Category Archives: Homelessness

Surviving CFSA

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON DAVIDGROSSO.ORG

Six years is more than enough time to learn how foster care operates. Surviving it is another thing. I entered the foster care system at the age of 15, one month before my 16th birthday, and was emancipated six years later. Year one in the system left me confused. Who were these strangers I am being told to live with? Year two was when I lost hope of living with my family. Separation and unintentional isolation will change anyone’s behavior. Year three is when things started to look hopeful because I had finally settled into a loving home. Year four I found my voice. I started demanding my clothing and transportation stipends, and advocated for the Youth Bill of Rights to be provided to every foster home. Year five is when the fear of emancipation struck hard. With no immediate family support, I became depressed and worried about homelessness. Year six, I finally cracked. I was aging out of foster care and I was afraid of what adulthood would bring. The struggle to maintain grades, travel across town to school, have enough money, and find housing in an overpopulated and expensive city is enough to drive anyone crazy, but I survived. It is because of my story that any significant changes that deals with child welfare concerns me.

Child and Family Services Agency

Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) is the District of Columbia’s child welfare agency that protects child victims and children and youth at risk of abuse and neglect, and assist their families. Overall, CFSA currently serves 2,675 children and youth: 951 (36%) youth are in foster care and 1,724 (64%) youth are served in their homes. [1] CFSA is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect of children and youth under the age of 18 that are residents of the District of Columbia. When victims of child abuse and neglect are identified, CFSA’s trained social workers work to keep children safe by assisting families and connecting them to services to prevent future endangerment. The agency also provide safe out of home care which involves the temporary removal of a child from a dangerous home with the hope of reestablishing permanent homes.

Youth in care are people too, and they deserve what is owed to them. To ensure that youth are aware of their rights, by law CFSA must provide all youth in care a copy of the Bill of Rights.

Safe Haven Redesign

CFSA’s goal is to continue to reduce the number of children in foster care by increasing placement in homes, reunification with the child’s family, guardianship, and adoption. Recently, CFSA’s Director Brenda Donald announced significant changes to the agency. She proposed a Safe Haven Redesign which will reduce foster care providers from seven to one, eliminate the traditional and therapeutic designation, bring all D.C. foster homes under direct care of CFSA, and ensure that the entire system is trauma-informed. In early March 2017, CFSA released a Request for Proposals (RFP), which solicited applications for services of a contractor to provide foster care placement and case management services for approximately four-hundred (400) children and youth in foster care who will be placed in Maryland only. For more information, please view Safe Haven Redesign Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP closed on last Friday. A few providers have applied.

Safe and Stable Families Redesign

Additionally, CFSA plans to leverage the fiscal flexibility of the Title IV-E Waiver to spend more funding on community-based prevention and family-strengthening services rather than foster care resources due to the reduced number of children and youth in foster care. CFSA hopes to revamp their prevention and in-home services for families to stay together in a safe environment.

Concerns about the changes

On April 7, 2017, Mayor Bowser released her proposed fiscal year 2018 budget for CFSA. The Mayor’s proposal allocates $226,485,929 for CFSA’s budget in fiscal year 2018, which is a $6,143,893 reduction from fiscal year 2017. Though these redesigns could bring about some benefits, I am concerned that the current proposed budget does not provide CFSA with adequate funding to properly implement these changes or to respond to unanticipated challenges. CFSA has maintained that the reductions in the budget corresponds with the decrease in the number of youth involved in the foster care system. However, this theory may backfire on them.

I am also concerned about the timing of these changes. In 2015, CFSA experienced a shortage of foster care placements when the agency terminated two contracts that placed children in homes. In CFSA’s FY2016-2017 pre-performance oversight responses, CFSA alluded to the fact that the agency is still experiencing difficulty when it stated it “continues to refine the process of matching children entering care to available foster care homes.”[2] 11 children in out-of-home care slept overnight at CFSA’s offices while awaiting a licensed placement in fiscal year 2016.[3] In fiscal year 2017, 6 children slept overnight in an office. Although some of these instances were exceptional cases, they still underscore the difficulties that the agency experiences placing children, especially youth in certain sub-populations: teens, pregnant and or parenting youth, or youth with special needs. Only 25 % of foster children are expected to be placed with kin by the end of this year.[4] I experienced this shortage first hand.

In 2015, my second foster home allowed me to stay there as long as I needed while completing school. However, CFSA began pressuring my foster parent to take in another child immediately. My foster parent became overwhelmed with the number of calls she received. I began to receive calls asking about my housing plan and was provided a list of shelters. I made the decision to leave and entered a transitional living home, named Wayne’s Place.

Wayne’s Place

Two years ago, Mayor Bowser and Director Donald announced the opening of a new transitional home for youth between the ages of 18 and 24. The Wayne’s Place Project is a partnership between CFSA and the Department of Behavioral Health that is managed by the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. Wayne Place is a complex of six buildings with 22 two-bedroom apartments that can house up to 44 youth. It receives an annual funding of $1,015,250. The program was designed to help young adults who need support to live independently and succeed.

I lived in Wayne’s Place in my sixth year, from September 2015 to March 2017. When I first entered the transitional home at the age of 21, the security guards consistently made inappropriate comments to me. Additionally, some of security guards were engaging in inappropriate relationships with some of the young women there. Both issues were more or less taken care of after I testified before the Committee on Health and Human Services on March 3 2016. Still, Transitioned Aged Youth (TAYs) complain about unprofessional staff. Many of the female TAYs continue to express to me that they feel uncomfortable, and several have left the program. Additionally, TAYs voice frustration that their caseworkers did not provide enough housing and employment support. Thankfully, I had great caseworkers who supported me. The idea of Wayne’s Place is good idea in theory, but there still remains a lot of unresolved issues that need to be addressed. Their goal to transition youth to middle-class, for the most part, is proving more difficult than they had hoped.

Tutoring Services

The Mayor’s FY18 proposed budget insufficiently provides tutoring services for youth in care. In a letter to Director Donald, Councilmember Grosso asked about the agency’s budget plans, and funding for tutoring services for youth. Director Donald responded that the “proposed budget is sufficient to improve the educational progress” of their children. However, I disagree.

Just a few years ago when I requested tutoring services for a college course, I was denied and told to used my school’s services. When I explained that the process to request a tutor at the school would take time, and that I desperately needed one now, I was provided a tutor who could not help me.

Similarly, when I first entered foster care my foster family grew impatient with waiting for the agency to respond to tutoring requests and eventually paid for outside tutoring services. My math and reading tutors came three times a week for two hours each. These tutoring sessions allowed me to make up what I missed in elementary and middle school. Eventually, the cost became too much for them to pay. My foster family was very frustrated that they were never reimbursed for services the agency were supposed to provide.

I am grateful that the Committee on Human Services added $250,000 for increased tutoring services when they unanimously voted on the budget on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. I believe this additional funding is sorely needed. I am also pleased that the Committee provided $500,000 additional dollars for rapid housing. I would have liked to take advantage of this program but I was told by an officer at the Office of Youth and Empowerment that 23 years olds could not receive these vouchers, which is unfair.

In closing, my time in care was not all horrible. Without services like the Education Training Voucher (ETV), a college scholarship for youth foster care, and Capital Area Asset Builder, a match savings program, I would not have been able to graduate debt-free or pay my first month’s rent. Now I am a college graduate with full time employment. No system or organization is perfect, but if CFSA wants to reach their goal of protecting and serving all youth under their care they need to do three things: improve, improve, and improve!

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

 

[1] Pg. 3. March 1, 2017. Fiscal Year 2016 CFSA Performance Oversight Hearing: Testimony of Brenda Donald, Acting Director of CFSA

[2] February 21, 2017. CFSA Performance Oversight Hearing FY2016 2017 (First Quarter) p. 113

[3] Ibid p. 117

[4] Ibid p. 111

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Playtime Project’s Health Fair For DC’s Largest Homeless Shelter

 

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D.C. General’s front sign

On August 27,  2016, The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project hosted a health fair for D.C. General’s Family Homeless Shelter. Playtime Project’s mission is to “nurture healthy child development and reduce the effects of trauma among children” who live in short-term housing programs in Washington, D.C.

The shelter holds way over 200 families and provides residents with a rooms to stay with their families, three meals a day, a place to wash clothes, and a playground for children where they can play safely under supervision.

While the shelter has gone through many problems in the past, with the help of Playtime Project, they have made some improvements.

Many organizations who aim to promote and give accurate health information came out to help the D.C. General community. Among the many organizations at the fair was The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). At the fair, LAYC conducted engaging demonstrations of child birth that kept the interest of parents, as well as children.

Surprisingly, Street Sense, a D.C. newspaper dedicated to uplifting the homeless and providing them with sales experience, were there to give information to the residents at the fair on how to become a Street Sense vendor. As a newspaper, Street Sense is unique in that the funds for the paper sales go directly to the homeless who sale them.

As an intern at The Young Women’s Project (YWP), I had the opportunity to represent the organization at the fair. YWP focuses on youth poverty issues, as well as sexual health.

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A table for The Young Women’s Project

At the fair, I presented health information as well as gave instructions on how to properly use condoms and other barrier contraceptions.

