March 23, 2017

From CJ Jones, Active Oregon Foster Youth Connection Member

Hey everyone, my name is CJ. I am a 20-year-old former foster youth of Oregon’s foster care system for 10 years, as well as an active and enthusiastic member of Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC).

I am a new member within the last three months, and loving every little bit of it and every detail that comes with being a part this community/organization. Being new, I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous and anxious. There was no reason to be. I heard about OFYC through their Facebook page. Lisa McMahon got a hold of me and introduced the vision of OFYC, which is to improve the foster care system through advocacy, activism, and leadership. Reading that gave me a piece of inspiration and initiated my spark in becoming an advocate for foster youth. I was hooked. Attention was grabbed.

Learning How to Testify

The first event I attended was the 2017 Advocacy Convening weekend event in Salem, Oregon from February 4-6, 2017. Current and former foster youth in Oregon came together to discuss the steps we needed to take to introduce our new bill, the Foster Children Sibling Bill of Rights (HB 2216). This bill expresses our wants in improving the foster care system in regards to keeping siblings together, allowing more avenues of communication between siblings and family members, and encouraging and respecting the choices of siblings who have been adopted separately or separated while in care together.

Here were some of the steps taken before presenting this bill to Legislators on Monday, Feb 6.

  • We split off into smaller groups of 3-4 and began drafting and practicing our presentations we were going to give to the many House Representatives and Senators. After, of course, meeting as a whole.
  • After breaking off, each member took the responsibility of speaking on behalf of one of three things: OFYC and what it is, House Bill 2216, or sharing a piece of their personal story that was related to and tied into the meaning and purpose behind HB 2216.
  • We came together again for a role-play to encourage one another and to build self-confidence in each other so that we could efficiently and effectively deliver our presentations.

As a whole, the OFYC group had 43 informed meetings with Representatives and Senators on behalf of the Siblings Bill of Rights, the foster youth and siblings in Oregon, and to introduce and explain the changes and differences we would like to see happen in the foster care system. As a former foster youth, having this opportunity meant the world to me. Being able to advocate for current foster youth gave me a sense of direction, excitement, and determination. I truly like being a part of making positive changes in youth’s lives now and in the future.

Where is HB 2216 Now?

I am pleased to say I was one of the three members to attend the full House of Representatives vote on this bill. On March 16, 2017, I was nervously excited! This is it. After Representative Piluso presented to the House and spoke about HB 2216, we had a brief wait—30 seconds to be exact. The vote was back. The bill was unanimously supported on the House side. It has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Human Services. We were and still are so proud of everyone who participated and continues to be informed in making this amazing difference be able to happen.