Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why it is so important to have a back-up plan re: custody of children

Quote from this entry: The only other thing on my mind today was a sad phone call I got this morning. My very first client when I went into private practice 6 1/2 years ago was a woebegone dad who was trying to get custody of his daughter from her mother. The Children's Bureau got involved and tried to put the child into foster care. I took the case against my better judgment because this man looked like a homeless person. But I quickly realized he was an amazing man - an incredible artist whose wood carvings are some of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. His daughter struggled in math and he created a fantasy game to teach her math concepts and she thrived! We won the case, he got custody and I developed a pretty good reputation in the court for how I handled that case.

We got a note last week that he was just diagnosed with lung cancer and congestive heart failure. And then a call this morning that he is in the hospital and in and out of consciousness. He will not make it. He does not have health insurance. And come Monday, we will be dealing again with the custody of this poor girl as she mourns the loss of her amazing father. Godspeed Ray. You will not be forgotten.

I wonder how old this daughter is? Are there no other friends of the family or relatives who might take her? I can't ask the author of the Monkey House blog these questions, because she doesn't allow comments from non-team members on her site.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Personal Goals Activity

Ask youth to list or chart:
1.) Personal aptitude: Natural abilities and talents (e.g. athletic)
2.) Personality qualities (e.g. friendly, personable)
3.) Skills (e.g. computers, dance)
4.) People who have had a positive influence on their lives
5.) Role models, whom they would like to emulate
6.) How they want to contribute to society and culture
7.) Adjectives they would like people to use to describe them after they die
8.) What they would do if they only had a year to live

- What is the difference between a dream and a goal?
- Can some dreams inspire goals? How or how not?
- What would need to happen for your dreams to become a reality?

Kister, Joanna. Life Planning Resource Guide. Ohio Department of Education, 1994.

Defining Personal Values Activity

Ask, "What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase 'personal values?'"

Ask foster youth to define these universal values:
- Honesty
- Integrity
- Trustworthiness
- Loyalty
- Fairness
- Caring
- Respect
- Responsibilty
- Pursuit of Excellence
- Accountability

*Universal values transcend time, religion and culture.

List and define various types of values:
- Aesthetic values: Concern with appearance and beauty
- Health and safety values: Concern with physical well-being
- Environmental values: Concern with the state of the environment
- Intellectual values: Concern with reasoning
- Moral values: Concerned about the well-being of others
- Religious values: Concerned with spirituality and faith

- What are your personal values?
- Why do you value those thing?
- How might they influence your life choices?
- Are any of your personal values in conflict with one another?

Kister, Joanna. Life Planning Resource Guide. Ohio Department of Education, 1994.

Road Map Activity

Each young person should be given a roll of paper, to use to make a timeline of their lives.

On the time line, they need to include:
- Life choices they will face at various stages
- Life expectancy
- Anticipated life events

Questions to discuss:
- What is most important to you right now?
- What will be important to you 10 years from now? 20 years from now?
- Over what events do you have control?
- Over what events do you have no control?

Kister, Joanna. Life Planning Resource Guide. Ohio Department of Education, 1994.

Life Choices Panel Questions

The following questions are quoted directly from the Life Planning Resource Guide:

1.) What life choices have you made since leaving high school?

2.) How is living on your own different from your lifestyle when you were in high school?

3.) What your job? How did you come to be in this line of work?

4.) How is the way you relate at work different from the way that you related in school?
5.) What are your career plans and goals?

6.) What are your plans for continuing education and training?

7.) Compare your finances now and in high school. Do you have more or less money to do and buy things that you enjoy?

8.) Who are your friends? What characteristics appeal to you in friendship?

9.) Do you have a roommate? If so, what are your expectations for him/her?

10.) Has your dating experience changed in any way since high school?

11.) Have you decided to begin a family of your own? Why or why not?

12.) What types of community involvement have you participated in since high school?

13.) How do you spend your leisure time? Is it different than the way you spent your leisure time in high school?

14.) How much time do you have alone?

15.) What are your safety concerns?

Follow-up Discussion:
- Is it important to plan your life choices? Why or why not?
- How can a person take charge of what happens in his/her life?
- What is the definition of success?

Kister, Joanna. Life Planning Resource Guide. Ohio Department of Education, 1994.

