Bass, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Foster Youth Mentoring Act

Two Businesswomen Working On Computer In Office

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass and Rep. Bacon both serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.

“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges youth in the system face,” Rep. Bass said. “In all of my years working with children in the child welfare system, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, the number one thing I hear is that they want a consistent source of advice and support.

They want someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary, but for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue.”

“As the father of two adopted children who came into our home through foster care, I understand the need for foster youth to have the consistent support of a caring adult,” said Rep. Bacon. “I am thankful to join Rep. Bass in co-leading these efforts, as they will ensure adults will be able to be successful mentors who have a positive impact on the education, personal and professional challenges our foster youth go through every day.”

“Mentoring provides young people with the social capital, confidence, and support they need to thrive,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Far too often, young people in the foster care system experience adults coming in and out of their lives, without having a consistent presence of someone focused solely on them and their journey.

Research confirms that young people in foster care benefit from quality mentoring in a range of areas including mental health, education, peer relationships, placement, and life satisfaction. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act centers the critical role relationships can play for foster youth and provides proven mentoring programs with the resources they need to serve young people through evidence-based and culturally relevant practices.

MENTOR is thankful to Representative Bass and Representative Bacon for their bipartisan leadership to create policies and resources that incorporate the power of mentoring relationships into the child welfare system and ultimately, the lives of our young people.”

The bill comes one day before the 8th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in which current and former foster youth from more than 30 states ranging from Alaska to Maine come to Washington, DC to shadow their Member of Congress. This year’s Shadow Day includes 130 delegates aged between 18 to 30. They have spent a combined 725 years in the child welfare system. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.

Bill Summary

The bill authorizes funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process, and successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system, and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems, and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.

100 Former Foster Youth Visit Members of Congress to Advocate for Child Welfare Reform

Before the foster youth shadows met their Members of Congress, they gathered as a group for training with the FosterClub. Photo Credit: Congressional Foster Youth Caucus

Each May, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduces a resolution to recognize May as National Foster Care Month. Last year the resolution was cosponsored by more than 130 Members of Congress. In addition to re-introducing this important resolution to call attention and raise awareness about this issue, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth will be hosting a range of events in May, including a panel on May 23rd to discuss kinship placement and navigator programs which will also be streamed on Facebook Live.

The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI, www.nfyi.org) is gearing up once again to bring over 100 current and former foster youth, selected from a nationwide pool of applicants to Washington D.C. for a week of leadership training sessions, workshops on activism, and legislative meetings, culminating in an opportunity to spend a day “shadowing” their individual Congress members. Shadow Day attendees, some as young as 18, have all spent time in the foster care system and will share their experiences, while advocating for reforms in the child welfare system, both in their district and nationwide.

NFYI creates the Shadow Day Program each year, in partnership with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, providing a forum for members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations which strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families. Co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brings together over 100 Members of Congress to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop bipartisan policy initiatives.

NFYI’s Shadow Day Program has trained a corps of foster youth alumni across the nation who have developed chapters in their home districts and partnered with local leaders and organizations to educate policymakers to addresses chronic problems within the national, state, and local child welfare systems.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA, 37th), during Shadow Day 2017, stated that government essentially becomes “the parents” when it puts children in foster care, and then “washes our hands of them” once they turn 18.

“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, then the government is really responsible because when we remove children from their parents, we — meaning the government — become the parents, we are responsible for them,” Bass said on the House floor. “So, we’re working on legislation to improve that.”

No one knows more about the pitfalls of our nation’s child welfare system than those who grew up in it. These young people are coming to D.C. to share their stories both – their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication, or homelessness – and their successes with mentorship, adoption, family reunification, community activism and independent living. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.

“National Foster Care Month is a month to honor the successes and challenges of the more than 400,000 foster youth across the country and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of those who work to improve outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Making sure that all children have a permanent and loving home is not a Democrat or Republican issue—it should be an American priority. This May, we come together to celebrate the experiences of the youth who are in, or have been in, the child welfare system and raise awareness about their needs.” – Bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth

More Than 100 Foster Youth Attend Shadow Day Program On Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Karen Bass speaking to Foster Youth Representatives on Capitol Hill

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.

