“Fostering Care” Panel

Conversation Series

Veronica Krupnick,

MAPS Coordinator

The “Fostering Care” Panel Conversation Series was organized, created and hosted by Veronica Krupnick, CASA First’s Foster Youth Advocacy Program Coordinator. Veronica brought together 11 lived experience advocates and leaders from across the country to shed light on urgent and important topics impacting youth in foster care today. We hope you will take some time to watch, re-watch and debrief over these profound and groundbreaking conversations that are all posted below. Feel free to share the videos as needed!

The Panels

Introducing: Fostering Care Panel Conversation Series

Panelists: Alejandra G, Alex O, Christina K, Veronica Krupnick, Tamisha M

Description: Introduction to the Panel Series

The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

Panelists: Alex Oleson, Victor Sims, Tamisha Macklin

Description: Panelists share about the importance of cultural awareness, cultural recognition, and trauma-informed care. These advocates help to define what trauma-informed care truly looks like from the perspective of alumni of care. This panel also speaks on the criminalization of trauma-related behaviors, the experience of being a dually system involved youth, and the labels and stigmas associated
with being in care.

Navigating Lived Experience and Advocacy

Panelists: Ángela Quijada-Banks, Brittney Lee, Ke’Onda Johnson

Description: Panelists will share their personal experience with the realities, challenges, and
complexities that come with balancing personal lived experiences in the child welfare system and advocating within that very same system as an adult. Panelists will speak on the importance of community, social capital, the impact of the image of advocacy, and navigating and overcoming imposter syndrome.

Long-term Well-Being & Healing for Current and Former Youth in Care

Panelists: Ángela Quijada-Banks, Alejandra Gomez, James Harris

Description: Panelists share their personal reflections based on their own individual healing journeys, speaking on resources and supports that helped them find healing. Their reflections speak on how each panelist moved from survival to healing, alternative healing methods, and how representation and cultural awareness impacted their healing path.

Perspective from Indigenous Youth on Child Welfare

Panelists: Alejandra Gomez, Wyatt Wilson, Christina Kaltsukis

Description: Panelists share about the essentialness of connection to culture, tradition, land, family and community. Panelists emphasize the urgency of protections such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, and also speak on the harm still felt today by Indigenous Communities as a result of a history of oppression and mass removal of Indigenous Children.

Centering and Prioritizing Youth Voice

Panelists: Shemia Dillard, Brittany Lee, Myla Garcia

Description: Panelists share their experience on what made them feel supported and heard during their time in care, what could have been improved, and ways providers can support young people in having a voice in their own lives. Panelists speak on the importance of safety, social capital, mental health, education, and seeing young people in care as individuals.

The Panelists

Alejandra Gomez (she/her/they/them)
California, First Nations Ojibwe-Cree

Panel: Perspective from Indigenous Youth on Child Welfare, & Long-term Healing and Well-Being for Current and Former Youth in Care

Alejandra Gomez is an Indigenous/Chicana woman who advocates to uplift the voices, experiences, and wisdom of young black, indigenous, and people of color who have been impacted by homelessness and the foster care system. Using her experience and expertise, she educated California’s legislative officials and their staff, policymakers, youth service providers, community leaders and members, and youth to collectively address youth homelessness during the pandemic statewide. Serving with the National Foster Youth Institute, Native Youth Academy and California Coalition for Youth empowered her to develop her Indigenous leadership skills as a change agent to build the better world she hopes to see in her lifetime.

Brittney Lee (they/them/she/her)
Washington

Panel: Navigating Lived Experience and Advocacy, & Centering and Prioritizing Youth Voice

Brittney experienced 17 foster homes in the span of 17 years of her childhood. Brittney’s current aspiration is to utilize her growth and knowledge gained from resilience, community involvement and employment opportunities with youth who have experienced foster care. She consistently involves herself in community conversations on child welfare and engages in opportunities where she can increase her understanding on how to best leverage her experience and meet her goals. One of those major goals is to become more educated on the subject of racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. Brittney hopes to work from the inside to come up with simple solutions to counteract racial inequality and institutionalized, structural racism that affects all youth in foster care today. Having grown up living with other children in the system from various backgrounds and at all kinds of emotional, mental and spiritual levels, Brittney has unconditional compassion in her heart to give back to the youth in the communities similar to those in which she grew up in as well as on a national and global level. She wishes to be a role model and source of support to youth experiencing foster care; to help them navigate all of the ups and downs; to be the someone that Brittney needed when she was younger.

