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Youth Summit to Focus on Native Americans in Foster Care

PHOTO: Haley and Royce are two of the youth facilitators participating in this week's foster youth summit in Grande Ronde. Courtesy of Oregon Foster Youth Connection.
PHOTO: Haley and Royce are two of the youth facilitators participating in this week's foster youth summit in Grande Ronde. Courtesy of Oregon Foster Youth Connection.
June 19, 2013

GRANDE RONDE, Ore. - A "Bill of Rights" for Oregon youths in foster care is on a path to becoming state law, and this summer, some of the young people who advocated for it are celebrating their success and looking ahead.

The first in a series of foster youth summits takes place Thursday in Grande Ronde. Its focus will be on Native American young people, who are disproportionately represented in foster care in Oregon.

Dana Ainam, supervisor of the Children and Family Service Program for the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, said the skills taught at the summits should come naturally to Indian youth.

"I think one of the important things about coming from an Indian community, is that the role of leadership and advocacy in our communities is really high, or of value, at all different kinds of levels," she said. "To be able to see the type of change that young people can effect, I think that's really an important connection that we're going to try to make."

About 13,000 children are in foster care in Oregon. The most recent governor's task force report said the rate of Native American and Alaska Native children cared for by people other than relatives is five times the rate of white children.

Lydia Bradley, who manages the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, said the aim of the foster youth summits is to help youths develop confidence and leadership skills. She said they learn that they can take tough life experiences and turn them into momentum for change, in their own lives and to help others in the foster care system.

"Foster youth experience many, many placements, and so they often don't have the experience of bonding with their peers because they're moving so much," she said. "So, bringing youth together to kind of connect around a shared experience really is a unique opportunity for them - and a special one."

Other foster youth summits will be held in July in Lane and Marion counties and the Portland metro area.

Thursday's summit will be held at the Plank House on Southwest Hevoe Road in Fort Yamhill and at Grande Ronde Community Center, 9615 Grande Ronde Road. The Spirit Mountain Community Fund is helping with expenses for the youth summits.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR