Is it possible to improve high school graduation rates, or reduce the number of homeless youth in our communities by December 2017? These questions and others were explored on September 15th and 16th, when leaders from 10 LSA member organizations traveled to Washington D.C. for the first LSA Results Based Leadership Institute (RBLI). Results Based Leadership is a highly regarded leadership development program developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for health and human service providers, and it combines results based leadership techniques with hands on implementation. At the start of this session, each LSA member committed to making a measureable impact toward the goal of ensuring that All children in the US are nurtured and on a pathway to successful adulthoodby December 2017. This is a very ambitious goal to achieve in a short period of time, but operating with a sense of urgency and call to action is a key component of the RBLI. LSA is offering this unique opportunity to LSA members through a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation who is generously covering the cost of the RBLI faculty, AECF design staff and travel expenses for participants. I am so proud of this partnership, because this is what we strive to do at LSA--bring resources and opportunities to LSA member organizations to help strengthen Lutheran social ministry organizations and improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
No metro. No car. No Uber. I walked. For my first two weeks, in the blazing, DC summer heat, I chose to walk the 30 minutes from my temporary place of residency to the headquarters of Lutheran Services in America (LSA). Aside from collecting rare Pokémon along the way, I walked to get a feel for DC, a place that I would be calling home for the next year. As I walked, I was captivated by the scenery. I marveled at the ambitious people: locals waiting for the bus, little children walking to day camp, joggers, Hill interns, White House staffers, tourists, and government officials. My daily walk to LSA confirmed that the road to resilience for this Buffalonian would be one full of growth and adventure.
Last week, Cedar Lake hosted 30+ Lutheran Services in America Disability Network (LSA-DN) members at their corporate headquarters in Louisville, KY for the LSA-DN 2016 Summer Meeting. In an effort to better understand each other's organizations, we decided to forgo holding our summer meeting in a hotel, as we have in past years, so that we could take a deeper look at a member organization. And to my surprise, everyone preferred meeting in a member conference room with meals brought in by Panera and snacks from the grocery store as opposed to the carefully curated environment of a hotel! DN members were able to better grasp how the host organization, Cedar Lake, was delivering long-term services and supports to people with disabilities and how they might be able to partner with, learn from, or help grow Cedar Lake.
I have never been a fan of change. Until college, I lived in the same house my entire life. I’ve gone to the same church since I was a toddler. I attended the same school from preschool to eighth grade. And my taste in food hasn’t changed since I was eight (corndogs continue to be a staple in my diet). So when I had to move (a whopping two hours away) to Valparaiso University (Valpo), you can probably imagine my feelings on the topic. You know that Yellow Man on Google Street-view Maps that you drag and drop to different places? Have you ever noticed how much that Yellow Man squirms when you move him? That’s how I felt about college. Squirmy.
Ever since I was a young child I was taught to cherish and value community. In my life, this has looked like Sunday afternoons eating coffee cake in a church basement long after the service had ended because my Mom made a point to check-in with everyone who yearned a listening ear. Or when I would tag along with my Dad for a meeting of leaders strategizing about how to prevent yet another factory from entering our neighborhood ridden with dirty industry. It has also looked like a late summer night gathered around a campfire in my aunt’s backyard in Canada, ending a long day of play with my cousins and making every moment matter of the few times we met during the year.
What challenges might arise when trying to help a youth achieve permanency, and how can they be overcome? This post looks at how to prepare youth for permanency, whether that means helping them consider the benefits of options other than independent living, unpacking their hesitation about adoption or guardianship, or working to resolve trauma that might create challenges in achieving permanency. As the bulletin “Preparing Children and Youth for Adoption or Other Family Permanency” from the Children’s Bureau notes, “Assessment of children’s readiness for a new permanent family generally focuses on their behavior in foster care, with input from social workers and mental health professionals. Decisions are based on the assumption that children will accept new homes and families once they understand that it is unsafe for them to live at home.” It argues that this is insufficient and more needs to be done to prepare children and youth for “relational and/or legal permanency.”
Early in July, I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to represent LSA at The 66th Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). As a lifelong member of the LCMS, one of LSA’s affiliate church bodies, I know that this church body has a steadfast commitment to their faith, their history, and the work of mercy professed that Christ calls us to. As I wandered the exhibit hall to find our booth, I felt both excited and disappointed to find that our booth sat right across from those who some consider to be the most famous Lutherans in the country – the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs. I was excited because, well, I would get to be around loving dogs for four days. But I was disappointed because it would make it much harder, nearly impossible, to get the attention of people near these Lutheran celebrities.
Where do fathers and their families fit into foster youth’s permanency plan? This is one of the questions the 2016 CYF Learning Cohort has been discussing. Too often fathers and their side of children’s families are overlooked when it comes to exploring family connections and placing a child who is in the child welfare system. This post looks at the benefits of a father’s involvement in his child’s life, and how to better engage a child’s father and paternal family when looking for a permanent home or even just a permanent connection for a youth in care. Also check out the National Fatherhood Initiative for more resources, including the free e-book “7 Steps to Starting a Successful Fatherhood Program,” and a tool to assess how well your organization engages fathers in its programs.
How large of a role should youth in foster care have in their permanency planning? Are adolescents ready for these big decisions? Can they be an asset in this process? These are some of the questions the CYF learning cohort is asking as they explore how to incorporate youth’s voices in their permanency programs. As it turns out, engaging youth in placement planning could actually help prepare them for adulthood. This post will look at two resources on engaging youth in transition planning, one from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative and the other from the Mississippi Teen Advisory Board. The first piece is “Authentic Youth Engagement: Youth-Adult Partnerships,” and the second, “Mississippi Youth Voice,” is a practice tool produced by a group of youth in the Mississippi foster care system which offers a look at their ideas for foster care improvement.
In April 2016, LSA CYF members launched a new learning cohort to identify and implement best practices for youth at risk of aging out of the child welfare system to achieve permanency, either with a permanent family (through reunification, adoption or guardianship) or through a lifelong connection to a committed, caring adult. The cohort’s objectives include exploring best practices, techniques and tools to support and assist organizations in integrating family placements for older youth into its culture and programming.
As part of this project, Natalie Goodnow from the Kennedy School at Harvard will share effective ways organizations can promote family placements for the older youth they serve.