UTRGV Students Share Experiences During Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program

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UTRGV students Carlie Patrick (far left), a junior English/communication studies major, and Leroy Berrones Soto (second from left), a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students in late May for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program in Washington, D.C., for three days of education, advocacy and relationship building. (UTRGV Courtesy Photo)

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Carlie Patrick and Leroy Berrones Soto, students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, returned from Washington, D.C., feeling they had contributed to improving and strengthening the child welfare system in the United States.

Patrick, a junior English/communication studies major, and Berrones Soto, a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students May 23 to May 26 for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program, three days of education, advocacy and relationship building.

“It was an honor to be selected to represent Texas at the Shadow Program this year, and to share my story of what it was like growing up in foster care,” Berrones Soto said. “The way we change the system for the better is to let our elected officials know that we have solutions on how to make things better for millions of foster youths across the country.”

The annual program, now in its fifth year, is three full days of speakers, workshops, discussions and meetings designed to help young people learn about their Congressional representatives, their districts and how the U.S. Congress works. Current and former foster youths share their experiences with Congressional representatives, to help them gain a deeper grasp of the foster care experience and how they can improve policy.

After a busy first day, Patrick and Berrones Soto attended an evening reception, held in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center, where they met with members of Congress Karen Bass (D-CA 37th District), Robin Kelly (D-IL 2nd District), Diane Black (R-TN 6th District), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th District) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD 5th District).

“During a lively question and answer period, the representatives responded to our questions about child welfare policies and told us a little bit about themselves and how they got their jobs on the Hill,” Berrones Soto said. “After, there was a reception where we had dinner, then went into another theatre in the Capitol Visitor Center to see an episode of ‘The Fosters’ and continue talking policy and life-experiences with people who work in the child welfare arena.”

One of the workshops they attended was on understanding federal policy, presented by program staff from FosterClub and National Foster Youth Institute, two of several sponsors of the National Foster Youth Shadow Program.

“We attended an interesting panel, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where people who work on Capitol Hill talked about how they got their jobs and became members of President Obama’s team,” Patrick said. “Among those on the panel was Rafael López,Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Carlie Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

A highlight of the program was to meet and spend some time with an assigned Member of Congress and their staff. Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

“I actually ended up shadowing Robin Doody, Congresswoman Johnson’s press assistant and legislative correspondent,” Patrick said. “We discovered that we have lots in common. We are both from Houston, and we went to high school literally across the street from each other.”

Doody accompanied Patrick to a Congressional hearing on transportation of water supply and took her on a tour of the Rayburn Office Building and the maze of tunnels connecting the Capitol Hill buildings. He also attended the shadow luncheon with her, where the keynote speaker was Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) and his legislative aides Mary Moody and Stephen Janushkowsky. He shared his personal story in foster care, and they discussed ways to improve the child welfare system in Texas. Along with the aides, Berrones Soto attended a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) in the Cannon House Office Building.

Participants stayed in dormitories at The Catholic University of America, where some of the program activities and workshops took place. Going back and forth to Capitol Hill, they rode the DC Metro.

“This was my first time on a subway, and I loved riding the Metro,” Patrick said. “I liked it a lot better than the city buses I used to take in Houston.”

Also a subway first timer, Berrones Soto said riding the Metro was an “awesome experience” and he, too, became a subway fan.

“It was fast, clean and efficient,” he said, “though I think I was the only one holding onto the pole with both hands!”

Both Patrick and Berrones Soto said it was reassuring to hear from administration leaders on why advocacy by foster youth on the local, state and national levels is critical to affecting the decisions made by elected officials and policy leaders on their behalf.

By meeting other young people and alumni from across the country, leveraging their personal stories to create change, and educating federal policymakers about the experiences and perspectives of young people with personal experience in the foster care system, they feel they are helping move policy in a positive direction.

“Our voices and our stories matter, and I’m excited to have shared my experiences in Washington, D.C.,” Berrones Soto said. “I am extremely optimistic that after this great experience I will be able to continue advocating at a federal level to ensure my foster siblings have a more appropriate foster care experience.”

The Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program is an annual program sponsored by the National Foster Youth Institute, FosterClub, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, Foster Care Alumni of America, Casey Family Programs, Foster Youth in Action and Youth Villages.

For more information on the Shadow Program and other programs that support, empower and engage foster youth, visit .

More on Leroy and Carlie’s experiences at the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day in Washington, D.C.: http://www.lbsj.org/shadow-day/

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