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2015 Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan: Dignity and Respect Award

Every year, One Hope United submits to DCFS, a Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan.  This plan is updated collaboratively by a group of foster parents; foster care/licensing staff and CQIR staff. This year, our 2015 Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan was selected to receive an award in the area of Dignity and Respect!

One Hope United received this award at a ceremony during the Foster Parent Council meeting on June 19th. David Fox, Director of Programs, Jackie Schedin, Director of CQIR and an OHU Foster Parent represented the agency during the awards ceremony. This is very exciting, as achieving this award has been a huge goal of the Foster Parent Law Committee!

 

“Mixed Up” No More

Sally*, a seven year old living with a foster family, works with the System of Care program in southern Illinois. The System of Care (SOC) program provides Sally and her family with extra skills and supports needed to address Sally’s behavior problems. As happens with children in foster care, Sally experienced heightened anxiety when preparing for a visit with her biological mom and siblings. Sally also experienced anxieties in the classroom, explaining that her head often felt “mixed up” at school.

During an in-home meeting after a particularly challenging day at school, the SOC worker tried to talk with Sally about her difficulties at school. When Sally refused to discuss her day at school, the SOC worker took a different approach. Gathering construction paper, crayons, and markers from her mobile supply closet (the trunk of her car) the SOC worked asked Sally to draw pictures of her day. The SOC worker suggested different types of pictures like one of her family and one of her friends at school. After several different pictures, Sally drew a picture of a classroom friend who asks many questions. Sally described how the constant questions annoyed her and made it difficult to concentrate.

Seizing on this bit of information, the SOC worker asked Sally to draw a picture of what happens in her head when she can’t concentrate. This time, Sally’s picture revealed that rather than concentrating on her math homework, Sally’s head was filled with concern about her biological mother and trying to figure out ways that she could take care of her mother. With a better understanding of Sally’s concern for her mother, the foster family and the SOC worker were able to develop ways to help Sally address her anxieties.

Shortly after the drawing session, another piece of the puzzle for Sally fell into place. During a visit to the eye doctor, it was determined that Sally’s eyes do not naturally cross the “center line of sight.”Sally’s right eye could only see on the right side and her left eye could only see on the left. The doctor prescribed vision therapy to help train her eyes and brain to create the “natural crossing” action.

After several months of vision therapy and addressing Sally’s concerns about her biological mother, her school work and behavior are improving. Through the SOC program and her foster family’s support, Sally now has the tools she needs to better address the distractions inside and outside of her head.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the family.

Foster Grandparent Program Celebrates Grandpa Jack!

Jack Sunderlik is a retired high school teacher and coach of forty years. Jack has been a proud member of the One Hope United Foster Grandparent Program since 2010.

Jack is known as “Grandpa Jack” by all the students and teachers that he helps each day. As soon as people meet Jack, they are instantly impressed by his passion and heart for helping children. Through his work in the Foster Grandparent Program Jack has received wonderful community recognition for all the good that he does and even though he is the last one to ask for any special recognition, we, as a program are eager to express our admiration and appreciation for the great work he does in the Foster Grandparent Program each day.

In 2012, he was awarded the Distinguished Volunteer Award at the Springfield “Good as Gold” ceremony by the Junior League of Springfield and University of Illinois at Springfield. He was also awarded the Senior Hero of the Year by the American Red Cross. In July of 2012, Jack received a letter from the First Lady, Michelle Obama, for his service and commitment to the Springfield community. For two years, Jack served the Dubois Elementary School as a Foster Grandparent and was known to all of the children as “Grandpa Jack.” Jack transferred to the McClernand Elementary School for the 2013/2014 school year and now works with special needs children in their classrooms at this school. Everywhere he goes, he is loved by the students and teachers.

Our most recent recognition of Jack’s great service was that he was chosen as one of the recipients to be honored with the 2014 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award. He accepted the award at a ceremony in Springfield at the Governor’s Mansion in April. We are so proud to have Grandpa Jack in the One Hope United Foster Grandparent Program and we know he will continue to be a positive mentor for the children who need it the most!

A tumultuous time line before finding a forever home

Jay, 16 going on 17, has spent the vast majority of his life in and out of foster care along with his five siblings. Jay, his two brothers and three sisters were initially removed from their mother on May 6, 1997, because of unsafe and unsanitary living conditions in the home. Upon entering the household, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) could not alleviate the safety and risk concerns due to verified findings of medical neglect and conditions hazardous to the health of the children.

On Aug. 15, 1997, against the recommendation of DCF, the court reunified Jay and two of his siblings with their mother.

A year later, Jay and his siblings once again, found themselves back in foster care after the children were exposed to domestic violence and physical abuse.

By April 19, 2000, the court terminated the parental rights of the mother and legal father.