Ke’Onda Johnson (she/her/hers)
Florida

Panel: Navigating Lived Experience and Advocacy

Ke’Onda spent 19 years in Florida’s foster care system – including time in extended care. During that time, she experienced over 20 different placements in group homes. Currently, Ke’Onda is studying political science and working at United Way in an AmeriCorps Vista position where she supports financial literacy for young people and adults. She has advocated within Florida Youth Shine for several years – serving as Events and Meetings Chair, speaking to state legislators and working to pass several pieces of legislation – including one focused on normalcy. Ke’Onda serves as a NYTD reviewer, and engaged her peers in the Congressional Shadow Program with NFYI in
2017 as a Pod Leader after attending in 2015. Ke’Onda also served for several years as a member of the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council.

Tamisha Macklin (she/her/hers)
Colorado

Panel: The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

Tamisha is dedicated to her life’s mission to help young people who are systems involved and improve those systems to become more effective for the next generation. After spending over 12 years navigating the foster care and Juvenile Justice system Tamisha understands from her personal experience just how much needs to be done to support youth who move through all of our different systems, particularly those who cross over into multiple systems. Her dedication to her education never wavered even as she faced significant challenges. Tamisha always perseveres. Tamisha has valiantly represented foster youth in Colorado and at the National Foster Youth Policy Council, she bravely speaks up and her words inspire change. She has accomplished her goal of graduating with her Bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University in Cross Systems Youth Services, a specialized degree she created. Tamisha has been able to utilize her “lived experience” on a State and National level to help other youth still in care. She is actively working to develop programing for the Empowering Youth Expressions Program
at Elevating Connections INC. Elevating Connections is an organization that reunites siblings separated in foster care and provides support to youth transitioning out of care. Since exiting the system Tamisha is finding success and has a desire to give back to help improve services for children, youth and families.

Alex Oleson (he/him/his)
Virginia

Panel: The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

Alex Oleson is an advocate with lived experience who has been involved in numerous policy and advocacy efforts including: interning for Senator Roy Blunt in Washington, D.C., interning with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, interning with the Foster Youth Intern Policy program, and serving as a member of the 2020-2021 Youth Engagement Team for the Department of Health and Human Services under Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson. As a member of the St. Louis University community, Alex was involved in the Micah Program, where he volunteered over 150 hours as an after-school tutor and mentor for elementary and middle school students. He was also a Division I high jumper who holds the school record, was a conference champion, served as an elected member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and as a student athlete representative on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Sub-Committee. Alex was also selected as a Orr Fellow, a business fellowship centered on Career, Commitment, Community, and Continued Learning. This year, Alex and his fiancé welcomed their son, Abriel.

Chrstina Kultsakis (she/her/hers)
Washington, Yakama Nation

Panel: Perspective from Indigenous Youth on Child Welfare

“Niix lkwi natityt, my name is Muul-muul and I am enrolled Yakama.”

Christina Kaltsukis’s Indian name is ‘Muul Muul,’ which means bubbling spring water. She is enrolled Yakama Nation from Washington State. Christina is a freshman attending the University of Idaho studying business and American Indian Studies. She is passionate about cultural preservation, climate justice, and combating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons epidemic.

Myla Garcia (she/her/hers)
Pennsylvania

Panel: Centering and Prioritizing Youth Voice

Myla Garcia grew up as the daughter of Filipino immigrants in California. She entered the foster
care system at age 13 and aged out at 21. She is a first generation college graduate and studied political science and minored in English at California State University, Fullerton. After college, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. In May, Myla will graduate from Penn State Dickinson Law with a Juris Doctor degree. Pending the July bar exam, she will be starting as a public defense attorney with the Marion County Public Defender’s Office in Indiana. She is passionate about children’s advocacy and immigration law reform. In law school, she was an Equal Justice Works Rural Summer Legal Fellow and worked in education equity for California Rural Legal Assistance and as an Equity and Inclusion Fellow with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles where she worked with victims of domestic violence. Myla has also worked as a Certified Legal Intern and represented foster youth in their court proceedings at her law school’s children’s advocacy clinic. This past year, Myla has also been a member of the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council. She aspires to use her law degree and work towards legal reform and service for youth in the child welfare system and for communities of color.

