Oregon Foster Youth Connection is a program of Our Children Oregon built to empower current and former foster youth to share their voices and be heard in key decisions affecting children and foster youth. OFYC looks forward to improving the foster care system through advocacy, activism, and leadership while ensuring that all children and youth in the foster care system, from the youngest to those aging-out, are well cared for and empowered to succeed
Throughout May, Our Children Oregon has shared resources and programs to highlight Foster Care Awareness Month, and we also wish to share the amazing work OFYC members have done and continue to do throughout the current legislative session. For the remainder of the month, we will share the thoughts and perspectives of current and former foster youth achievements, along with the importance of peer connections to build a sense of community empowerment.
Continuing the Foster Care Awareness Month blog series, Sam S of Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) shares her perspectives within foster care and as an active OFYC member in her own words below.
Sam S is a former foster youth and current OFYC member. This is her first time being involved with the Oregon legislative session, and she has learned so much thus far. Sam is an active Legislative Action Team member on the advisory committee of OFYC and on Oregon’s Juvenile Court Improvement Program (JCIP), an ombudsman high profile committee that discusses the child welfare system. Although the JCIP is not directly connected to OFYC, Sam was able to be connected to this committee with the help of OFYC.
In regards to her first legislative session, she explained that the Department of Human Services has made some good legislative choices in the past five years, but there is still substantial work to do. As she explains: “We currently have less children in foster care, but there are still a lot of problems with bias and communication within the foster care system, along with abuse from foster homes and caretakers.” Being involved with the legislative session, Sam has been most surprised with the amount of underlying bias that goes unnoticed. The bias written into bills is deep and structured, and therefore must be deconstructed in order to create a safe haven for foster youth.
Yet overall, the legislature has exceeded her expectations with the help from OFYC. Before she joined the organization, she was worried that she was not going to understand the complicated legislative process. However, with the support from Lisa McMahon (OFYC’s Program Director), OFYC interns, and her OFYC family, she has expanded her legislative knowledge, vocabulary, and conversational strategies to use professionally and personally.
If Sam could improve the legislative process, she’d like to see the legislature become more active with youth. In her view, “youth involvement is necessary when we are talking about the lives of children. It is important for youth and their communities to progress into the next generation.” She explained that all youth experiences can make a difference and support advocacy efforts in a personable way.
Sam has worked on both OFYC bills in this legislative session. For HB 2340: Expanding ILP services for transition-aged foster youth, Sam worked on a grant to aid the legislation. She feels this bill is important because “everyone will get a fair chance in continuing schooling and progressing.” She shared that ILP services has supported her academic career greatly and is excited for her future at Portland Community College, and eventually, on to a to-be-determined Oregon university to pursue environmental science and preservation. She hopes that expanding ILP services for aging out foster youth will support youth to enroll in college and look toward the future, just as she did.
When asked about HB 2505: Eliminating implicit bias in Child Welfare Response, Sam was ecstatic. “This bill means the world to me, this bill is my baby. The passing of HB 2505 would create a foundation to a completely new child welfare system.” This bill is an all-inclusive measure for all marginalized foster youths, and would ensure that youth are placed in safe homes. As she shared, “This bill is for those who don’t have a voice, who are not able to speak up, and get resources like those in tribal lands. There were so many things that were not acknowledged before this bill – HB 2505 will open our eyes to things that were left undone.”
Being a member of OFYC has made Sam become a more confident person. She has developed multiple skill sets and has been involved with new opportunities, such as volunteering with the program Project Never Again. Project Never Again donates duffle bags for foster youth to own, instead of the usual garbage bags they are given to move their belongings.
On a more personal note, OFYC has empowered Sam to hold her head high when she says that she is a former foster youth. She reflected: “All of my experiences in foster care have impacted my life, and with the help of OFYC the trauma I have faced has been recycled into something positive.” Sam hopes to support OFYC as an adult and is excited to see what the next generation accomplishes. She also hopes that her brothers continue in her footsteps. As well, Sam wants current foster youth to become more active in the legislature and join OFYC. This organization has made important space for her, and there is a collective understanding of transparency and respect. As she put it, “Foster youth need to stop feeling ashamed of past experiences and erase the stigma while owning who they are!”
Sam also wants to share that on June 5th, 2021, Project Never Again will be organizing a duffle bag fill-up event at Sunrise Church in Hillsboro. For more information, view the volunteer event details here.