And in 2001, the three sisters were adopted, leaving Jay and his brother behind in foster care. All hope was not lost for the brothers, as the two were placed with their maternal grandmother shortly after the girls’ adoption. But by 2005, the brothers were once again moved into a nonrelative placement after their grandmother fell very ill and could no longer care for them.

Hope seemed to be seriously waning for the brothers, when they were removed from the nonrelative placement due to physical abuse. The brothers were then thrown back into foster care.

In April 2007, Jay was placed in a One Hope United foster home with Nikki Ballou. The experienced foster mother noticed Jay was exhibiting problems with depression and anger and rightly so, after so many years of let downs. Then, the unlikely happened; Ms. Ballou and Jay began to bond.

With Ms. Ballou’s devoted presence in his life, Jay was able to overcome his struggles with depression and self esteem. Then, in Aug. 2008, a paternal cousin stepped forward and Jay was placed in that home with a goal to close permanent guardianship.

In Jan. 2009, despite his needs being met with the paternal cousin, Jay requested to be placed back in licensed foster care home of Ms. Ballou. Ms. Ballou was happy to have Jay back. He returned to her care on Jan. 16, 2009, with a goal to age out of foster care in her home, because Jay did not want to be adopted.

About six months ago, Jay finally started considering the idea of adoption after considering his future with no forever family, as he had lost most of his family members during his tumultuous youth in and out of foster care. Stephen Ryan, adoption case manager for One Hope United, and Shanda Moorman, Family Services of Metro Orlando and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter, were relentless on encouraging Jay to never give up on the idea of finding his forever family.

In early Feb. 2010, after much encouragement from Stephen and Shanda, Jay, finally opened up about his true feelings and desires to be adopted by the woman that has shown him unconditional love and devotion, his foster mother, Ms. Ballou. So it was that at a Parent’s Night Out Adoption Recruitment event in late Feb. 2010, Jay talked to a room full of future adoptive parents. Jay spoke about his life in foster care, about being ripped apart from his siblings and about his struggle to accept being adopted.

Jay told the crowd, he changed his mind about being adopted, because he wants “someone to pick him up when he falls.”  Jay, who just wanted “to know that at 18 I have a family,” was officially adopted by his foster mother, Ms. Ballou, on March 31, 2010.

Advocacy and collaboration paved a path to permanent home with birth father

A destructive confrontation, in which her mother brandished a knife, landed Brianna*, 13, in foster care. Brianna suffered knife cuts on her hands as a consequence of the altercation with her mother. Investigators saw these cuts during a visit to the home, resulting in Brianna’s removal in Sept. 2009.

Brianna was placed in an emergency shelter in a neighboring county about 70 miles from her mother’s home. Not quite a month later, she was moved to a residential foster care group home for teenage girls in Orlando. Upon entry to the group home, Brianna faced many hardships as the youngest and was picked on by the older girls.

Family Case Manager Jacinta Robinson became an instant advocate for Brianna and began to search for appropriate options for the young girl outside of licensed foster care.

While mining the case file, Jacinta located contact information for Brianna’s birth father. The One Hope United case manager took things a step further and made contact with the father, who was living in New Jersey. The father assured Jacinta that he wanted his daughter home with him, and he was able to provide a copy of the court order showing that he had joint custodial guardianship of Brianna, as a result of a previous divorce.

Jacinta continued to advocate for Brianna by communicating with Supervisor Laurie Stern and other One Hope United leadership with a hope that potential barriers could be removed on the behalf of the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, some of the barriers included a criminal case in addition to a dependency case against the mother, where Brianna would be a witness required to testify. In addition, Interstate Compact was also a potential barrier given her recent shelter.

Despite the barriers and challenges, Jacinta continued to work with OHU leadership who worked with the Department of Family Services staff and Children’s Legal Services staff to think out of the box to ensure that Brianna would not spend Thanksgiving in foster care. Jacinta strongly felt that Brianna should be placed with her birth father, who eagerly wanted her home.

With the collaboration of many, and the advocacy by Jacinta and Laurie, Brianna was able to visit her father in New Jersey for Thanksgiving. While she was there, OHU continued to advocate for Brianna’s well-being and worked with Children’s Legal Services to dismiss the dependency case and place the child with the father, who also worked with an attorney in New Jersey to get full custody of Brianna.

Eventually, the teamwork lead by Jacinta made it possible for this child to be placed with her birth father permanently. Brianna was able to happily spend the holiday season with family and loved ones, where Jacinta reports she is now flourishing.

*Name was changed to protect confidentiality.

Collaboration between staff members offers hope to mother and daughter

On April 9, 2009, 16-year-old Christina* was removed from her mother’s home due to medical neglect. It was alleged that Christina was not receiving the proper health care treatment nor was she taking her medication on a consistent basis (she was diagnosed with a chronic infectious disease that is life threatening}.

Initially, Christina was placed with her maternal grandmother. However, shortly after, Christina was removed and placed in a foster group home as the maternal grandmother was not able to meet Christina’s medical needs.

