WHAT IS BRIDGING G.A.P.?
The Junior League of Columbus’ new signature project, Bridging the G.A.P. (Guide. Advocate. Provide.), focuses on youth aging out of the foster care system in Columbus, Ohio. The League hopes to Guide these youth as they transition out of foster care, Advocate to help build a community response to their needs and Provide them with the everyday essentials to live independently.
WHY DO THESE YOUNG ADULTS YOUTH NEED OUR HELP?
- Currently, there are 15,000 children in foster care in Ohio.
- More than 2,600 children in Ohio are waiting to be adopted. More than 1,000 of them are teenagers on the verge of aging out.
- 36% of youth experiencing homelessness in Franklin County have experiences with foster care and many lack the familial and social support to secure safe housing.
- Youth that age out of foster care is expected to be self-sufficient immediately BUT in reality are at a greater risk of adverse outcomes including underemployment, early parenthood, mental health problems, and low educational attainment.
HOW DO WE EMPOWER YOUTH IN THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM?
Foster care (also known as out-of-home care) is a temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their families. Foster care can result in placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.
These young people have voices and they deserve to have their lived experiences heard!
The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. This organization exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out-of-home care. Organizations like this empower these youth by providing a platform for them to be heard.
Below are quotes from legislative testimony provided to federal legislators:
- Young people enter foster care due to factors outside of their control, such as experiencing neglect, abuse or disconnection from a parent to due to death, incarceration or substance abuse challenges.
- As a foster youth, we do not choose the family that we are born into – we can only make our own choices. In the midst of family upheaval, all we can do is seek to survive the moment at hand, and figure out how to build our future. We often feel alone in this struggle – especially when throughout the nation, over 20,000 youth “age out” of the system every year, and strive to build successful lives.
- Leaving home and moving out on your own as a young adult is a milestone that many young people look forward to. But for young people in foster care, this experience often catapults them into an immediate struggle for survival. We want to attain self-sufficiency and build successful adult lives.
HOW DO WE REDUCE THE NUMBER OF YOUTH AGING OUT OF FOSTER CARE?
1 in 5 youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness.
Franklin County Children Services works with organizations like the Dave Thomas Foundation to help ‘bring children waiting to be adopted from foster care one step closer to permanent homes’. Wendy’s wonderful kids is their signature project that focuses on adoption professionals, known as recruiters, to help find permanent homes for children in foster care. This project is based on a child-focused model which has proven up to 3x more effective at serving youth.
Permanent homes can prepare and provide them with resources to successfully transition to independent living. Having the support of an adoptive parent has proven rewarding for both parents and foster youth.
Interested in Learning to Become a Foster Parent?
Click any of the links below to learn more.
- Franklin County Children Services
- Bair Foundation
- Buckeye Ranch
- Life Start
- National Youth Advocate Program
- Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth
- United Methodist Children’s Home
- Village Network
- Youth Advocate Services
WHAT ORGANIZATIONS ARE HELPING IMPROVE OUTCOMES FOR THESE YOUTH?
- Children’s Defense Fund – Born out of the civil rights movement, with more than four decades of advocacy behind us in the state of Ohio, Children’s Defense Fund works to champion policies and programs that lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse, and neglect, and ensure quality education as well as appropriate and targeted access to resources to meet children’s health and nutrition needs.
- El’lesun is a nonprofit organization founded and directed by Jaye Turner (a former foster youth) that serves children, youth, and young adults in foster care.
- Capital Law School’s Family and Youth Advocacy Center provides free legal assistance to foster youth ages 16-24. This includes assistance with filling out a lease, accessing healthcare, public benefits, housing or insurance, expunging criminal records, and/or obtaining a Social Security card, birth certificate, or other personal documents.
- Fostering Achievement Network is a student organization founded and directed by Cloe Cooper (a former foster youth) to support foster care alumni attending The Ohio State University.
- Huckleberry House – Since 1970, Huckleberry House has been a safe place and a source of support for these young people. ‘We know this community, and the challenges they face, perhaps better than any other organization. And we work relentlessly to ensure all young people in our community have access to a safe home environment as well as the guidance they need to develop skills and find resources that can help them navigate and cope with the pressures of life.’
- Kaleidoscope – “Since 1994, KYC has been a leader and expert in meeting the needs of and supporting LGBTQIA+ young people in the community. As the largest and longest-standing organization of its kind in Ohio, KYC includes a Drop-in Center, community education and training opportunities, health and wellness programs, housing support, and collaborates on advocacy and civic engagement.”
- Star House – Star House is a social service agency that operates Central Ohio’s only drop-in center for youth, ages 14-24, who are experiencing homelessness and their small children. We offer young people a safe respite from the streets, immediate access to basic needs, and connections to stabilizing resources, such as housing, transportation, health care, employment, education, addiction services, legal aid, government benefits, ID cards, and more.
- The Columbus State Community College Scholar Network provides ongoing mentorship, peer support, and leadership experience for former foster youth who are admitted and enrolled at Columbus State Community College.
HOW CAN YOU HELP ‘FOSTER CHANGE’ BY ACTING NOW?
Bridging the G.A.P. Clothing Drive
Foster care Alum, sisters Jaye and Cloe, founded Project PASSION to empower young adults in or from the child welfare system and provide them with no cost professional attire as they enter the workforce.
To help support Project PASSION the Junior League will be holding a clothing drive from May 15th to May 24th. On May 29th League members will collect items via curbside pickup. If you are interested in donating please use the link below to sign up.
House Bill 110
Several organizations are currently advocating for Ohio Legislators to earmark funding for an Ombudsman Office as part of House Bill 110. This office, which should be designed by and for foster youth, would service youth who are experiencing abuse in their biological, foster, adoptive, kinship, respite, residential, and group home placements to be able to contact that Office, and for their concerns to be independently investigated.
Junior League of Columbus has teamed up with Children’s Defence Fund to offer a free webinar on how to write a letter to your local legislator. For more information about this virtual event, click below.
OHIO YAB is also advocating to ‘Make Every Training Hour Count’
In an effect to quickly recruit and onboard new foster parents, the number of required training hours have been cut drastically. This OHIO YAB initiative calls for mandatory training tracks for foster parents and caseworkers who serve teens to learn about the available resources to support foster youth transitioning into young adulthood. The lack of knowledge on the part of foster parents can negatively impact the short and long-term outcomes of the youth they care for.
As with the Ombuds office, supporters of this initiative believe that it is paramount that the development of these tracking tracks includes the inputs of current and former foster youth.
ADVOCACY TOOL KIT
The Junior League had assembled an advocacy tool kit to help the general public quickly and easily find information about how to help these youth.
Fostering Change by Bridging the G.A.P. is an initiative that will keep evolving for years to come. Your donation today helps the Junior League to develop enrichment activities to help these youth transition into independent living.