Patricia Duh: Lifting Up Youth Voice in Foster Care

Posted December 16, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Patricia Duh

When dis­cussing child wel­fare chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties with pol­i­cy­mak­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and oth­er audi­ences, Patri­cia Duh con­tributes the unique per­spec­tive of a young adult who entered fos­ter care when she was 10 years old and expe­ri­enced mul­ti­ple place­ments before aging out of the sys­tem when she was 18. A Jim Casey Young Fel­low, she part­ners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® to help advance child wel­fare poli­cies and prac­tices that effec­tive­ly meet the needs of young peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing from fos­ter care to adulthood.

Duh attend­ed the Jim Casey Initiative’s Youth Lead­er­ship Insti­tute (YLI) in 2016 as a mem­ber of the HI H.O.P.E.S. (Hawai‘i Help­ing Our Peo­ple Envi­sion Suc­cess) Youth Lead­er­ship Board, the Jim Casey Initiative’s part­ner in that state. An inten­sive week­long gath­er­ing, YLI pre­pares young peo­ple from the Jim Casey Initiative’s net­work of 17 sites to take on lead­er­ship roles in their com­mu­ni­ties and in Casey’s nation­al work.

In this inter­view, Duh dis­cuss­es her work as a Jim Casey Young Fel­low and the effect of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic on her efforts to assist young peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing out of fos­ter care and into adulthood.

Q: How did you become an advo­cate for oth­er young people?

Duh: There’s been a lot of train­ing. For exam­ple, in the Jim Casey Initiative’s Young Fel­lows pro­gram, we learned about strate­gic shar­ing — how to strate­gi­cal­ly share one’s per­son­al sto­ry using data and pow­er­ful mes­sages to advo­cate for changes in pol­i­cy and prac­tice. This lead­er­ship tool has allowed me to strate­gi­cal­ly share my lived expe­ri­ence in the fos­ter care sys­tem with impor­tant stake­hold­ers in a way that sparks change and shifts mind­sets. This is impor­tant — espe­cial­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic when every­one is fac­ing many oth­er chal­lenges — because we are able to respect­ful­ly talk about the issues that our young peo­ple were and are expe­ri­enc­ing and work to find solutions.

I’ve also par­tic­i­pat­ed in Results Count® train­ing, which has taught me how to take a data-dri­ven approach in mov­ing a strat­e­gy for­ward to achieve mea­sur­able, equi­table improve­ments in out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies. That’s been real­ly fun. Learn­ing about Results-Based Facil­i­ta­tion and the Per­son-Role-Sys­tem frame­work has taught me how to move dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions for­ward among peo­ple with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and roles to keep us on track to cre­at­ing solu­tions that can make a dif­fer­ence for young people.

Q: What child wel­fare issues are you try­ing to advance?

Duh: EPIC Ohana, the orga­ni­za­tion I cur­rent­ly work for and the spon­sor­ing agency for the HI H.O.P.E.S. Ini­tia­tive, just launched the Pono Process — Fos­ter Youth Bill of Rights Griev­ance Process. I am lead­ing this pro­gram. We rec­og­nized that there was no griev­ance pro­ce­dure in Hawai‘i for young peo­ple in fos­ter care whose rights were being vio­lat­ed. Through the Pono Process, we are hop­ing to do a mul­ti­tude of things. We want not only to strength­en com­mu­ni­ca­tion and team work between young peo­ple in care and ser­vice providers, but also to have a chance to cre­ate deep­er sys­temic changes to address the rights of young peo­ple that are not being upheld or honored.

Q: How are you and the orga­ni­za­tions you work for respond­ing to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Duh: We have done a lot of work with the Youth Lead­er­ship Board in my home site since the pan­dem­ic start­ed. In April, we host­ed our own vir­tu­al town hall. It was real­ly to pro­vide hope and trans­par­ent updates to young peo­ple and to say, Now that COVID is here, this is what’s hap­pen­ing with­in the child wel­fare sys­tem.” For exam­ple, what is hap­pen­ing with extend­ed fos­ter care ben­e­fits? I think that the great­est thing from that town hall was the atten­dance of Ella­dine Ole­vao, the child wel­fare branch admin­is­tra­tor for the State of Hawai‘i. She pro­vid­ed live, real-time updates on child wel­fare pro­ce­dures to keep young peo­ple and their fam­i­lies safe dur­ing COVID. Over­all, it was a great town hall. We had close to 200 peo­ple attend.

Q: What kind of activ­i­ties emerged from that town hall?

Duh: A lot of things came out of that town hall. Many mem­bers of HI H.O.P.E.S. Youth Lead­er­ship Board part­nered with the Hawai‘i Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion to devel­op a COVID enhance­ment fund for young peo­ple 18 and old­er. One of the needs of young peo­ple was basic neces­si­ties. An appli­ca­tion was cre­at­ed for young peo­ple to get assis­tance from the fund for gro­ceries and toi­letries, things like that.

We also decid­ed to do a lot of our in-per­son events vir­tu­al­ly. That was a huge change for us. For exam­ple, we had a vir­tu­al cel­e­bra­tion for our young peo­ple who have aged out of fos­ter care and grad­u­at­ed from high school. There is nor­mal­ly a very big event where they fly to one island, and there is great food and great music, and they get togeth­er and cel­e­brate these huge mile­stones. This year, we held the grad­u­a­tion vir­tu­al­ly, and it was more inti­mate. We under­stood that it was still impor­tant to hon­or the achieve­ments of these very hard-work­ing young people.

We’ve found that we can still have these mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple online. Many of the things that have changed because of COVID start­ed with the town hall.

Q: Are there oth­er exam­ples of how you are nav­i­gat­ing the pandemic?

Duh: One of the things we are try­ing to do more of is check­ing in with young peo­ple to make sure they are OK. We have built a gen­uine rap­port with the young peo­ple here, and we are work­ing to make sure that we start our con­ver­sa­tions by ask­ing how they are doing and if we can pro­vide any sup­ports. I think one of the great­est things we have done for young peo­ple is pro­vide a lot of updat­ed resources on the EPIC Ohana web­site. There’s a Fos­ter Hope Hawai‘i app to help young peo­ple find out about impor­tant resources and hous­ing, edu­ca­tion and health. There is a sep­a­rate page for COVID resources. We want young peo­ple to know that there are peo­ple work­ing hard to make sure they’re OK.

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