Children's Voice May/June 2007

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Eye on CWLA

NYAC Gives Young Adults a Voice

For more than six years, CWLA has given a group of youth leaders formerly in foster care the chance to become directly involved in changing the foster care system for the better. Twenty-three youth, ages 18-24 and representing 19 states, participate in the National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC)-- an initiative implemented by CWLA and funded by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

During twice-annual meetings--one in Washington, DC, the other in a city of the council's choice--NYAC members share information about their own experiences in foster care and work on solutions to the challenges facing youth transitioning out of care.

Since its inception, NYAC has produced position statements on permanency issues, education, health, housing, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning issues as they relate to youth in foster care. All the position statements have played a role in CWLA's advocacy work on Capitol Hill.

NYAC has also created a toolkit of resources, complete with colorful brochures, a CD-ROM, and flashcards to educate other youth about how they can become leaders in their communities and advocate for improving foster care and transitioning out of care. Because many NYAC members are encouraged to attend and speak at CWLA events, the council has also produced a travel guide outlining tips for young leaders traveling outside of their hometowns for the first time and how to prepare for public speaking engagements, conferences, and workshops while on the road.

NYAC's latest project is a newsletter it hopes to distribute to child welfare agencies nationwide.

Overseeing NYAC's work is Vanessa Jones, CWLA's Program Manager for Youth Services, who is also a foster care alumnus. Jones plans to work with NYAC to more widely distribute the resource materials it has created. She also wants to connect more CWLA member agencies with NYAC members who can help agencies improve their youth programming.

"They are all very intelligent young people who have a lot of great ideas about improving the situation for youth in foster care and youth transitioning out of foster care," Jones says. "I was in foster care, and they come up with ideas I never thought about."

All of the NYAC's members are youth who were active in their communities before being selected by other NYAC members to serve on the council, Jones says. Serving on NYAC gives them additional advocacy experience on the national level and the chance to build their professional skills in the process.

To learn more about how your agency can work with NYAC, or to obtain copies of the NYAC's position statements, toolkit, or travel guide, contact Jones at 202/942-0315, or vjones@cwla.org.

May is National Foster Care Month

Host a party in honor of foster families in your area, ask your local grocery stores to print foster care messages on their bags, and post information about how to adopt a child from foster care on your personal or your organization's website. These are just a few things you can do this May for National Foster Care Month.

CWLA is one of 14 national child welfare organizations sponsoring the National Foster Care Month campaign this year. The month serves as a platform for connecting the half million children in foster care to concerned, nurturing adults who, no matter how much time they have to give, can do something that will change the life of a young person in foster care.

Download a Foster Care Month toolkit.

CWLA Delegation Visits Gulf Region

CWLA staff witnessed first-hand the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Region and learned how CWLA members are determined to recover. Photos by Adrianne Lewis.

A team of CWLA staff spent a week in the Gulf region last December visiting member agencies affected by Hurricane Katrina in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi to discuss the recovery process and tour devastated areas.

"While progress has been slow, the region and its people have so much to be thankful for," says CWLA Southern Region Director Adrianne Lewis. "A sense of hope are the only words I can use to describe the trip to the Gulf region."

In Louisiana, CWLA staff visited Kingsley House, Raintree Children Services, and Jewish Children's Regional Services. In Mississippi, they met with staff of The Saint Francis Academy, Mississippi Children's Home Society, Mississippi Department of Family and Children Services, and Jackson State University School of Social Work. And in Alabama, they visited Gateway, Glenwood, and Children's Aid Society.

The highlight of the visit to Louisiana was the opportunity for CWLA staff to have dinner with the teenage girls at Raintree Children Services. "The residents and staff prepared dinner for us and shared their personal stories with us," Lewis says.

In Mississippi and Alabama, the CWLA delegation attended board and staff meetings, where they provided the latest national trend data on child welfare and talked about how members could become more involved in CWLA regional and national activities.

In addition to meeting with members based in Birmingham, CWLA staff dined with staff from the Alabama Department of Human Resources, the University of Alabama School of Social Work, and the Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

"The visit with member agencies gave us the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of the storm 15 months later, and to see their ongoing needs and the tremendous work they do on a daily basis," Lewis says.

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Shows Success in Louisville Pilot















Peer mentor Nicole Wigman enjoys a game of bowling with her mentee Ayesha during a Boys' Haven Mentor Program outing. Photo courtesy of Boys' Haven.
For several years, mentoring has been an integral part of programming for the kids at Father Maloney's Boys' Haven in Louisville, Kentucky. Staff could clearly see the difference an adult volunteer mentor could make in the life of a foster teen. Last summer, CWLA helped Boys' Haven expand its mentoring program by piloting the new Fostering Healthy Connections Through Peer Mentoring program at the agency.

A CWLA workgroup of former foster youth and mentoring professionals developed the curricula and training materials for the peer-to-peer mentoring program, with funding from the New York Life Foundation. The program trains former foster youth to be mentors to children currently in the foster care system.

"We were very excited about this work and its implementation and thrilled when Boys' Haven was asked to pilot the training curriculum and program design in Kentucky for six months," says Boys' Haven Mentor Program Manager Jeannette Stratton. "A former foster youth can offer so much as a mentor to other foster youth...there is a sense of trust and openness among foster youth that would take a considerable amount of time to develop in a mentor relationship with someone outside the foster care system."

A report by Stratton last fall revealed positive preliminary results. Mentees said they had found a friend in their mentors and were learning to laugh, have patience and confidence, and trust people.