Victor Sims (he/him/his)
Florida

Panel: The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

Victor Sims grew up in Florida’s foster care system without the stability of a permanent home and supportive family for 11 years prior to being adopted. He is currently a management consultant at Public Knowledge and founded his own nonprofit where he serves as Board President called Guiding Hope. In addition to serving on the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council, he has met with legislators in support of the Family First Prevention Services Act. In June 2019, he was recognized by the American Bar Association as a Reunification Hero. Victor shares his experiences to ensure that children have a chance for reunification and beyond. He was recognized as a 2020 Casey Excellence for Children Award as an Alumni in care. In 2021, Victor was recognized from the Treehouse Foundation as part of their Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Champion.

Ángela Quijada-Banks (she/her/hers)
California

Panel: Long-term Healing and Well-being for Current and Former Youth in Care, & Navigating Lived Experience and Advocacy

Ángela Quijada-Banks, (she/her) is an NAACP Image Awards Nominee and American Award-winning author of the Black Foster Youth Handbook. As a highly requested transformational speaker and certified holistic health coach, she has touched thousands with her message to alchemize your pain to purpose and power. As a nationally recognized community leader and philanthropist, she started her company and movement Soulful Liberation, impacting over 30,000 people to revolutionize historically oppressive systems through holistic health and healing trauma with coaching, workshops, training, and programming. Ángela is an adventurer and wife to her amazing husband, Michael- a United States Marine whom both live in San Diego, California with their 2 cats, Luna and Felix. Ángela enjoys traveling the world, being in creative and artful projects not limited to music, dance, photography and poetry, exploring nature and nestling her head in a good book. On days she is not leading her company, coaching or community organizing- you can find her binge-watching tv shows, at a concert, learning something new or adrenaline rushes at amusement parks with family and friends.

James Harris (he/him/his)
Virginia

Panel: Long-term Healing and Well-Being for Current and Former Youth in Care

James Harris the founder of Men to Heal. He is a Licensed MENtal HEALth Professional and holds a Master’s degree in Clinical MENtal HEALth Counseling. James is a Tedx Talk Speaker as well as an international speaker on topics of MENtal HEALth, entrepreneurship, DEI and muchmore. In 2018 James created Men To Heal, a movement to bring awareness to the stigma surrounding MENtal HEALth among boys/men and underserved populations. James is an Army veteran, serial entrepreneur and community advocate. He has a host of investments and the opening of The HEALing Hub in 2019, a wellness center that offers outpatient therapy, yoga, mindfulness, and financial resources to the community. James also brings in different speakers to discuss but not limited to, financial literacy, first-time home buying, restoration of rights, voter registration and LGBTQIA to name a few.

Shemia Dillard (she/her/hers)
Georgia

Panel: Centering and Prioritizing Youth Voice

Shemia Dillard is a Project Assistant with National Crittenton focusing on young mothers’ initiatives, juvenile justice work, and advocacy and policy. For over ten years, Shemia has advocated for foster youth, young mothers, and girls and young women who are system involved and system impacted. Shemia has testified and spoken in front of various Congressional briefings, participated in public engagement events to raise awareness of issues impacting young women and gender expansive youth, and volunteers locally on issues impacting her community. Shemia holds a degree in Sociology and is based in the Atlanta area.

Wyatt Wilson (he/him/his)
Colorado, Navajo Nation

Panel: Perspective from Indigenous Youth on Child Welfare

“Yá’át’ééh, shí éí Wyatt Wilson yíníshyé. Sháátóhí t’áá ííysíí déé náashá adóó Kinłanídí kéehasht’í. Todích’íí’níí nishłí adóó Maíídeeshgízhníí bashichiin. Naasht’ezhí Tabaaha éí dashicheii adóó Tsinaajinii éí dashinali. Éí ákotéego Diné nishłí.”

Wyatt was raised in Flagstaff, Arizona but also spent much of his formative years in his hometown of Shonto, Arizona. He currently attends Fort Lewis College as a pre-law student, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies. After completing his baccalaureate studies, Wyatt plans on pursuing law school with the intent of focusing on Tribal Advocacy and Environmental Policy. He is passionate about land stewardship, youth advocacy, civic engagement, and a plethora of Indigenous social issues. One day, Wyatt hopes to return to
his hometown to launch a career in local tribal governance.

More Resources

Our panelist agreed that these conversations are just the start! Below are additional
resources relating to child welfare, recommended by our panelists.

Podcasts:
Soulful Liberation
Resilient Voices & Beyond
This Land

Organizations:
Men to Heal
Soulful Liberation
National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council
The American Bar Association (List of Children’s Law Centers)
Think of US
FosterClub

466 W. San Francisco Street
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(505) 820-1500