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Washington County Citizen Review Panel Advocacy for Independent Living Skills Resources Committee 2007 Annual Report

Submitted by the Following Panel Members: Jolene Abelson, Ann Bebeau, Melissa Charley, Heidi Nakatani, Mary Nelson

Introduction: This subcommittee was formulated in the fall of 2007 as an outgrowth of the Independent Life Skills (ILS) Case Review and Focus Groups Study conducted in 2006. The ILS Study found that youth aging out of foster care have several important hurdles to overcome that are impeded by the "system". The hurdles include the ability to obtain adequate housing; employment; and medical, dental, and mental health care. The Committee's objectives are to develop and implement a strategy to educate county and state legislators and policymakers; to secure needed resources and funding; and to develop policy and procedural changes. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of homeless teens who age out of the foster care system in Washington County.

Activities: The Committee has begun its work to research what needs to be done legislatively and informally to effectively assist youth aging out of foster care to be able to live independently. The research has included conducting internet searches for effective, low cost programming; meeting with professional personnel who can assist in reducing the barriers youth face; and supporting and attending child advocacy conferences including "Bridges Out of Poverty" which opens up dialogue between the Panels and Legislators and gives input into the redesign of child welfare financing in Minnesota. At an early step, Rep. Julie Bunn and Sen. Kathy Saltzman were apprised of the recommendations of the ILS Study at a June 2007 Legislative Town Meeting.

Looking Ahead: The 2006 ILS Study found that in addition to the system hurdles, the funding cuts to existing effective programs has eroded the effectiveness of educating youth in transitioning skills. Next steps include working with the Minnesota and Washington County Departments of Human Services to develop a strategy to work with the appropriate legislative and governmental bodies to advocate for changes outlined in the Independent Living Skills (ILS) Study Report recommendations.

The Committee is researching the issue of Juvenile Criminal History Records, especially pertaining to arrests. Currently landlords are able to receive erroneous and damaging information from private businesses by circumventing the criminal justice system. Many times this prevents young people from obtaining housing. The Committee is exploring ways to prevent this from occurring.

Because the Panel represents a broad spectrum of the Washington County communities, not only geographically but also employment-wise, panel members are better able to think creatively and utilize networks to assist these young citizens to achieve a successful transition to adulthood.


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