Monday, September 29, 2014

Foster Care - California Foster Teens Poised to Get Transitional Housing Relief

Foster care statistics reveal that "when foster children turn 18 and leave the state's foster care system, they do so with little more than a bag of clothes. Only 3 percent go on to college."

This reality for thousands of foster kids is nothing short of a crisis. State and local governments and foster care agencies across the country are working to find solutions. An uneducated work force is both bad for individuals as well as a financial hardship on the economy and taxpayers. Fortunately, California Senate Bill 1252 is set to bring much needed support to thousands of teens who have left the foster care system.

Senate Bill 1252 will fund an extra year of transitional living for foster teens who have aged out of the system. How critical is housing for these kids? One of the key reasons that foster kids don't continue their formal education at a college or university is that they lack a safe place to live. Most of these teens simply don't have an income source to afford rent or weren't able to secure a scholarship.

The creative minds behind California Senate Bill 1252 are two college students. Yes, once again it's our youth and not government bureaucrats who have served up a solution to help former foster children.

One of the co-founders of the organization, Foster Youth Investment Coalition, that is spearheading the effort to put this bill on the governor's desk is Sade Burrell, former foster child and presently a graduate student at the University of Southern California. Concerning the challenges of getting a college education, Burrell explains:

"Being able to study in a library or at home, having those late nights, I didn't really have a home setting to go to. That was a huge hurdle for me, so that's why I'm involved with this."

Lauro Cons, a graduate student at the University of San Diego is the other co-founder. The idea originated with a research project Cons did as an undergrad. He noted:

"We conducted extensive cross sectional research on 'foster youth' and 'housing support,'" Cons said in an email. "And found that the lack of housing assistance for foster youth, after aging out of the system, has a direct negative impact on their ability to continue with their education."

The bill is sitting on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. Although he had a busy few days signing many other bills, as of Sept. 28, 2014, this one is still awaiting his signature. We hope he signs this bill into law because it's clear that former foster youth do and will continue to struggle to continue their education.
Not signing this bill would be another painful punch to foster kids who need and deserve our help. As a society we must do right by these children.


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Share your thoughts and ideas below and share this post with others.

Get a PDF copy of this blog on California
Senate Bill 1252 helping foster youth with college.

Read More »

Friday, September 26, 2014

Foster Kids - Foster Care Activities and Progress Report

There's something exciting about getting a progress report. Sure, there are the low points and areas that can be improved, but the best part is seeing where you are doing really well. So with the 2014 third quarter coming to an end, I thought it'd be good to let you see our progress report because many people like to hear good news about foster children. Our success means more kids are moving out of the foster care system and into forever homes.

Fifty-five percent of our time is spent on doing research, international communication, documentation and follow up on active foster child cases. We spend 30% of our time answering inquiries from agencies across the country and working to bring agencies on board so they can start sending us their foster children cases.

Working with county agencies involves a lot of documentation, and preparations can take months before we get their first case. The remaining 15% of our time and energy is spent on marketing, fund raising and administration. Every week we get calls and emails from agencies saying that they just heard about us.

We're in our second year of offering our services pro bono (free) to foster care agencies and non-profits. You may wonder why we offer our services pro bono. Before 2013, when we would get a call from a foster care agency, we would explain our research services along with the cost for our international work. The cost was less than $40 which does not cover the expenses to handle a foster youth case. Yet many agencies often said they didn't have a budget to pay that amount.

Our mission is to make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of foster children and allowing $40 to be a roadblock to helping a foster child isn't acceptable. Therefore in 2013, our organization launched a new program so that foster care agencies could and do get our services for free. Guess what happened? We doubled our case load last year. Guess what’s happening this year? You got it. We have already doubled our caseload and will probably triple it.

Bottom line: many more foster kids are moving out of foster care into forever homes usually with relatives in the U.S. or adoptive foster parents.

How are we doing concerning our caseload? It all depends. Every case is different. We have to point out that we can and do locate family members in just a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, several weeks to a couple of months can often go by while case workers get back to us with their results from our findings. Sometimes, our first effort is successful. Other times we have to launch a new search effort before we find a foster child's relatives.

Presently we have eight active cases. Each case involves three to five people. Our cases average between two to three months. It takes many weeks of time and effort when we have a case where a foster kid's only known relatives live in the mountains with no Internet, telephone or cell reception.

We are fast approaching the tipping point for our organization. We have multiple cases from several states with more agencies finalizing details so they can start sending us their cases. County officials are talking with neighboring counties that have already used our services. We've handled cases in seven states and expect Arizona to be number eight by October.

