Between 2005 - 2011, I developed a series of materials to assist community Volunteers as they advocated for foster children in juvenile court. The work was immensely rewarding, especially when we helped families reunite, or children move on to safe and loving homes. This article is a synopsis of what I created during those years.
Please note also that all the materials I created were derived from or directed by Oregon and Federal law, as well as "best practices" as those were identified by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. I thank all those contributors for sharing with me both their expertise and their concerns for our children.
Performance of the advocacy non-profit for which I was working – “agency”: 2005-2011:
July 2005: Agency circumstances when I started:
* No existence of administrative materials;
* No funding sources but for state general fund dollars;
* No administrative or materials support from State Office;
* Identification of volunteers and the cases to which they were attached;
* review and develop training and support materials for volunteers;
* Establishment of protocols for case management, volunteer activities, funding management, staff duties;
* Identify system partners and make contacts;
* Establish contact with Court;
* Look for community supports;
* Find support for activities from national agency and National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
July 2005 – March 2011:
See Chart Above.
Training and Support of Volunteers to improve their advocacy in court for their assigned children:
- Marion agency has used the National training curriculum in all initial training cycles;
- Per National recommendations, and due to no apparent options from either the State office or other programs, Marion agency developed training materials specific to Oregon:
- Responsive to ORS 419A.170;
- incorporating National recommendations;
- including an overview of the child welfare and court systems,
- including checklists for the subject matters which the agency investigate:
- child well being;
- sufficiency of foster placement;
- permanency planning;
- child consultation for permanency;
- educational advocacy;
- Transitioning teens.
The Oregon based training materials and protocols for child well being, sufficiency of placements and permanency planning have been standard case management practice since 2008; educational advocacy, guardianships and transitioning teens were added in 2010.
Response to Judicial Request – Guardianships:
Per ORS 419A.170, all children who enter come into Court Jurisdiction because of abuse or neglect are eligible for a Volunteer.
The final case plan for many foster children is Guardianship with a non-parent. When a Guardianship is created by the Court, the Court also dismisses DHS and the court appointed attorneys from the case. The Guardian is required to file annual reports with the Court.
- There are cases where the Guardianship becomes challenged (parents return; the guardians want out),
- With no other party still on the case, the juvenile judge began appointing Volunteers to investigate the situation and tell him what they learned;
- Marion agency uses protocols that were developed for this process by the Judge and the CRB Field Manager.
Development of Community Partners:
In 2008, Marion agency was approached by community partner to partner on a project aimed at reducing the number of foster children by strategically placing supports and interventions into the neighborhoods that demonstrate the highest need
- Marion agency is an originating member of this project;
- There are currently over 35 community member organizations, all of whom are collaborating with each other to ‘build a village’ around these challenging families and children;
- Marion agency is in the process of developing Memorandums of Understanding with each FH partner, to ensure that each entity acts with confidentiality and discretion when working together on behalf of a single child or family;
- Community partners have been engaged to alert agency when an agency-assigned child is also a runaway.
The majority of assigned children have serious educational deficits, which require significant interventions to overcome:
- Volunteers routinely participate at the child’s school, to support the child, and gather data to report to the Judge;
- Marion Volunteers have excellent relationships with the schools they access; initial challenges to the Volunteer’s presence are eliminated by sharing with the school the Court Order appointing the Volunteer, the statute, and conversations about the role of the Volunteer;
- With input from Judge ABC, Marion agency developed a protocol to have qualified Volunteers assigned as Educational Surrogates, per ORS 419B.220. Agency has partnered with the Oregon Parent Training and Information Center to provide these trainings to Volunteers and others.
Approximately 1/3 of assigned children are teens on track to ‘age out’ of foster care without finding a permanent home. National statistics indicate that a significant proportion of these children (up to 50%) will be un- or underemployed, homeless, or incarcerated within the first 5 years of leaving state care. Oregon has the highest percentage in the country (20-25%) of foster children in this situation.
- The Finding the Future Convening:
- Begun in 2009; 2011 represents the 3rd Annual event;
- Marion agency in partnership with DHS and several other community partners;
- In 2010, 28 community partners – banks, DMV, employment options, health care providers, educational supports, and more –
- came together to engage these children, their case workers and foster families in the systems that will help them find success
- out of state care.
- The Teen Team:
- In partnership with Corban College, and numerous community partners;
- The Teen Team consists of Volunteers who are specially trained on the issues and opportunities available transitioning teens, including the requirements of the legally based “Comprehensive Transition Plan”;
- The Teen Team Volunteers work to connect their assigned teen to the community based supports which will assist THAT child find a safe and productive community when s/he leaves state care;
- There are currently 21 Marion Volunteers on the Teen Team, serving over 50 Teens.
Cross Over Teens:
This population consists of children from the foster care system who also become delinquent. Agency has a statutory presence in the delinquency matter, per ORS 419C.285.
- Foster care is managed by the state; delinquencies are managed by the counties;
- At present, there are no intentionally developed protocols to engage both systems well in support of the single child, although they both report to the same judge;
- Marion County is currently launching a project, with support from experts from Georgetown University, that will establish systems to permit dependency and delinquency workers to work better together to support these children – Marion Agency was invited to join this project.
Children and Families with Disabilities:
Many children come into state care because they have challenges that their families can’t manage, or their families have challenges that prevent them from caring for the child.
- Volunteers assigned to these families will gain additional training and support regarding the services available to these families, to make appropriate connections between the family and the supports prior to the family leaving state care.
A certain percentage of assigned children have suffered this particularly horrific form of abuse. Recent social science research suggests that advocating for support for these children requires a different approach in order to be effective. Marion Agency has engaged interns to review the scientifically researched recommendations and create tools for use by Volunteers to improve their ability to advocate for these children.