Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fostering Goodwill makes Christmas Wishes come true for foster care alumni on the holidays

People who age out of foster care often need help
Davis, Merlene. Lexington Herald-Leader, Dec . 2, 2008.

Earl Washington knows what it is like to be 18 and itching to be free of the constraints of the foster care system he called home for 10 years.

Jeff Culver knows what it is like to help young people like Washington who age out of foster care but who have very little support to help them succeed in life.

Jeff Culver and Earl Washington work in the office of Fostering Goodwill, the non-profit they founded in 2006. They focus on young men and women who are legally adults and have aged out.

With experiences on both sides of the foster care fence, the two men focus their areas of expertise toward helping young people who are legally adults but who might not have the skills to maneuver in the adult world.

"We always talked about starting something for older foster youth," Washington said, "those who are about to age out and up to 23 or 24. People just want to get rid of them."

The numbers bear that out
The results of a 2007 study by the Pew Charitable Trust showed that annually 20,000 kids age out of foster care nationwide, an increase of 41 percent since 1998. One third of them didn't have a high school diploma and about 20 percent become homeless. Nearly half of the young women who have been in foster care become pregnant at least once by age 19.

Washington, director of the child placing services at the Methodist Home Independent Living Program, said he grew up in foster care in Lexington, spending a brief time in the juvenile justice system as well.

"I left my home when I was about 9 years old," he said. "I returned home for two to four months at a time. Nothing consistent."

At 18, he turned his attention to Eastern Kentucky University, where he wanted to study social work and give back to the community.

"I didn't have any expectations of being successful at that. I didn't go to public school until the last semester of my senior year. I attended classes at the Metro Group Home.

"I wanted my freedom and I wanted to be completely free of everybody," he said. "What we want may not be what we need. It is definitely not what may be best for you."

Upon reaching 18, those leaving state care have the option of staying with state supervision through independent living programs, which find them apartments and money to attend a public college or university or trade school.

"There are great programs, but they still have some gaps," Washington said. "We are working to improve those programs."

But, even if the youths leave the system, they can still return when times get tough and they discover that life as an adult can be difficult.

"They just need a mentor because they have no one," said Culver, who works with the state's social and juvenile services. "Some go back to families, where there may not be a meaningful relationship. Many go from place to place. But if they keep in touch with us, we will help them."

Emotions can run particularly low this time of year when the themes of love, family and home are stressed.

To help lift their spirits, Washington and Culver have devised a program called Christmas Wishes.

They ask for monetary donations or gift cards, which will then be distributed to youths who aren't quite the people we think of at Christmastime.

Along with the gift cards, a survey is mailed to the youths who are still in touch with independent living programs, asking what more can be done to bridge their entry into adulthood. Culver said they will use the responses to make improvements.

"People want to be Santa to 5-year-olds, but teenagers need something, too," said Susan Otero, owner of Rooster and Rose Home Boutique in Nicholasville's Brannon Crossing Shopping Center. "I think they are kind of forgotten with everything. They need just as much attention as the little ones."

Otero, who has spearheaded fund drives for foster children 10 years and older, started collecting luggage for children in state care when her son was a Cub Scout.

Before 9/11, Otero invited friends over for a fancy open house at Christmastime. Now she gives them a snack and asks them to donate gift cards to the youth.

"We target the older kids," she said. "We target the most needy, the ones whose parents have signed off on them or are incarcerated, or have drug issues, or health issues.

"These kids will be coming into the community soon and I would rather they have a good experience."

You can help by sending either a check or a gift card from a major retailer to Fostering Goodwill, P.O. Box 54561, Lexington, Ky., 40555.

They can also be reached by phone at (859) 509-4307 or (502) 741-9527.

Or you can drop off money or gift cards at Rooster and Rose Home Boutique. For every $5 donated at the shop, Otero said, donors are given a raffle ticket for a chance at a beautiful gift basket.

Plus, she said, she'll gladly give your gently used luggage to the foster children so that they won't have to move their possessions from place to place in a plastic garbage bag.

The gift cards can be loaded with any amount, but keep in mind how much a sweater or shoes costs these days. Monetary donations will be bundled to give larger gift cards to the young people who have children.

"They have to grow up fast when they age out of the system," Washington said. "It was just me when I went to college. I didn't have anyone to put money on my meal card.

"Speaking as a service provider, we don't prepare these kids well and then we expect them to succeed," he continued. "They have all the tools. We just need to help them get to that point."

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Foster Children and Medical Care

Clinic for kids in foster care celebrated Musgrave, Beth. Lexington Herald-Leader, Dec. 6, 2008.

Janice Hukle expected a hassle when she took one of her foster children to a new clinic on Waller Avenue.