On the donor side, let's just say that an increase in contributions and volunteers would be outstanding. Supporters are the life blood of our organization and allow us to continue to offer our services pro bono to county agencies.

We are gearing up to launch a crowdfunding project in November. Gia Heller, social media marketing guru, has already offered to support our project. Others such as Star Devi with Spin Digital Publishing have also offered to help us. There are many ways that you, too, can participate and help a foster child.

As anyone in business knows, no matter what your day-to-day activities are, you still have to look at the numbers if you want to survive and thrive. Our goal is to make a lasting change for at least 200 foster youth in 2015. That will require a budget of $100,000. We're very optimistic that when New Year's comes around, we'll be poised to succeed.

Be a part of the solution and volunteer to help get more foster kids into forever homes.


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Share your thoughts and ideas below and share this post with others.

Read More »

Friday, September 19, 2014

Foster Kids - Aging Out Foster Youth Get Transitional Housing in Florida

You've probably read about the terrible foster kid statistics: 25% will end up in prison, 50% will drop out of any formal education, and 25% will become homeless. All of these outcomes are very common for foster children who have aged out of the foster care system. Fortunately, these children have a political ally who is helping Florida's foster youth with practical solutions.

Enter Florida State Sen. Nancy Detert. Just shy of her 70th birthday, State Sen. Nancy Detert is hitting her stride as she tackles many challenges that face the foster children in her district and state.

Starting in 2013, she pushed through a bill that extended the age at which foster teens age out of the foster care system from 18 to 21. Many experts feel that the additional three years will allow foster kids a chance to plan better for their futures once they are forced out of the system.

Florida State Senator Nancy Detert

This week the state senator along with other community leaders attended a ceremony for the opening of a transitional housing facility for aged out foster youth. Experts agree that one of the biggest challenges for these kids is securing a place to live.

Up to 25% of former foster children become homeless within the first 24 months of being on their own. About half of former foster kids will stop their education because they have no safe place to live and study.

Rich Stroud, executive director of a nonprofit called Everyday Blessings explained:

"For decades, children would turn 18 and be forced to leave foster care with no safety net and little community support."

Marlena Krueger of Body Beautiful Spa and Rose Perkins of Radiant and Youthful had lamented the millions that seem to be wasted by the foster care system recycling old programs that show little success. These professional along with others feel that the system needs a serious restructuring along with new ideas.

A new housing facility for former foster kids isn't a new concept. Fortunately, State Sen. Detert understands that helping former foster youth requires a multi-prong approach. Not only will the new facility offer transitional living to these kids, but within the facility, they will have access to vocational counselors, tutoring and mentoring.

Only time will tell if this program, named Springboard, is successful. However, the former foster youth who are going to live in this new facility will most likely be much better prepared for independent living than those children who age out with only their clothes in a garbage bag and little else.

It's definitely time to try something new because the old programs continue to fail our nation's foster children.


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Share your thoughts and ideas below and share this post with others.

Read More »

Monday, September 15, 2014

Foster Kids - Why Search for a Foster Child's Relatives in Mexico

If you have read any of our past blog posts (and if you haven't, I invite you to do so), you know that we focus on the challenges for children who are in the U.S. foster care system. We also talk about what happens when foster youth age out of the system and what can be done to help them before they are forced out. When and why do the foster child agencies ask us to step in? What is the connection between the foster child and Mexico?

The other day Gia Heller, social media marketing guru, asked about the name of our Facebook page, Family Finding MX. She knows that we work with Mexico, and Gia spent three years living there. She wrote:
"When I read it [your website -], it made me immediately question, "Why only Mexico? Why can't you also help children in the states find family members?"
Gia's questions are much more complex that they may appear so let's first talk about how the foster care system works. When a child is placed into the foster care system in the U.S., social workers will question him/her. One purpose of the interview is to gather information about adult family members: grandparents, aunts, and cousins who can be notified that their child relative is now in foster care. This is the beginning of the process called "family finding." Case workers will give a similar interview to the parent(s).

The interview goal is to get the names and contact information of many family members up to 60 adults. Once the agency has this data, the staff either sends out notification to these relatives or they hit the U.S. databases to search out and locate family members.

Success Rate of Finding Relatives in U.S.

With access to several national databases, U.S. foster care agencies have a search and find success rate of up to 85%. The people who normally can't be found are criminals, folks who purposely live off the grid, people who have recently moved, and those relatives that no one knows about such as an uncle or third cousin. In general, the foster care agencies don't face too many challenges in trying to find the child’s relatives unless they happen to live in another country like Mexico. That's when the agencies turn to our organization.

Helping U.S. Foster Youth

So who are the foster children we help? Those who have been placed in a U.S. foster care program. Surprised? Confused? You may be, and I understand if you are. Here's the deal. As soon as people in the U.S. hear "Mexico," their brains short circuit, and an avalanche of ideas pop out. The truth is that we are:

"Not bringing kids from Mexico to the U.S."

"Not looking for kids in Mexico."

"Not trying to find foster parents for children in Mexico."

"Not trying to help people adopt children from Mexico."

"Not working with foster kids in Mexico."

When foster care agencies come to our organization, Find Families In Mexico, they have done their search and have found no living U.S. relatives of the foster child, but the agency knows of at least one relative living in Mexico. Our task is to find that relative and restore a much needed family connection.

So let's answer the first part of Gia's question, "Why Mexico?" We are the leading international, non-governmental organization that has been locating people in Mexico for more than 20 years. We have guided more than 6,500 families to find their relatives living in Mexico. U.S. agencies that have used our services include the Ninth Circuit Court, the Department of Defense and many offices of the Department of Human Services. Even People® Magazine has asked us to help them find someone in Mexico.

Bottom line: We're the best at finding people in Mexico, our area of expertise. When an agency needs to find a foster child's family members who still live in Mexico, they come to us.

Smart Questions Being Asked

Before I answer the other part of Gia's question, I want to be clear - these are not idle questions. These questions show that as an organization, we still need to work on how we communicate with the public and potential donors about our work. (Any volunteers?) We were just fortunate enough that Gia cared enough to ask what others have probably wondered.

Rose Perkins of Radiant and Youthful asked a similar question, "So does Family Finding MX help all foster children or just ones of Hispanic decent?" Short answer... mostly Hispanic although we have searched for U.S. parents who went to Mexico, usually because of their criminal past. We have also searched for relatives who recently came to Mexico from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. There is no simple yes and no, right or wrong, or "one size fits all" answer. If there is any field with lots of gray, it's foster care.

We Help U.S. Foster Children

Now let's answer the second part of Gia's question, "Why can't you also help children in the states find family members?" Well, we do. Almost all of the cases we handle involve U.S.-born children. All of the cases that foster care agencies bring us involve children under their care.

A large percentage of foster youth of Hispanic descent are second and third generation Americans. The Pew Research Center describes second generation as a person having one parent who is a U.S. citizen. Third generation is where both parents are U.S. citizens but one grandparent was not originally born in the U.S. This family tree probably describes more than 60% of all Americans. Surprised?

No matter their ancestry, foster children are simply innocent children. The goal of foster care is to get these kids out of the system as soon as possible. The first step to making this happen is finding a foster child's relatives even if it means looking in Mexico.

We have a 95% success rate finding relatives in Mexico. Interestingly, once an agency talks with these family members, they will often share information on the whereabouts of other relatives who live in the U.S. whom foster agencies either couldn't find or didn't know existed.

When you think about it, is it really strange that U.S. families have relatives in another country or two? Many families have relatives in two or more countries. Just think of all the Asian-Americans who have grandparents, uncles and aunts living in Japan, the Philippines or Vietnam. What about those Americans with family in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Canada? My family has hundreds of relatives in Europe. I could go on, but you get the point.

Bottom line: We help U.S. foster care agencies find a foster youth's relatives so the child can move out of the system and into a forever home. We only help children in the U.S. by finding their family members who just happen to live in Mexico.

This is clearly not the last word on this topic. If you have questions, leave them in the comment section below. If you have expertise that could help our organization better explain what we do and who we help, call me at 619-886-4760 or email me at

And keep those questions coming.


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Got questions? Have an opinion? Want an simple way to help foster children? Share your thoughts below.

Get a PDF copy of this blog on the
foster youth we serve.

Read More »

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Foster Youth - Prevention is Key to Helping Foster Children

In some ways it's easy to talk about the plight of foster children. Pull up foster child education statistics and photos, and you'll get some people's attention. Once awareness has been achieved, many caring adults will engage in thoughtful and thought provoking conversations. Some will ask why the status quo exists while others will propose ways to help foster youth have a better life once they age out of the foster care system.

Here is the recent foster care statistic that generated so much commentary.

Robert Callesen of The Car Lot commented:
"Thanks for the info, but what solutions are available?"

Nick Huntington, owner of Sweet Cakes Café, followed with:
"What is the solution. . .? Seems like this is an epidemic not only for Foster Children but for many children of varied backgrounds."

