Solutions Network Awareness Event focuses on the foster care system

Brooke McCord
April 30, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network recently hosted “Building Resilience and Hope,” and brought together researchers, advocates, public servants, and foster youth to discuss Pennsylvania’s foster care system and strategies for supporting youth in pursuit of a college education.

Jennie Noll, director of the Network and professor of human development and family studies, opened the event and introduced Penn State’s new Fostering Lions Program. “This program will be available to Penn State students who received foster care, and they will have access to academic, social and emotional support, as well as logistical and financial support throughout their time at Penn State so that they can achieve their academic goals,” Noll explained. The program is being launched at University Park with plans to expand to the Commonwealth Campuses across Pennsylvania.

Tarah Toohil, State Representative and graduate of Penn State Dickinson Law, described her experience with Pennsylvania foster care as both a sister and mother, and gave her professional perspective of trying to catalyze change through legislation.

During the keynote, Sharon McDaniel, founder, president and chief executive officer of A Second Chance, Inc., and a Penn State alumnus, also shared her personal story in kinship care, as well as her work in the child welfare system. She offered advice for those who work with foster youth. “How you see me will determine how you treat me. We have to shift the way we see the situation,” she said. McDaniel encouraged the crowd to shift the paradigm to fixing the system and setting up supports for foster youth to flourish in interdependence.

A student panel discussion led by Stacy Johnson, director of Child and Family Services Permanency & Community Engagement, A Second Chance, Inc., consisted of three foster care alumni. They recounted how their time in the foster care system impacted their transitions into college, their college experiences, and their lives today. The panelists agreed that support systems and advocates on college campuses to help students navigate the paths to and through college are vital. 

Continuing the topic of challenges for entering and thriving in college were independent living coordinators Stephanie Salvatori of Lycoming County and Mary Ann Zimmerman of Centre County. They offered examples of foster youth overcoming obstacles to enter college, and how some have succeeded in completing their degrees while others have dropped out. Their accounts emphasized the necessity of programs like Fostering Lions on college campuses.

The final speaker, Lucy Johnston-Walsh, director of the Penn State’s Children’s Advocacy Clinic and the Center on Children and the Law, and professor of clinical law, spoke of recent changes to Pennsylvania’s foster care laws and the effects on her foster youth clients; discussed which policies and laws could be improved; and offered ideas on laws that should be implemented to better aid foster youth.

All speakers and panelists came together to conclude the event with a full-panel discussion where they engaged with the audience and answered questions. Sharon McDaniel ended the day’s presentations with one last bit of guidance — “Nothing about us without us" — to underscore her hope that foster youth and alumni would be consulted, and hired, in the process of creating new programs and laws that impact their lives.

This event was sponsored by the Human Development & Family Studies’ Vladimir de Lissovoy Program Support Endowment for the Protection of Children and the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, a unit of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 03, 2018