Pitt-Johnstown Campus to Host Aug. 8-12 Retreat for Pennsylvania Teenagers in Foster Care

Issue Date: 
July 18, 2011

An annual retreat for Pennsylvania’s young people who are in foster care will be held Aug. 8-12 at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown (UPJ) campus, 450 Schoolhouse Rd., Johnstown, Pa.

Sponsored by the Pitt School of Social Work’s Pennsylvania Child Welfare Training Program and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Office of Children, Youth, and Families, the event will offer more than 130 participants—ages 16 to 21—a week of educational sessions, group talks, arts and sports activities, and opportunities to bond with others in similar situations. Group members will utilize campus facilities and residence halls while setting goals, making connections, and examining options as they age out of foster care. A banquet with an address by foster care advocate LaTasha C. Watts closes the weeklong retreat.

The title of this year’s retreat is “Imagine . . . No Limits!” The young people will be challenged to identify potential barriers in their lives and discuss ways to overcome them.

“I’ve had the unique opportunity to talk with many young adults and to witness their excitement, connections, resiliency, and renewed commitment to achieving their goals,” said Helen Cahalane, principal investigator of child welfare education in Pitt’s School of Social Work and retreat facilitator for the past several years. “It is an amazing week continuing Pennsylvania’s efforts to improve our child welfare system through youth voice and leadership.”
Keynote speaker Latasha C. Watts is an author and motivational speaker who lived in a variety of foster homes throughout Ohio until she aged out of the system two days before her 19th birthday. Watts faced numerous challenges, including abusive relationships, pregnancy, single parenthood, and diagnoses of both cancer and obsessive-compulsive disorder—all before she was 23. Having cleared many of those hurdles, Watts now has 10 years of experience working with young people in a variety of settings. She is founder and executive director of The Purple Project, a support and resource network for those involved with the foster care community. Her first book, I’m Not Broken, Just A Little Twisted, is due out later in 2011.

This past year was a significant one for youth in foster care in Pennsylvania, which is now the 24th state to use a Voluntary Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, preserving an adoptive child’s connection to siblings and other relatives. Pennsylvania also has a “bill of rights” for foster children. And older youth who have been involved with the child welfare system have presented their recommendations to policy makers for changes in that system. These suggestions are drafted every year during focus groups at the annual UPJ retreat.

The event’s banquet will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in the Living Learning Center Heritage Hall on the UPJ campus.