Barbara Loraine, Founder of Be Irresistible offered:
"Prevention is key... once kids have aged out, "working hard" isn't enough. They each need to be given training, a break and support along the way. What happens that they "can't keep a job more than one year?"

To understand the disastrous results that occur to foster youth once they age out, you first have to know what happens to these children while in foster care and leading up to the day these foster teens are forced out of the system.

As we wrote in our recent blog, "Foster Children - Not Finding a Foster Child's Relatives May Open a New Door," about half of the 400,000 U.S. foster children in the system this year will be returned to their parents or legal guardians. Thousands more will get adopted. Some foster teens will run away, and 24,000 foster youth will age out. Let's focus on those foster kids who will remain in the foster care system and will age out within the next few years.

We agree with the many comments we received including those of Terri Levine, marketing consultant, and Carly Fanguy of 57 Degrees that there needs to be a solid support system to help foster teens transition from being in the system to being on their own.

The largest federal program to help these children is Chafee. We highlighted this foster youth program recently. Foster children are taken through training to prepare them for being on their own. However, from the foster kid statistics, such as the one above, clearly this program has only limited success.

Educational programs have been established to help provide funding and scholarships for foster teens who want to go to college such as Just in Time. This San Diego-based organization is dedicated to helping these children get into universities. Actor and activist, Eva Longoria, has created a foundation that helps Latina get into college. It's unclear if this successful organization has a specific focus on helping Hispanic foster children who number close to 84,000 kids.

There are many community-based programs popping up around the country to help these children. In our blog, "Foster Children - Foster Kids Receive Support from Organizations," we highlighted the success of Epicenter that is helping California foster kids better transition into society once they age out. The organization was established ten years ago and has spread out into other communities in Northern California.

Ana Hawk of Instant Barter LLC had commented, "Prevention is the best cure. However, reality demands that new programs be put in place." Clearly you can see that new non-government programs have been created to help foster teens with their transition to independence.

Unfortunately, the majority of the preparation given to foster youth approaching age out appears to be coming from foster care agencies. Until more successful programs come on line and at a national level, it's probable that former foster kids will continue to suffer a dismal life.

As I wrote at the beginning, many people including Misty Morgan of Rental Matchmaker and Suzy Marmis Owen of Suzy Q Help wonder how they and others can help these children. Just as Barbara and Ana said, the best solution is prevention.

It's so important to repeat that foster children who are able to stay with a relative perform better at school. This higher level of performance means that these kids generally feel better about themselves. Their scholastic success helps them integrate with their peers. With family support, these foster teens graduate and more often go on to college or get vocational training. Armed with a solid educational background and family support, these kids can go on to live successful, productive lives.

One of the best and proven ways to help these children is for them to be placed with family. For this to happen, family members first have to be located and notified which is exactly what our organization does. Want to help foster children before they age out? Support our foster children efforts through a variety of ways.

If you decide to help another organization, more power to you. No matter which organization you support, you can make a lasting impact on the life of one or many foster youth. You don't have to wait for new programs and a reboot of existing government programs. All it takes to change the outcome for foster children from negative to positive is for you and those you know to step up and take action.

As Liz Harris of Liz Harris Realty said, "Let's lend a helping hand." What more needs to be said?


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. As Tony Robbins says, "Take immediate action." Leave a comment below and share this blog post with others.

Read More »

Monday, September 8, 2014

Foster Children - Not Finding a Foster Child's Relatives May Open a New Door

The goal of foster care agencies is to get children out of the system as soon as possible. Foster care statistics show that about half of the foster children removed from their parents end up going back to them after they have received counseling on how to be better parents. For those foster kids who aren't returned to their parents, agencies work to locate adult family members to give these children a forever home. Sometimes another door is opened to help these foster youth.

A case worker with the Durham County Department of Social Services presented our organization with a case where a foster child's birth father was known to be living in Mexico. Cases where one parent lives outside the U.S. are not unusual for us although more often we tend to get cases where a grandparent, uncle or aunt is being sought.

Parents are interviewed as their children enter the foster care system. Sometimes a parent will be uncooperative. Both mothers and fathers have been known to resist offering any information that would help agencies locate the other birth parent. In our experience, mothers are generally the ones that will withhold details about the birth father. We're not going to go into the reasons given by a parent for this lack of cooperation because the one important point is that the children are the ones who end up getting hurt.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Keep in mind that if a foster child isn't returned to their parent(s), it's usually for very good reasons. The parent is now in prison. The parent is a habitual criminal whose lifestyle puts their children at risk on a daily basis. The parent is mentally or emotionally unstable or completely apathetic about their responsibilities again placing their children at risk.

