When 13-year-old "Adam" arrived at St. Joseph Orphanage in Cincinnati, he had no family, and he was angry and bitter toward everybody. "He was falling apart," recalls staff member Mark Davie. "I had to get him out of the gutter. He had so many issues with trying to fight with the other boys and being nasty toward everyone."
Davie decided to place Adam in the National Youth Project Using Minibikes (NYPUM), a program he directs at St. Joseph. The program is one of 44 NYPUM programs nationwide open to boys and girls ages 10-16. Young participants set realistic goals for themselves and are rewarded with the opportunity to ride a minibike when they meet those goals.
At St. Joseph, a residential center for boys referred by the child welfare system, youth typically reach step 4 of a 10-step program before they are eligible to train for NYPUM. Step 4 is a challenge because the boys must demonstrate they can be trusted and are responsible enough to handle a Honda minibike.
Davie decided to place Adam in the NYPUM program right away and train him early so Adam would have something to look forward to. Every Wednesday night, Davie and the NYPUM participants gear-up and hop on their bikes for a five-hour ride and cookout on the facility's 25 acres of wooded trails. Davie brings meat, chips, and soda and teaches the boys how to cook on a propane grill when they take a break from riding.
Adam did well in both the NYPUM and in therapy, and his behavior and attitude toward others changed for the better. He has since entered a foster home in a good school district, but he still visits St. Joseph. Davie describes Adam as hard to read, his face usually void of expression. Despite this, Davie knows how much NYPUM meant to Adam and believes the program helped the youth in a way traditional therapy could not. "He loved it, but he would never let you know it."
Davie explains the bike is a motivational tool for kids to do well in therapy at St. Joseph. "In the beginning, it's all about the bike, but eventually therapy becomes just as important as the bike to the kids."
When children join the program, they sit down with a certified NYPUM instructor (CNI) and their parents or other guardians and sign a formal agreement. The agreement addresses issues such as academic performance and behavioral challenges that cause disruption both at home and in school. Participants develop a success plan in which they set realistic goals to overcome personal challenges.
"If one of the boys consistently wakes up in the morning throwing things and cursing," Davie explains, "his goal would be to get up in the morning and leave the angry words behind. The goals have to be reasonable."
According to David Tivnan, National Program Coordinator for NYPUM, the team structure is "one of the most powerful aspects of the program." Each program has a team of about 8-10 kids. By learning to interact and cooperate with their fellow team members, the children become better-behaved individuals.
Before they even get on one of the Honda minibikes, participants attend a three-part training program in accordance with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. In a classroom, they learn how to prepare for a trail ride. Next, through NYPUM's 21-part off-road riding exercises, they learn about safe riding practices and responsibility to other riders. Some sites, such as St. Joseph, have a practice track. All of this prepares the youth for either trail or track riding with their CNIs.
The Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, a residential treatment facility for boys in Lancaster, Massachusetts, serves as the NYPUM's national operations center. The agency organizes national events and trains staff from around the country, all of whom conduct NYPUM activities in addition to the other services they provide children. The Children's Action Corps also works directly with Honda, NYPUM's corporate sponsor since the program's inception in 1969.
Jim Powers, NYPUM Director at the Children's Action Corps' Lancaster campus, said once the boys earn enough points, they either train or ride in the program twice a week after school. "The team-building aspect of NYPUM is also really important because when the boys learn to get along on the trails, they also get along in the house."
Each year, Powers takes a group of 10-12 boys to the annual Northeast NYPUM Rodeo. Separate rodeos are held for the Northeast, Southwest, and Midwest NYPUM sites. No cowboys, horses, or cattle are involved, but there are plenty of minibikes and wrangling of hot dogs. The popular Hot Dog Race requires participants to use their minibikes to gather as many hot dogs as possible. Another highly anticipated event is the Haystack Race, in which the kids race on minibikes and rummage through hay stacks to find prizes.
When not on their minibikes, the youth swim, play basketball, and interact with other kids who have all experienced similar challenges in life.
Not only does Powers's group participate in the regional NYPUM rodeo, the Lancaster campus puts on its own rodeo every fall. "It's a chance for the kids to show off what they've been doing in NYPUM throughout the year," Powers says.
Although St. Joseph and the Children's Action Corps are residential centers, two-thirds of all NYPUM programs are accessible through community-based agencies, such as the YMCA. The local school board and police department in Van Buren, Arkansas, for example, sponsors an NYPUM program.
Nationally, NYPUM has an 80% success rate. Program directors report that most participants demonstrate higher levels of self-respect, improved grades and school attendance, improved respect for others, and greater self-assurance.
ePassport Provides 24-Hour Access to Kids' Records
Transitioning into the new school year this year was a whole lot easier for children in foster care in Hamilton (Cincinnati) and Franklin (Columbus) Counties, Ohio. Each child received a Smart Card, making vital information about their young lives--such as immunization records, school courses completed, proficiency tests taken, and disability or special-needs designations--available with one swipe of the card.
According to The Community College Foundation (TCCF), most children and youth in foster care wind up missing approximately 40 days of school a year, causing them to fall behind in classes and receive duplicate vaccinations because of out-dated paper systems. TCCF is working to address the issue by conducting a Foster Youth ePassport National Demonstration Pilot in Ohio, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under the ePassport program, each child or youth in care receives a Smart Card containing his or her vital information so that schools, hospitals, private foster care agencies, and other community entities participating in the program can easily access the information. The information on the cards can be updated at any time.
"ePassport is an avenue for sharing information about a youth when the information is needed between community entities and organizations involved in the youth's life," says Tonya Welch-Kahley, ePassport Ohio Program Manager for TCCF.
An estimated 588,000 children and youth in the United States are in foster care--some 21,000 in Ohio, giving that state the nation's eighth largest foster care population. More than a third of children in foster care will change caregivers at least three times per year--sometimes as many as 30 times during their first term in the foster care system.
"When life histories lag behind foster youth moves, critical health and school information are not kept up-to-date," Welch-Kahley explains. "As a result, these youth are unable to obtain needed medical care, schooling, and social services."
In Ohio, ePassport has also been set up to complement the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS), which serves as a reporting system for local agencies to the state, and from the state to the federal government. Under SACWIS, child welfare agencies have access to foster care records and information, but community partners and organizations do not.
"With ePassport, community partners--children's services, schools, juvenile courts, private foster care agencies, medical providers, and more--are able to share and access information in a timely, efficient manner," Welch-Kahley says.
ePassport also allows kids in foster care to take responsibility for their records. If they are old enough, children and youth can carry the card with them; otherwise, foster parents or other caregivers keep the Smart Card. In Ohio, youth older than 15 who are part of an independent-living program receive their own cards to use at school, for doctors visits, and elsewhere. The information cannot be accessed without a personal identification number, protecting the youth's identity if the card is lost or stolen.
According to Welch-Kahley, the hope is for ePassport to become a nationwide program so children and youth in foster can have smoother transitions when they move from state to state. TCCF estimates the government spends $1.5 billion annually on duplicative services for children and youth in foster care. At a cost of approximately $100 per youth per year, a national ePassport program could cut down on these expenses.
"Moving from school to school and home to home is hard enough on foster youth. Transition is often made even more difficult when youth records fail to move at the same pace with which they move," says Welch-Kahley.
Community partners in Ohio's ePassport program include Columbus Children's Hospital Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Franklin County Children's Services, Hamilton County Job and Family Services, Hamilton County Juvenile Court, Lighthouse Youth Services, Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and the Ohio public school system.
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