On May 24th, 2017, in honor of National Foster Youth Awareness Month, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY) hosted more than 100 current and former foster youth from across the country as part of the 6th Annual Foster Youth Shadow. Every year, the event allows youth to share their experiences in foster care directly with members of Congress to help inform and improve child welfare policy. This year’s group came from more than 36 states including Hawaii and Alaska.
The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) brought more than 100 foster youth and alumni from across the country to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress for the 6th Annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day Program. The program, hosted by the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth, brings young people who have left the foster care system to Washington, D.C. for a three-day trip that pairs them with their Members of Congress from their home districts. The half-day spent shadowing their Member of Congress allows foster youth the opportunity to connect face-to-face with their home representative, get a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process, and allow their voices to be heard on the issues impacting the foster care system.
“Our youth have been given the unique opportunity to participate in activities celebrating foster youth with those who have the power and influence to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in the system,”said Lilla Weinberger, executive director of NFYI. “What better way for a member of Congress to understand the issues impacting the child welfare system than hearing personal stories from those most impacted. We thank the members for their willingness to participate in an honest and open discussion with foster youth and alumni, and look forward to next year’s Shadow Day program and proud to partner with the members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth for this meaningful programs.”
Rep. Bass was shadowed by three former foster youth; Leo Jimenez, Doniesha Thomas, and Michael Rogalski, all of whom who have spent time in at least 7 housing placements. In 21 years of care, Leo spent time in 22 housing placements. This fall, Leo is graduating from West Los Angeles College and starting at New York University.
“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, the government is really the one responsible,” Rep. Bass said. “When we remove children from their parents, it’s the government that becomes the parents. What can we do better? What are the tangible solutions? That’s what this event is about. We had over 100 youth from all over the country speaking to over Members of Congress representing over 90 different congressional districts. Especially in a time marred by partisanship, what can bring this country together are our children. We can come together and work to raise foster youth voices.”
“We have someone that is advocating for us that hasn’t been in our shoes, but is willing to take off her shoes and put herself in our shoes to know our needs, our wants and she’s very involved in our future,” Jimenez said. “She’s given me a voice.”
Also, Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) paired up with Ally Alvarez, a twenty-three year-old young woman from Sun Valley. Ally is a student at Los Angeles Valley College and spent seventeen years in the foster care system, and she accompanied the Congressman throughout the day to get a behind-the-scenes look at the House of Representatives. Ally is interested in policy-making and participates in a variety of organizations at school.
There are more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system at any given time. With the support from Casey Family Programs, this NFYI program is an all-expenses paid program. Youth spend 5 days in Washington learning about community organizing, the legislative process and how to make their stories and voices heard. Youth participants are empowered to use his or her voice to build a national movement that will fight for a stronger child welfare system that meets the needs of all foster youth and their families.
This year, select youth from previous Shadow Days were invited back to act as group leaders and the program hopes to continue to grow and develop leadership corps around the country. Youth are encouraged to maintain contact with their members of Congress and their staffs to keep the dialogue around child welfare and potential recommendations.
Rep. Bass did an interview a few years ago to help bring awareness to this great program. Learn more about Foster Youth Shadow Day by viewing their video.