Due to confidentiality, we can only say that the case worker handling this matter had insufficient details about the birth father. Despite the image portrayed in spy shows and movies that government agencies see all and record all, there are still serious limitations to how this plays out in real life including foster youth cases.

(If you are at work, turn down your speakers.)

Our organization provided a report "detailing the information that would be necessary so that a potentially successful family finding effort could be conducted to locate this parent in Mexico." Anthony Poole, the case worker for the foster child, added:

"Unfortunately, we have not been able to obtain any additional details to aid your organization in this case. We appreciate the report that you provided us showing that without further assistance from the child’s mother, no successful family finding can be conducted."

There is still good news even though this foster child's adult relatives cannot be found. Many foster youth spend years in the system because a path was not available for the court or social services to pursue another option. Before an adoption can be initiated, case workers are often court mandated to do everything possible to find and notify a parent.

Our foster youth findings have been accepted by courts across the country as evidence of a thorough effort on the part of agencies to locate a foster child's family members still living in Mexico. By the county coming to us and receiving our report that concluded that no search could be conducted, the agency is now free to ask the court to open the way to adoption.

Everyone wants to see foster kids leave the system sooner than later. Many will go back to the parents they love. Some will stay in foster care and age out. A small percentage will run away while many others will be adopted. Hopefully this child will soon be in a forever home with loving, caring foster parents in part because of our donor-supported foster youth services.

Now let's talk about our next case.


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Share your thoughts and ideas below and share this post with others.

Read More »

Friday, September 5, 2014

Foster Children - Foster Kids Receive Support from Organizations

Sometimes it's hard for people to hear about foster children. There's always a scandal or story about foster youth and abuse. John Baker, a great supporter of our work, asked, "Is there any positive news about foster kids?" Yes, John, there are happy things happening for these children. Here's what happened just this week.

Epicenter meeting room in Salinas, California

A new foster youth program was launched in Salinas, California called Epicenter. The concept is to have former foster children work with those foster teens who have just aged out and to teach these teens how to survive and, hopefully, thrive on their own. Over the last 10 years, other communities have adopted this model.

Emma Ramirez, an Epicenter founder explains:

“By creating the center not only are we going to provide the financial aid information, the education information, the housing information, but this will also be the perfect place to start shaping the 16-year-olds, and helping them think about" where their passion lies.

Foster care statistics from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption reveal that half of those foster youth who age out of the system will not have a job by age 24. However, community programs such as Epicenter are becoming an important part of the solution.

Thanks to a $1 million gift by Jan and Esther Stearns, Cal State San Marcos has earmarked this donation for a "program that helps former foster youths succeed in college."

"The program provides assistance in admissions, financial aid, counseling and housing for students who once were in the foster care system. School officials said few foster youth end up in college after they age out of the system because of a lack of support."

Cal State San Marcos reports that an amazing 90% of former foster teens enrolled in the university graduate with a 4-year degree compared to the national foster children average of less than 2%. 

Finally, here's a story about helping foster youth have a better self-image. Very often foster teens who age out of the foster care system do so with their few worldly possessions in a garbage bag. This reality is common knowledge to people involved with these kids.

During the first season of the criminal show, Bones, the main character, Dr. Brennan, talks with a foster child. She shares how everyone at school knows the student is from a foster home because their clothes smell of plastic.

Fortunately, there are organizations like Luggage 4 Love that are collecting luggage to give to local foster youth. And these kids won't be getting old, hand-me-down luggage but rather new luggage thanks to Stacy Conner, an Easter Seal employee and the creator of this program. Conner shared that:

"We wanted to give them [foster kids] some dignity and allow them to transfer in actual luggage. Continuing to do this mission for the children is just very rewarding so easy for people to donate and to help change a child's perception."

The non-profit organization is having a collection drive until Nov. 1 when 85 foster children will get their new luggage. You can learn more about this organization on Facebook.

It's important to educate people on the challenges facing foster children. These kids are ripped from their parents and families, placed in a government facility and possibly placed with adults who have no motivation to love and care for children, only greed and a cold heart.

Yet, we also have to be assured that there is good being done for these children. Dedicated social workers strive to move these children out of the system and into forever homes. Organizations such as Find Families In Mexico, Luggage 4 Love and Epicenter are all working to improve the lives of foster youth. It's a group efforts, and I personally invite you to become a part of this movement.

Now didn't this just make your day, John?


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
Find Families In Mexico

PS. Share your thoughts and ideas below and share this post with others.

Read More »