 

Towards the end of the fair, Playtime Project held a giveaway for expecting mothers. The prizes included training toilets for toddlers and many other things mothers may need for their child. Playtime Project also distributed diapers, baby wipes and other items for small babies.

The fair provided a lot of information and connections in D.C. for families to take advantage of and lead healthier lives.

 

 

Reminder: Aging Out of the Foster Care System

Please help this single mother who is nearing emancipation:

“I have been in the foster care system for four and a half years now. I entered the system at fifteen and I will age out when I am twenty-one. My name is Olivia Alexander, I am currently nineteen so I have about a year and a half before I am out and completely on my own. I will have to provide for not only myself but my daughter as well. I am the main provider for us now but it is hard trying to provide what we need with the small stipend I get. It was a little easier when I was working but now that I am not it is difficult. I also attend college full time so trying to balance being a mother, a student, and trying to get a job can be a bit overwhelming. I am doing the best that I can to make sure  my daughter and I will be alright when I age out. I love my daughter more than anything in the whole galaxy! I just want to be the mother she desrves and provide her with a happy life. I don’t want to have to worry about where we will be laying our heads when I have to leave the system. That is why I started this campaign, to raise additional money that will go towards us moving. I know a year and a half seems far off but it comes sooner than thought sometimes and I want to be prepared for when it comes. My goal is to reach at least $3,000 but anything we get will be greatly appreciated!! A little help goes a long way, especially with my situation. Please give any help that you can even if it is only a dollar, it will be of so much help. I want to thank anyone in advance who will lend a helping hand..”

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Aftercare is Failing Emancipated Youth

In the Summer of 2015 the CASA aftercare program for emancipated foster youth came to an end, as it should have due to its lack of support. Thinking back to when I was preparing for emancipation, I received little support from my unpaid CASA. With emphasis on “unpaid,” I thought that this was the reason I received little to no support. I appreciated the times my CACA took me to lunch, but lunch didn’t solve my anxiety towards emancipation.

When I really needed her, I could not get in touch with her. She was way to busy with school, and she was having housing problems-she was living out of the basement of her parents home. So how could someone like her possible be in a position to assist a youth nearing emancipation?

The current aftercare program is no better. At this time, I cannot go into full details about my current living situation due to a future blog that will be published elsewhere, but let me just say that it’s nothing like it was described. The idea of Program X ( I will refer to it as Program X) was great, but underdeveloped and probably underfunded, as it seems.

Program X is not realistic to the lives of the older youth who are there. Their idea is to provide independence, but a successful program cannot provide independence to older youth in one area, and cripple them in another.

I do not wish for the closing of Program X, but if something is not done soon it will close and many youth will be homeless.

Aging Out of the Foster Care System

Please help this single mother who is nearing emancipation:

“I have been in the foster care system for four and a half years now. I entered the system at fifteen and I will age out when I am twenty-one. My name is Olivia Alexander, I am currently nineteen so I have about a year and a half before I am out and completely on my own. I will have to provide for not only myself but my daughter as well. I am the main provider for us now but it is hard trying to provide what we need with the small stipend I get. It was a little easier when I was working but now that I am not it is difficult. I also attend college full time so trying to balance being a mother, a student, and trying to get a job can be a bit overwhelming. I am doing the best that I can to make sure  my daughter and I will be alright when I age out. I love my daughter more than anything in the whole galaxy! I just want to be the mother she desrves and provide her with a happy life. I don’t want to have to worry about where we will be laying our heads when I have to leave the system. That is why I started this campaign, to raise additional money that will go towards us moving. I know a year and a half seems far off but it comes sooner than thought sometimes and I want to be prepared for when it comes. My goal is to reach at least $3,000 but anything we get will be greatly appreciated!! A little help goes a long way, especially with my situation. Please give any help that you can even if it is only a dollar, it will be of so much help. I want to thank anyone in advance who will lend a helping hand..”

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Homeless in America

highheelsto18wheels

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Saturday night, Lee and I were on our way to Miami, FL.  We decided to stop in Gulfport, MS for the night since we were ahead of schedule.  We found a business next to a restaurant that allowed us to park in his parking lot.  Next door to him was a vacant Waffle House building.  The picture above shows it’s only tenant.

The shelter is primitive at best, but at least he has 3 walls.  This person had carpet pieces and parts of blankets on the floor of his tent, along with numerous blankets.  As you can tell, his tent is full of holes, but at least he has a roof over his head, and the two fences actually closed.  It began me thinking.  For some homeless people, this may be considered a mansion of sorts.  The homeless people we have seen, especially in California, live out in the elements…

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