do drugs might not be that smart, the symptoms of exposed drug use – slower speed, slower attention, poor planning ability, poor verbal memory – mimic many of the symptoms of brain injury.
7 March 2012
Miller leaving The Village Network at 'top of his game'
Jim Miller is quick to deflect credit for his remarkable run as the executive director of The Village Network.
Reminded of an exhaustively long list of accomplishments, Miller, planning to retire in January 2013, praised "the wonderful staff we've attracted here. That's the way in which we get things done."
"Some of the finest folks in the profession" are employed at TVN, he said, adding, the staff "has developed over years."
"We didn't just have a mission statement, but lived a mission statement," he said. "The emphasis is first of all excellence and caring for kids."
Miller joined TVN, previously called Boys' Village, in 1986 as its clinical and associate director and its executive director in 2000.
"We had 54 kids," he said. Now, on a daily basis, TVN serves more than 620.
"We had one location when I started," he said, noting the organization has grown to 17 sites in 14 cities.
"In a year, we serve over 1,350 kids -- boys and girls. It was just boys when I started," Miller said.
The former director charged Miller with initiating a treatment foster care program.
"That has become the largest part of our services," Miller said.
While he acknowledged he will "carefully" hand over the reins to someone new, he also recognizes, "The Village isn't just Jim Miller. Many folks (have done) the heavy lifting."
Miller was the first to receive, in 2010, the Champion for Children and Families Award from the Alliance of Summit County Child Care Providers; he also garnered the 2008 George Steven Award for his contributions to the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies.
Another first in the state was TVN's 2008 certification to provide sexual offender treatment, a program Miller initiated in 1988. Among his other accomplishments are treatment foster care and day treatment programs.
"This organization has developed a national reputation, not just a state one, earning a National Agency of the Year award from the National Foster Parent Association in 1999 and a national Alliance for Children and Families Agency of the Year distinction in 2007.
"We've stuck to our mission in providing excellent service in an economically efficient way," Miller said.
Corporate involvement has been another hallmark of TVN.
"One of the things I tell staff in orientation is this is an organization truly owned by the community," he said, with its directio n and vision determined by an active board.
A $5 million capital campaign from 2003-2010 spanned much of Miller's tenure as executive director.
It encompassed construction of the Gault Youth and Family Enrichment Center, housing a new school, clinical offices and cafeteria; remodeling and expanding the residential cottages; building support services facilities; and converting the former school into a multi-service center incorporating treatment foster care, day treatment and recreational facilities.
"We directed the capital campaign to the kids," Miller said. "That is the primary focus."
TVN has been dependable, he said, reducing the costs of its services by shortening stays for youth, finding them adoptive parents, providing programs with impact and using proven practices -- all the while maintaining financial stability.
"We are definitely coming out of a recession as a very strong and growing agency," Miller said. "This year is probably our best financial year since I've been here, (even) in the midst of such tough economic times."
In announcing his retirement a year ahead of time and being very flexible about when he will actually leave, the board has time to make the best decision possible about the new leadership of TVN, Miller said.
The challenge his successor will face is having "the ability to be flexible in a changing environment, while staying true to your mission -- to respond in a way that is truly a partner in each of the communities we serve ... to continue to be on the cutting edge of excellence in treatment."
Miller made the decision to retire "at the top of my game," citing the example of Ted Williams, who "hit his last home run on his last at-bat as a major league player on Sept. 28, 1960."
In a press release about Miller's retirement, Marty Degnan, chairman of the board of trustees, said, "Jim Miller has become a good friend to those of us who have worked with him during his tenure at The Village Network, and he leaves a legacy of service that is an example to us all."
"I believe Jim will be best remembered for his unwavering focus on what was best for the young people entrusted to his care."
William Bailey will serve as the head of the search committee.
His primary reason for retiring is to at least slow down a little, taking more time to be with his family, in addition to "get(ting) in some more fishing and golf," he quipped.
5 March 2012
Conference to celebrate power of youth reading
On March 10, the Marion County Children and Families Department will host a conference to celebrate family reading.
This conference is a collaborative effort with the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality and Salem-Keizer School District. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at McKay High School. Who should attend? Parents, grandparents, foster parents, child-care providers, preschool teachers, and anyone who lives or works with children.