Life Management Plan: The Big Picture

1.) Who is in charge of your life?
Is your life governed by fate or chance? As foster children, our early circumstances are often dictated by forces outside of our control. But when we enter the adult world, the outcome of our lives is largely determined by the choices that we make from then on.

A self-forming person is a person who takes responsibility for their own lives. They mold their own future, through their choices and the actions they take.

Self-formation is a process of interacting with others, deciding what is most important to you, and then taking action.

2.) Why do I need a life management plan?
It outlines your vision for your life, and what you desire for your future.

Ask yourself questions like:
-What is most important to me?
-What are my short-term goals?
-What are my long-term goals?
-What resources do I need to achieve my aspirations?
-What do I need to balance in my life? (example: career and children)

Be prepared to revise and change your plan, as necessary.
- Sometimes, our goals change. Unexpected circumstances might arise, and lead us in another direction.

- It's important to have the courage to see things for what they are, and be willing to establish a new vision, if appropriate.

You will undoubtedly experience barriers on the road:
- In aging out of foster care, you are entering into the unknown. When you try new things, it is unrealistic to expect that you will always do them perfectly.

-You might lack the circle of support experienced by your peers. It is up to you to develop support systems of your own.

- Sometimes your past will resurface and haunt you emotionally. Again, I address this issue more thoroughly on my other blog:

Be your own cheerleader:
- Imagine achieving your goals
- Work hard and don't stop trying
- Look for the good in what you have done
- Celebrate your achievements

Kister, Joanna. Life Planning Resource Guide. Ohio Department of Education, 1994.

Importance of Creating a Life Management Plan

After I aged out of foster care, I entered college at age 16 years old. Only one other person that I knew from foster care went to college. When he and I met up in grad school, we discovered that we had more than our past history in common.

He and I had both created mission statements for our lives. No one told us to, we just found ourselves mapping out a plan for our lives. I have a copy of his plan, and mine, and although we were not in touch with one another at the time that we wrote them, our mission statements had much in common...

When I moved to another state and started my career, I ran into another alumna of foster care, Gayle Loyola, and learned that she had created a management plan for her life as well.

Brainstorming to create a life management plan:
-What are your short-term and long-term goals?
-What resources do you need in order to reach those goals?

Before you even get started, it's important to realize that...

Personal mission statements are influenced by your belief system.
There are two familiar stories about this...

1.) The story about two brothers: one is an alcoholic and the other never touches alcohol. If you ask the first one why he drinks, he will rationalize his actions by his father. If you ask the second one why he avoids drinking, he will say, "My father was an alcoholic."

2.) A man is walking down the street and he falls into a deep hole. A priest walks by and he yells up for help. The priest offers to say a prayer for the guy in the hole and walks away. An executive walks by and throws a dollar down the hole.

Finally, a friend walks by and jumps into the hole with his friend.

The first man, in shock, asks, "What did you do that for, Are you nuts?!?! Now we're both stuck down here!"

The friend replies "Yes, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."

My point?
-No more excuses
-There is a way out of the hole

Aging Out of Foster Care

Comic strip courtesy of Mark Stivers at

Every year, 20,000 of the 542,000 children in foster care nationwide "age out" of foster care and enter the adult world.

Most young adults in the general population rely upon their families for assistance with a place to live, financial support and other guidance as they transition to adulthood.

Indeed, half of young adults ages 18-24 in the general population in the United States live at home with their parents, according Children's Rights.

Young people in foster care have already survived harsh circumstances, such as neglect, abuse and/or abandonment.

They are then expected to leave the foster care system and transition to the adult world, “without the knowledge, skills, experience, attitudes, habits, and relationships that will enable them to be productive and connected members of society.”

More often than not, teens in foster care are not equipped to find gainful employment. Many have untreated physical and mental health needs, and no health insurance. Most have no housing options. Some have no immigration status.

Speaking personally, I didn't know how to cook when I aged out of foster care. I had no medical insurance. It was only after finishing both college and graduate school that I bought my first car and, with the help of a friend, taught myself how to drive.

Now, I want to do everything possible to assist foster youth with the transition of aging out of care.

I have another blog that focuses on many of the emotional challenges faced by foster care alumni:

This blog is dedicated to practical life skills.