(This topic caught my eye as I spent four years in a foster home. So, I will add my personal comments at the end)
OGDEN — In a meeting very much like Friday's Youth Summit, a group of teenagers and young adults who had been placed in Utah's foster care system gathered together to talk about their common desire for "normalcy" during their teen years.
They wanted to take part in activities that most teenagers take for granted such as going to a school dance, competing on an athletic team or even learning how to drive.
For a teenager in the care of the state Division of Child and Family Services, getting the OK to travel on a team bus out of town meant his or her foster parent getting permission from their caseworker, who then had to get the approval of a supervisor, who would likely check with a juvenile court judge before giving the green light.
Youths taking part in the division's annual Youth Summit took a lead role in changing Utah law to streamline the process with the Utah Legislature's passage of HB346 in 2014.
It was a watershed moment for the youths and their self-advocacy efforts, said Jennifer Larson, the DCFS out-of-home program director, who works extensively with foster youths.
"As we have moved to this use of the youth foster care experience and seeing them as experts in their own experience, I think it has changed the scene, the format and the way we talk about foster care," she said Friday.
The 14th annual summit, held at Weber State University, is offering sessions on money management, job preparation, relationships and advocacy. Each of the state's public colleges and universities, applied technology colleges and Job Corps have representatives at the summit to encourage students to attend college or seek other post-secondary education opportunities.
The state Youth Council, made up of youths in foster care from five regions throughout the state as well as youths who have aged out of care, takes the lead in organizing each year's summit.
This year, the council has organized guided discussions on the issues of permanent placements, obtaining driver licenses and staying connected with siblings who are in different foster care placements and the appropriate use of psychotropic drugs. While many youths in foster care acknowledge they need treatment, they do not want to be overmedicated, Larson said.
"It's, 'How can I get my treatment needs met without the overuse of psychotropic meds?' Some of the youth in that region are really passionate about that because they really feel strongly that they have been overmedicated over the years," she said.
On Saturday afternoon, the youths have the opportunity to participate in a "Speak Out," to discuss their experiences in foster care.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, is taking part in the conference instructing the youths how to advocate and participate in the legislative process. He was the Senate sponsor of HB346, which was introduced by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville.
"We're so pleased he wanted to do this. I think it says a lot about his commitment to the outcomes of these kids and his commitment to make sure that we have a balanced system where they have a voice and that they're getting their needs met and we're helping to change those outcomes," she said.
The summit, titled "Raise Your Voice," concludes Saturday with a concert by Janiva Magness, an award-winning blues singer and former youth in foster care.
Magness, who entered foster care after the suicides of both of her parents, is a national spokeswoman for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month Campaign and an ambassador for the Foster Care Alumni of America.
(For others like me who wish to comment, please email marjorie.)
I spent my four years of high school at one of the Ettie Lee Homes, a privately funded foster care system affiliated with the LDS church. It was a working farm/ranch with the foster parents experienced ranchers from Southern Utah.
We learned to work. To use our hands and minds to build and create. We raised livestock. Tended to vegetable gardens and savored the fruit of our labors. We moved irrigation pipes for the pastures on which horses and cattle grazed. And, when the alfalfa grew tall enough, we drove a tractor to mow it, then went through with pitchforks to put it into rows for when it was dry and ready to be taken to the barn. We dug post holes and strung barbed wire. We dug a big hole and cemented it in to make a reservoir which also served as our swimming pool.
For those who had learned to work with the other children and were doing well in school, we were allowed to find jobs where we could put some money in our pockets. We were even allowed to go on dates with girls we met at school or church. All of us learned to drive.
Verdell and Laska Lunt were probably the wisest people I ever knew. When we did things we shouldn't, they didn't lay down the law, they let the others judge the miscreant and determine the punishment. If that judgment was a bit too severe or off base, that's when they stepped into advise us about it.
It certainly is not what the current crop of welfare bureaucrats would tolerate today!
I entered the Army and, when I completed my three years, I returned to the ranch and was impressed with the improvements made there.
I then re-enlisted in the Army and did not return for many years. By the time I returned, Miss Ettie Lee has passed away and the homes were turned over to clerks and administrators. I could already see how it was going downhill, not letting the children learn the most important lessons of life – working hard and teamwork.
I returned 20 years ago to find nothing but an institute for housing children, giving them no goals in life. Fruitful pastures and fields were now filled with drab, formless apartment buildings. And then, I learned there was going to be some kind of anniversary celebration for the Ettie Lee Homes Group.
I left disappointed and sad as I knew it would soon come to an end.
Government rules and regulations so they could get the funding they needed. Foster parents more concerned about themselves than the children.
And, most important of all – an official separation of church and state. The homes could no longer be associated with the LDS church and all the amazing guidance it provides for children.
Perhaps it's different in Utah. I would sincerely hope so. For without spiritual guidance, the children will never be able to attain a truly fruitful and rich life.
I see the group still exists and can be found @ www.ettielee.org and can be reached by email @ email@example.com
And, if you were by any chance a member of the Ettie Lee family it would be wonderful to hear from you.
God bless Auntie Lee's memory.