From an interview with Bill Marick
The Independent Living Program (ILP) started in 1986, when the Federal Government started sending the state some funds that could be used to help an older foster teen become independent.
I heard about it at a conference in Newport for Children’s Services (CSD) social workers who worked with foster teens. Back then, CSD included both social services for families and kids (now DHS) and juvenile corrections (now OYA). Not too much happened for the first couple years. Case workers could write a plan to provide certain things for older foster teens for education or work. We said what they needed and if there was money, we got it.
We were able to get money for things like a trumpet or work clothes, going off to college or moving in to their own apartment. At first, the state was getting quite a bit of money and we could get whatever was needed. But as more workers found out, the funds weren’t as available. Then it was apportioned by percent of the kids in care, or certain ages. Everything kept getting more complicated.
In 1988, there was another conference called “Listen, Please Listen.” We took a couple kids from our area. It was a gathering of foster care youth talking about what would be most helpful to them. Those foster teens provided a lot of the impetus to get things started and develop the program.
One of the things that the kids really stressed that they needed was a time to meet and talk with other foster kids who understood what they were going through. The Teen Conference we take foster kids to every year was a direct outgrowth of “Listen, Please Listen.”
One of the kids at the conference was a girl who was living in a group home in The Dalles. Her name was Jenny and she had a father and an older brother on death row here in the state prison system because of what they had done to her and other people.
This was a kid who, of course, didn’t trust men. She tested me like no kid ever. The first time I saw her after she moved into the group home, I was in the kitchen talking to the house mother. Jenny came and stood in the doorway and she would not move. I said, “It’s time for me to go,” and she planted herself in the door to see what I was going to do. I was not going to touch her in any way so I sat down and had another cup of coffee. I had to wait her out till she finally moved out of the doorway. That was the first of many tests.
Jenny was very passionate about youth being protected because of what she’d gone through. This conference was the first time I heard her speak out about what needed to be done and what services foster teens needed. She was an excellent speaker, a very bright kid. After “Listen, Please Listen,” she was spoke at regional meetings of CSD about what foster teens needed. A lot of her ideas became part of ILP.
It wasn’t long before the state started formalizing the program. Instead of each individual case worker doing the services, the branches each hired a contracted individual who worked with the kids. We hired Renee Barber, and she provided the services for a couple of years, and then Ty Covey did it for a couple of years.
Then, because of costs and labor issues, the state contracted with non-profits to do the services, which is the system we have now. MCCOG had the contract for a couple years and Donita Booth worked with the kids.
In the mid-1990s, Michael Mehling was director of The Next Door. He called me one day and said, “Hey Bill, what is this ILP business, should we bid on it?” I think MCCOG didn’t want the contract because there wasn’t much money; there still isn’t. The Next Door was the only bidder, and has been doing ILP services ever since. Cheri Stevenson was the worker from then until Jane Ward came in 2004. Then José Sandoval, Lena McNab, Cris Clarke, Laura Brown, Chad Dahl, Fern Johnson, and Livia Colbert.
I’ve been involved from the start. When I said, “This is great we need to get in on this,” my branch manager said “OK, you go do it.” So I was the one who monitored the program. When I couldn’t do that anymore, I stayed on as a volunteer. I would help with the classes, get kids to the classes, and go to the Teen Conferences because they always needed extra help. When I retired from OYA, I was asked to work a few hours a month with ILP, which I still do.
I always tell people this is one of the few really good programs the state does for foster kids. ILP has been directed to the needs of foster teens by foster teens. The program is as good as the individual workers and most of the people who do this have a desire to make a difference, to be there in the kids’ lives.
Here’s just one example of what an happen. Eliza Smith went to the Teen Conference and she was in my small group. On the first day she was dressed all in black. We were sitting in a circle; she was sitting there with her arms folded, legs folded, she was this tight little ball and her hair was down over her face. Our first activity was to go around and say why you were there and she said, “My foster mother was going to kick me out of my house if I didn’t come to this d@&*! conference.” Someone said, “Eliza, we’re glad that you came and hope you’re going to enjoy this.”
The second day we saw a little bit of a part and one eye was peeking out, starting to check things out. On the third day her hair was parted and, two eyes! This kid actually had two eyes! She wore green top, it wasn’t all black. About the fourth day she was starting to take part in stuff.
We talked about their goals and plans and she said that she wanted to be a singer. How many teens want to be a singer? On the final day, she stood up and sang a song, a cappella, and just nailed it. She had a beautiful voice. This kid went from being totally shut down to being able to get up and perform like that at the end.
We see a lot of kids and when we work with them for a while we can see so much change. At the Teen Conference it can be quite dramatic but with most kids, we work with them a couple years to see change and progress.
That goes back to the very basis of a relationship and establishing connections with the kids so they know someone cares and wants to help them get what they need. A lot of these kids have had years of therapy and all kinds of “shrinking” going on but what truly makes a difference is that real, caring relationship.
The outcomes for foster kids can be so poor, in unemployment, homelessness, prison, but the more they get these kinds of services, I think we drastically reduce the number of those that have those difficulties. This is one of the best things that we can do for the kids. The ILP services we provide make a difference and have a positive effect on the kids. I could tell you about many of these foster kids who have done very well. When we give them the chance and opportunity, most are going to seize it.