The conference is free, and child care will be provided — along with food. There will be workshops and activities to help families learn new ideas for making reading an enjoyable part of each day. We hope you will attend.
The title for this year's conference (formerly known as the "No Child Left Behind Conference") is "Unlock the Power."
What power, you might ask, and why does it need to be unlocked?
The power we are referring to is the hidden power within each child, teen and adult. We are referring to the power that arises from hopes, dreams and ideas; the power that each individual has to make the world a better place.
Reading is critical to unlocking the hidden power in our young people because it can help them to learn new information, communicate that information and grow in their understanding of the world around them.
Children learn in a variety of ways, and reading is necessary for increasing the capacity to acquire new information, synthesize ideas and develop solutions to problems.
The technology we use every day provides a powerful example of the benefit of reading, learning and succeeding in school.
The people who developed smartphones, computers and powerful web-based applications were once young. We can only imagine the sequence of events in their lives that led to the development of tools that revolutionized how we communicate and transmit information on a global scale in 2012.
We want to keep fostering that kind of innovation, and reading is a necessary component.
Our community's commitment to reading has been stunning. Remember the 2011 Holiday Book Drive?
Our community members contributed the most books ever. With the support of 98 collection sites across the county and hundreds of volunteers, we collected nearly 30,000 books. This was a true miracle considering how fragile the economy was last year.
We want to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to the book drive. Your support was incredible.
The books have been cleaned and sorted according to reading level by avid volunteers, and many of them will be distributed during the "Unlock the Power" conference. Thank you.
The 2011 Reading for All Holiday Book Drive would not have succeeded without the help of volunteers and community partners.
In a similar way, the "Unlock the Power" conference represents an opportunity for community members to join together to celebrate what reading can do for our young people. We hope you will join us because there are a lot of little brains to encourage in our area, and we can't do it without you.
To register for the conference, go to www.co.marion.or.us/cfc, or call the Children and Families Department at (503) 588-7975. We look forward to seeing you.
3 March 2012
Nanaimo must act on issues facing youth
Nanaimo is failing some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
A recent report from the Vancouver Island Health Authority outlines what one youth advocate referred to as the "horror story" of higher rates of serious juvenile crime, children living on income assistance and greater incidents of child abuse than the provincial average.
The data, released by VIHA on Monday, looks at housing, social supports and the health of children, comparing statistics to Vancouver Island and the province.
The non-cannabis juvenile drug charges is 63.2 per 100,000 people, which is more than double the average on Vancouver Island and child abuse is at 11.1 per 1,000 children, up from the sevenperthousand provincial average and 10.9 average in the VIHA coverage area.
Nanaimo has long struggled with a complex mix of social problems, ranging from illiteracy to higher-than-average welfare rates. But this recent report should force more people to notice the problems some of our youth face, especially considering that Nanaimo scored poorly on "nearly all indicators of child and youth healthy development."
"We are not providing enough opportunities and programs to support one of the most important assets we have as a community, our children," said Steve Arnett, executive director of the Nanaimo Youth Services Association.
We understand that there's no easy answer to these challenges. Tackling these issues will require action from all aspects of the community. The provincial government needs to ensure that social programs that support at-risk youth are properly funded and even expanded. Dr.
Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said municipal governments have power to change the health of their communities and has been advocating for more partnerships between VIHA and the city.
But it's not just up to governments; individuals also must do what they can to support vulnerable people in our community. That could involve volunteering or simply donating a few cans to organizations that help youth, such as the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation.
As students and educators take part today in Pink Shirt Day, an initiative designed to raise awareness about bullying, we should remember that bullying is also a symptom of a larger problem. It's linked closely to other indicators of healthy youth development, such as poverty and social supports.
We commend Nanaimo District Secondary School for its recently announced social media initiative called Teens Networking Together.
Not only does it give the district's students a proactive and easy way to report concerns about bullying 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it also provides them with immediate support if they are feeling scared, worried or suicidal.
These types of programs are an excellent start but more needs to be done. Nanaimo needs expanded programs and more partnerships between governments and agencies to develop better services. The community itself also needs to pitch in.
We can't be complacent. It's not enough to say that Nanaimo has always struggled with historically higher-than-average welfare rates and other poor socio-economic statistics. We must take action.
But only through co-operation can the community reverse this troubling trend.
29 February 2012