Growing up in the child welfare system is a pill that no child wants to swallow. During my time as the ward of the state, there were many things I wished were different. People made decisions about my life as if they knew what I wanted. Oftentimes I felt alone. If it weren’t for my self-determination and thirst for success, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Even though I did have my trials and tribulations, I believe I was more fortunate than most kids. Before I aged out of foster care I had a permanent foster home and family I could call my own. With the help of my foster mother, I was able to build and maintain a strong relationship with this family. This type of stability led to several things: my educational success, relational competency and job security. I was lucky to have found a family that was invested in helping me to succeed as I aged out of foster care.
Other children aren’t so lucky, but now there is reason to be more hopeful. In recent years, Rhode Island’s child welfare system, the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), has been making great strides toward ensuring the well being of all children and youth in care. One positive development this year is the Federal Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011. This will provide up to 30 states, including Rhode Island, with the opportunity to use funds once dedicated exclusively to foster care toward creating effective and innovative programming to enhance the well being of children and youth. This change would provide state agencies with greater freedom to decide how child welfare funds will be spent.
So far, eight states have completed an application for this funding and, if Rhode Island can join this group, we will be able to take advantage of the opportunity this act provides to improve the child welfare system.
This act also supports educational stability for youth in care. Youth in care will now be supported in their efforts to remain enrolled in the same school regardless of where they reside in relation to school districts and help clarify who is ultimately responsible for transportation costs. Additionally, this act provides funding for monitoring trauma survivors and monitoring the usage of psychotropic medication. The data collected will help inform practice change at DCYF.
Another opportunity supported by the Child and Family Service Improvement and Innovation Act is a review and possible update or revision of the Children Bill of Rights. The Children Bill of Rights was enacted in the 1980s but soon will be reviewed and revised to reflect the current child welfare system. One of the major changes proposed would be to include emphasis on the rights of siblings.
On July 14, 2012 DCYF Director, Janice Defrances ratified the New England Youth Coalition’s Sibling Bill of Rights for the State of Rhode Island. This document recognizes the importance and value of sibling relationships and the need for their preservation and is intended to provide guidance in the delivery of care and services.
The strides DCYF has made improving the system have been a culmination of many things: hard work, dedication, funding and inclusion. I truly believe that DCYF has dedicated community members and advocates, like me, seeking change and better outcomes for children and youth.
I would like to thank Rep. Jim Langevin, who has supported the foster youth of Rhode Island through is work ensuring that the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act was passed. Knowing that Rhode Island has leaders like Rep. Jim Langevin as well as dedicated state employees who are willing to listen and create change makes me confident that we will soon see improvements in Rhode Island’s child welfare system.
DanPhargie (Dee), 22, experienced five placements in Rhode Island’s foster care system until aging out of care at 18. At 18, Dee went to the Youth Establishing Self-Sufficiency program where she was able to receive assistance with living expenses and connection with resources that assisted her with building and establishing a safety net for her and her daughter. Dee serves as co-chair of The Voice (a RI Youth Leadership Board), a member of the Education Legislative Task Force, a full-time employee of the New England Youth Coalition and a member of the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association. Dee received an associate’s degree in Business Management from Johnson & Wales University and is currently working towards a bachelor’s in social work at the Rhode Island College. Eventually, Dee would like to become a social worker for the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families in policy, advocacy or client-based work.