The Jessamine County woman has been a foster parent to more than 100 kids over the past 30 years. And most of those kids needed special medical treatment.

Hukle was used to bullying and cajoling the medical system to get her kids the best services possible. But the doctors at the Medical Home for Coordinated Pediatrics spent a long time talking to Hukle about the needs of her foster daughter.

"They did everything for you," Hukle said of the staff at the clinic.

"There was no rush," she said. "I mean, that's just unheard of."

On Friday, the Medical Home for Coordinated Pediatrics — a clinic solely for the 7,100 Kentucky kids in foster care and the 9,000 kids who have been removed from their parents and are being taken care of by a family member — celebrated its 500th patient visit.

The clinic, a partnership between the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the University of Kentucky Department of Pediatrics, serves 20 counties and opened in the fall of 2007. It is the first clinic of its kind in Kentucky and one of the few clinics in the country dedicated solely to treating kids in the foster care system.

Approximately 80 percent of children in foster care have special medical needs, but getting medical care for them is often difficult.

Nearly all children in the foster care system are eligible for Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor or disabled. But it's difficult to find doctors who consistently take Medicaid, said Eric Friedlander of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The other problem, Hukle said, is that sometimes kids enter the foster care system with health problems that have been undiagnosed. Or they are in the foster care system because their parents didn't get them medical treatment.

"You have to go off of whatever information has been gathered," Hukle said. And sometimes that information is dismal at best.

This clinic allows for a continuity of care, said Teresa James, the deputy commissioner for the Department for Community Based Services, which oversees foster care. Children in the foster care system who are returned to their parents can still come to the clinic, James said.

Moreover, information about each child will be entered into a database, which social workers can access if the child re-enters the foster care system, James said.

First lady Jane Beshear, at a ceremony Friday to commemorate the 500th visit, said that in tough economic times, the state needs more innovative partnerships like this one.

"If you think differently, then many things can be accomplished," Beshear said.

UK provides most of the medical staff. The Commission for Children With Special Health Care Needs, which is part of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, provides the space. Medicaid pays for most of the care.

Friedlander said the state contributed $100,000 to the clinic's operations budget, and much of that money will be repaid by Medicaid.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Clinic dedicated to caring for the health of children in foster care

First Lady Celebrates Work of Children's Clinic
University of Kentucky News, Dec. 9, 2008.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 9, 2008)Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear marked a milestone Dec. 5 at a University of Kentucky clinic, the first of its kind in the state dedicated to caring for the health of children in foster care.

The Medical Home for Coordinated Pediatrics (MHCP),a joint venture of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ (CHFS) Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs (CCSHCN), the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and CHFS’ Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), celebrated its 500th patient visit in less than one year of operation.

Beshear toured the center, met its staff and spoke about the benefits of the program. “Children’s health care is a priority of my husband, Gov. Steve Beshear,” said Beshear. “In these tight economic times we must use our existing resources to best serve the children of the Commonwealth – including those who are in state foster care. When a partnership like this results in so many benefits, it’s a win for all of Kentucky.”

The clinic is a one-stop medical center that provides comprehensive, compassionate, coordinated pediatric primary care for children in out-of-home care. The center, located in the CCSHCN’s Waller Avenue office, serves children in out-of-home care from Fayette and 19 surrounding counties. Medical information for children who visit the center is entered into CCSHCN’s database, which can be accessed by its staff statewide and follows the children no matter where they go, improving the consistency of care they receive.

CCSHCN Executive Director Rebecca Cecil said that clinic staff address each child’s needs, make appropriate referrals and coordinate follow-up care. “This clinic, coupled with the nine commission nurses stationed in DCBS offices across the state, provides a level of medical expertise that has been desperately needed,” she said.

DCBS Deputy Commissioner Teresa James said this continuity gives the children a medical home. “We strive to reduce the number of placements for our children in foster care,” James said, “but there are often situations when a child must be moved to another home or facility.”

The clinic also provides support for families in the Kinship Care Program, which places children with relatives rather than in a foster home, James said.

“The importance of this program to the health and lives of these Kentucky children is profound,” said Dr. Timothy Bricker, professor and chair, Department of Pediatrics, UK College of Medicine, and physician-in-chief of Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “The foster caregivers and the staff of this program are our heroes.”

Because the program is able to use existing commission clinic space and share some staff, the additional costs of running the clinic are less than $100,000. The clinic is located in available space within the commission’s office and Medicaid pays for the services provided to the foster children.

Approximately 7,100 Kentucky children are in state foster care. DCBS is responsible for coordinating an initial physical health screening within 48 hours of the child’s entry into out-of-home care. DCBS also must ensure that each child has a physical, dental and visual exam scheduled within two weeks of entry into care. About 122 children in foster care are considered medically fragile with specialized health care needs.

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