Upon meeting Christina’s mother, Family Case Manager Jessica Rodriguez felt confident that Christina would be home within a few months. The mother appeared highly motivated to complete her case plan tasks and to be reunified with her daughter. But, the mother’s motivation quickly decreased, and she began to become less involved with the case over time.

Christina was extremely upset coming into care and did not understand why she could not be with her mother and brother (who was never removed from the home). Jessica worked with Program Specialist Valerie Threadgill to identify relatives via Family Finding that would be willing to keep Christina or even pick her up during the weekends for temporary relief from the group home environment.

The case soon came to a stand still as all of the relatives seemed to be unstable and the mother was making minimal efforts to achieve the permanency goal. Christina began to lose hope and her frustration was revealed in her school performance and day-to-day attitudes about life.

Jessica turned to Valerie who provided her with words of wisdom and encouraged the young family case manager to re-engage the mother, letting her know how much she was needed in her child’s life. Taking Valerie’s advice, Jessica began to engage the mother once again by explaining the situation from Christina’s perspective.

The mother finally admitted to Jessica that she was upset the whole time with the Department of Children and Families for taking her child away after she had requested help on several occasions. The mother said she knew that Christina needed medical attention, but recognized she needed assistance in taking care of Christina’s medical needs. She did not understand why removal was the “best option” for her family.

The mother admitted to being rebellious, and also realized that she was only hurting Christina in the process. After the conversation, the mother worked, in conjunction with Jessica, diligently to achieve her permanency goal, completing her tasks and establishing a stable residence in which she could bring her child to live. In the meantime, Christina continued to take her medication, participated in her counseling sessions and worked hard to bring up her grades.

Christina was happily reunified on Feb. 22, 2010, and is spending her 17th birthday with her mother and brother. Great work to Jessica Rodriguez and Valerie Threadgill for collaborating to fulfill the OHU promise of hope!

*Name was changed to protect confidentiality.

Orlando foster youth to go from independent living to full academic scholarship playing Division I football

While growing up, Davonnie Coard admits he was a very difficult child and was no stranger to the delinquency system. At 14, Davonnie got into a violent fight with his brother—ultimately leading to his arrest. His mother, unable to handle the situation and fearing for her and the family’s safety, requested assistance from the State of Florida.

So Davonnie entered foster care. He bounced from group home to group home, mostly due to requests for removal due to bad behavior. At 16, he arrived at a facility in Pine Hills, Florida, and enrolled at Evans High School. Greg Thompson, head football coach at Evans, immediately recognized Davonnie’s large stature, standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighing 305 pounds, and asked Davonnie to play for the Evans High School football team.

Davonnie credits Coach Thompson with teaching him how to refocus his anger onto the football field. Davonnie’s demeanor at the group home began to change for the better shortly after starting football, and for once in his life, Davonnie found stability.

By age 17, Davonnie remained stable in his group home in Pine Hills and demonstrated no negative behaviors. And, for the first time in a long time, he had committed individuals in his life, including Coach Thompson, and new mentor, Bill Rodriguez.

With his new found success on the football field and entering into his senior year of high school, Davonnie was looking for and wanted more in his home life. During this time, Stephen Ryan, independent living coordinator with One Hope United, worked with Davonnie on transferring to the Laurel Hill Independence Center, an independent living group home facility that allows older, responsible children in foster care to have more self-sufficiency, while teaching them essential skills to prepare them for the real world.

“I did a lot of work with Davonnie in preparing him for his 18th birthday,” said Stephen. “When the children I’m working with turn 18, I give each of them a way to contact me, whether it’s by phone or e-mail, so they do not lose that extra support while they transition to adulthood. Even though One Hope United is no longer officially involved in these cases, I still work with them to help point them in the right direction.”

Stephen says that Davonnie is thriving and learning so much from his stay at Laurel Hill Independence Center, including how to lead an independent life after 18. He is also learning about collegiate football from the center’s Program Manager Calvin Windham, who was a former player of Louisiana State University.

Unfortunately, during the first preseason scrimmage of Davonnie’s senior year, he broke his left foot. Even with such a short amount of playtime due to the injury, Davonnie’s confidence on the field and passion for football showed through, making an impact on football scouts from across the nation.

On Feb. 3, 2010, National Signing Day for college football, Davonnie signed his Letter of Intent to play Division I football at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida A&M University even offered Davonnie a full academic scholarship!

Davonnie still calls Stephen to ask for life advice or help with filling out forms. Just the other day, Davonnie asked Stephen to accompany him to a parent/teacher conference at school.

“While I had no legal standpoint because Davonnie was 18 years old, I believe that he just wanted to see a friendly face and have someone he can turn to with questions,” said Stephen. “I’m so excited to see Davonnie off when he moves to Tallahassee in the fall!”