"From a program standpoint," Stratton wrote, "I think the pilot project is going well, but an even greater indicator of success would be the personal gain, satisfaction, and success that each young person has received as a result of their participation."

Boys' Haven piloted the program from August 2006 to January 2007. Mentees were ages 11-14. Mentors were young adults over 18 who had been mentored themselves during their preteen years.

CWLA conducted a day of training in Louisville with the mentors, and a three-hour orientation for both mentors and mentees. Both parties agreed to a Peer Mentor Pledge to maintain open communication, be honest, show respect, report any problems to staff, follow program guidelines, attend group activities, have weekly contact, have adult supervision, and be a role model. They also exchanged "best friends" key chains.

Mentors and mentees participated in two group activities a month and were encouraged to call each other and send letters as often as possible. Group activities included a trip to a local pizza parlor and arcade, a scavenger hunt at the zoo, bowling, laser tag, visiting the state capitol, and attending a performance of The Nutcracker.

CWLA is hoping to expand the Fostering Healthy Connections Through Peer Mentoring program at eight more CWLA member agency sites. View more information, or contact Millicent Williams, CWLA Director of Family Foster Care Services, at 202/942-0253 or mwillia@cwla.org.

CWLA's 2007 National Conference Awards














Terry Cross of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (right) presented an award to former CWLA President/CEO Shay Bilchik during the 2007 National Conference in recognition of his work on behalf of Indian child welfare. Photo by Erin Day.
At its 2007 National Conference in February, CWLA presented its annual awards recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of corporations, lawmakers, advocates, and children and youth who are working to secure a brighter future for children and families nationwide. Recipients of CWLA's 2007 National Conference Awards include:

Champion for Children

Greg Floyd, News Anchor, CBS 6 WRGB, Schenectady, New York, for his profile of a student at the Northeast Parent and Child Society whose mother passed away and whose sister was in jail for murder. The segment discussed how the agency helped the boy and his plans to attend college. Floyd promised viewers he would follow up on the youth's progress.

Champion for Children, Rural Child Welfare

Charles L. Baker, President, Baker & Company, Louisville, Kentucky, for working on behalf of rural children in Kentucky for 25 years, including helping make Buckhorn Children's Center a model residential program.

Congressional Advocates for Children

Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) for his work on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over many child welfare, health care, and other programs vital to children.

Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) for his work on the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over several vital programs, including foster care, adoption assistance, and independent living.

Corporate Advocate of the Year

The Freddie Mac Foundation, McLean, Virginia, for helping children and their families find permanent homes for foster children and developing youth, and ensuring children and their families become stable and self-sufficient through supportive housing and services. Beyond its initial disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the foundation is helping Katrina victims long-term.

Corporate Friends of Children

Regan Communications Group Inc., Boston, a full-service public relations firm, for working with Parents for Residential Reform at the Federation for Children with Special Needs, particularly in the areas of child welfare and the Children's Holiday Gift Fund.

PNC Financial Services Group, Pittsburgh, for developing a comprehensive, corporate-based school readiness program for children birth to age 5, called PNC Grow Up Great.

Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence in Journalism in Behalf of Children and Families

Sharon Coolidge, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, for her special report, "Lead's Dangerous Legacy," which focused on lead poisoning in children. As a result of her investigation, Cincinnati's mayor and council launched an investigation that resulted in a comprehensive plan to eliminate lead poisoning in the city.

Kids-to-Kids National Service Awards

Annabeth Barnard, Indianapolis, Indiana. With the help of a small group of people, Anna inspired a music CD, Amani Celebration, sung by children's choirs from Africa and North America. Proceeds from CD sales aid orphans in East Africa--particularly abandoned and HIV-positive infants at New Life Homes, an orphanage where Anna's family adopted her younger sister Eva. The CDs have yielded $50,000 in direct funds to these children.

Melissa Bengtson, South Windsor, Connecticut. In 2005, Melissa founded Melissa Makes Bears, a nonprofit organization through which she raises money to make Build-A-Bears to bring joy to children who will not be with their families during the holidays. She has made more than 120 stuffed bears for children placed in safe homes in her community, and she makes sure each bear reflects the recipient's personality and interests.

Tyrus Gross, Rochester, New York. Tyrus is a member of the state and regional board of Youth in Progress, a youth leadership organization in New York that looks to improve the foster care system and its effect on the youth it serves. The 17-year-old has helped organize youth forums and a handbook outlining the rights and responsibilities of youth in foster care. He also shot, edited, and premiered Life in the City, a video focusing on the difficulties teens in Rochester have in making positive choices.

Kevin Lapointe, Lowell, Massachusetts. As a volunteer leader with the Youth Advisory Committee, Kevin helped organize, market, and present PEER TALKS, a monthly psychoeducational informational meeting for youth in the public housing community.

Dr. Alexander Gralnick Award

Daniel C. Javitt, MD, PhD, for his effort to enhance the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of schizophrenia in children and adolescents.

Advocate, Educate, Participate

National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology
Making IT Work: Linking Data with Practice and Outcomes
July 18-20, 2007
L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, Washington, DC

Mid-Atlantic Region Training Conference
Crisis in Child Welfare: Strengthening Public Policy and Practice
September 24-26, 2007
Westin Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland

National Adoption and Foster Care Training Conference
Shared Beliefs...Shared Values...Achieving Excellence in Adoption and Foster Care
December 10-12, 2007
Marriott New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana
Dates and locations subject to change. For more information on the CWLA calendar, including conference registration, hotels, programs, and contacts, visit our website, or contact CWLA's conference registrar at register@cwla.org or 202/942-0286.


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