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DCFS youth speak out about foster care and adoption experiences

Chicago, IL (January 17, 2004) - The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) and Uhlich Children's Advantage Network (UCAN) today host the True Voices of Foster Care and Adoption, a panel discussion led by youth who have been or are currently residing in the state foster care system. Fred Long, a 24-year-old former ward of the state will co-moderate the event, along with DCFS Deputy Director of Field Operations Arthur Bishop who will introduce the panelist.

"Children in the DCFS system are not often given the opportunity to publicly share their experiences using their own voices," said DCFS Director Bryan Samuels. "This discussion will provide a forum for them to speak and be heard."

The discussion will explore topics such as misconceptions of foster care, views on relationships with family of orgin and sibling rights, and the true feelings that youth in care have about the foster care system. High school and college youth, legislators and child welfare experts throughout Illinois are invited to attend.

"Forums like these give our young people the chance to truly express their feelings and opinions," said Tom Vanden Berk, president and executive director of UCAN. "These events also give us adults a chance to listen, learn and, most important, act on what we hear."

Sponsored by Jewel-Osco, the event will take place on Saturday, January 17th at 11:00 AM at the Uhlich Community Programs Center, 217 N. Jefferson Street. Youth panelist include:

§ Bryan Austin, age 18, a ward of the state, is the President of the Statewide Youth Advisory Board and Cook-South Regional Youth Advisory Board to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In this role, he serves as an advocate and advises the Department on solutions to issues such as educational support and legislative matters that affect youth in care. Bryan also serves as Youth Advisor for the Center for Child Welfare and Education, where he advises on ways to better the educational services for all youth in care. A graduate of Morgan Park High School, Bryan is a student at Northern Illinois University majoring in psychology and political science.


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§ Anna Dominguez, age 16, is an adopted youth who became a ward of the state when her mother abandoned her and her sister in an apartment. A hotline call resulted in their being taken into custody and placed in emergency foster care. After being moved around a number of foster placements, and wanting to have a permanent home, Anna and her sister were adopted by her foster parents. Today, having a lot of structure in a home filled with unconditional love, Anna is a three-sport athlete (varsity squad for both soccer and swimming), and an accomplished artist who studies and enjoys playing the piano. She is part of the family who believes in "giving back" and will pursue a career as a teacher with goal of becoming a District Superintendent. Anna is a junior honor student at Reavis High School in suburban Burbank. One of seven adopted children, she was recently named statewide Hispanic Youth of the Year at the DCFS Conference in November.

§ Tytannie Harris, age 22, became a ward of the state when her father passed away and her mother's drug addiction left her unable to care for Tytannie and her four siblings. Tytannie's aunt initially took on the responsibility of caring for Tytannie's and her two brothers and two sisters. However, her aunt had custody for only a short period of time before Tytannie was placed into Park Ridge Youth Campus for young neglected kids. While there, Tytannie won the Presidents Award for having an impact on youth in the program. She was placed into an Independent Living Arrangement (ILA) at age 18. Tytannie attended the University of Illinois/Chicago for two years before transferring to Northeastern University this summer. She majors in Special Education/Psychology and plans a career as a child therapist.

§ Frederick Long, age 24, became a ward of the state at age 10 due to his parent's drug use and inability to care for him. His maternal grandmother raised him and his eight siblings until he turned 18. It was difficult to keep them together as a family and Frederick credits his grandmother for showing him stability and instilling in him a desire to help others. At age 18, Frederick entered Uhlich's Independent Living (ILA) Program. He is currently enrolled in Harold Washington College and works in the Development/Fundraising department at Uhlich. He also participates in Uhlich's STARS program, where former clients have the opportunity to work within the organization. Through the STARS program, Frederick is also an active member of the Uhlich Presidential Youth Advisory Board (P.Y.A.B.).

§ Michael Simelton, age 21, is a ward of the state who currently participates in the DCFS Youth in College program. Michael resides in Cairo, Illinois and has managed to make great strides. Michael currently attends Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and is slated to graduate in May 2005 with a bachelor's degree in Computer Systems and Technology. Michael has been accepted into the ambassador honors program at SEMO and was elected by the University Board of Directors to serve as an off-campus student senator. In addition, he is a member of the DCFS Southern Region Youth Advisory Board.

§ Victor Spencer, age 20, became a ward of the state at age seven due to problems with his siblings and parents. In 1990, Victor, his brother, and two sisters were placed in foster care and by 1994, Victor was placed in the first of three group homes that he would soon transfer in-and-out of. At age 17, Victor was transitioned to an Independent Living Arrangement (ILA) program. Upon his entrance into the ILA program, he felt that no one understood his struggles. As he gradually built relationships with positive peers and ILA staff members, Victor became open-minded about his future. He is currently majoring in English literature at Harold Washington College. This past summer, Victor worked as an intern at the Cook County Assessors Office and plans to become a successful writer.

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Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

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