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

Bipartisan Task Force Hosts Discussion on Effects of the Opioid Epidemic on the Child Welfare System

The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force teamed up to host a dinner highlighting the effects that the opioid epidemic has had on the country’s child welfare system. This epidemic has impacted countless lives throughout the country and has already had a specifically insidious impact on children.

“The opioid crisis is devastating families and our already over-burdened child welfare system,” said Rep. Karen Bass, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “We have learned so much from the crack cocaine epidemic and how it affected those in the child welfare system. Now, we have to apply those lessons to the epidemic at hand. Last night’s bipartisan dinner was a step in that direction and I look forward to working with my colleagues in both caucuses that participated tonight on this incredibly important issue.”

More than 20 Members of Congress from the two caucuses came together Tuesday night to work with experts — individuals who grew up in the child welfare system and individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to children in the child welfare system — to identify tangible ways Congress could assist the overflowing child welfare system and also take meaningful action in bringing this epidemic to an end.

“I was pleased to join my colleagues last night at a bipartisan dinner that addressed our country’s opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Marino, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “This epidemic has affected countless children in the foster care system and it is up to Congress to come together to find a solution to end this horrible tragedy in our nation. I look forward to having more productive discussions on this issue and will continue to work tirelessly with Congress to ensure that our children are protected from this crisis.”

Ideas presented ranged from reforming law enforcement’s ability to respond to on-scene overdoses, to overhauling relapse protocol in court orders, to creating an entire cabinet position to address the issue of drug epidemics in our country. Experts and Members were quick to caution that there will be no one quick fix to this expansive issue, but agreed that conversations like the one held last night will bring us closer to a better future for these communities affected by this epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Congresswoman Kuster, the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. “That impact has been acutely felt by families and children who so often bear the brunt of substance use disorder. I’m pleased that the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth have come together for this constructive conversation about how we can better support children as we take on the opioid crisis.”

“The opioid epidemic continues to destroy communities and families across my home state of New Jersey and throughout our nation,” said Republican Chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, Congressman MacArthur. “More and more children are ending up in foster care because of this crisis and straining our already burdened child welfare system.  I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to combat the opioid crisis and help children impacted by it.”

The dinner featured three panelists, all of whom have been directly impacted by the child welfare system, addiction or both. Linda Watts serves as the Acting Commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and provided detailed analysis regarding her work at both an administrative level as well as in the field.

Angelique Salizan is a former foster youth who is currently serving as a legislative correspondent in United States Senator Sherrod Brown’s D.C. office and a part-time consultant for the Capacity Building Center for States, an initiative of the Children’s Bureau. China Krys Darrington has been a trainer for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program since 2010 and a provider of Recovery Support Services through XIX Recovery Support Services since 2007.

Connected Commonwealth: Programs for Kentucky Youth Aging Out

Photo Credit: Foster Youth In Action

In May 2016, Anna Shobe-Wallace, program manager for Louisville Metro Community Services said, “Each year, more than 500 young people between the ages of 18-21 age out of Kentucky’s foster care system.” Many youth ‘aging out’ are disconnected from larger society and face barriers to success such as: low socioeconomic status, low educational achievement, unplanned pregnancy, racial segregation, and mental and physical challenges.

A recent study assessed the plight of disconnected youth who are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, and these youths are neither employed, enrolled in or attending school. The study focused on disconnected youth in the following categories: by state, county, congressional district, gender, and by race and ethnicity. Currently, there is approximately 5,527,000 disconnected youth in the United States or 13.8% of young adults.

According to data from the study:

  • Kentucky ranks 36th in youth disconnection rates with 15.2% of youth in this group for a total of 81,850.
  • Cincinnati, OH–KY–IN ranks 44th in youth disconnection among the most densely inhabited areas. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 12.8% or 38,312 total. The racial breakdown for this group is 20.6% Black and 11.8% White.
  • Louisville/Jefferson County, KY–IN ranks 56th in youth disconnection. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 14.0% with a total of 21,750 disconnected youth. The racial breakdown for this group is 18.5% Black and 13.3% White. This Kentucky county has the lowest percentage of disconnected youth.
  • Kentucky counties with the largest percentage of disconnected youth are as follows: Martin County, Kentucky ranks 2,020th with 47.8% disconnected youth; Union County, Kentucky ranks 2012 with 43.7% disconnected youth; Bracken County, Kentucky ranks 1,998th with 41.4% disconnected youth; Lee County, Kentucky ranks 1,994th with 40.9% disconnected youth; McCreary County, Kentucky ranks 1,992nd with 40.4% disconnected youth; Morgan County, Kentucky ranks 1,985th with 38.7% disconnected youth; and Wolfe County, Kentucky ranks 1,972nd with 37.5% disconnected youth

Researchers from this study concluded that larger urban communities had increased numbers of disconnected youth due to the following indicators: a historical pattern of disconnection, decreased neighborhood well-being rates, low SES, increased unemployment, a lack of academic achievement, and racism.

These alarming statistics clearly indicated systemic issues that impact disconnected youth. Experts from this study proposed that, “Disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome year in the making.” With this thought in mind, the study recommended these steps moving forward:

  • An estimated $26.8 billion dollars was involved with supporting the nation’s 5.5 million disconnected youth— comprising Supplemental Security Income payments, Medicaid, public assistance, incarceration, in 2013. Proposing more beneficial ways to invest in this population would be advantageous to society as a whole.
  • Designing preventive measures to address disconnection by sustaining at-risk parents and investing in quality preschool programs. It is usually more cost effective and compassionate to implement prevention strategies than crisis responses.
  • Re-joining youth and young adults who are secluded from higher education and the job market is more expensive than pre-emptive methods that address disconnection at the outset. However, these young people need another opportunity—considering many came from challenging backgrounds.
  • At the community level, an evident positive correlation was seen between adult employment status and youth’s relationship to education and employment. The amount of education adults had greatly projected the likelihood of young people ages 16 to 24 years old to attend school.
  • Significant headway involves individuals and organizations cooperating to institute specific measurable attainable realistic timely (SMART) goals for decreasing youth disconnection.

Amy Swann, author of “Failure to Launch”, notes that for 2013, the study data indicates that the Louisville Metropolitan Area (which consists of bordering counties) has 14.0 percent of youth ages 16-24 disengaged from employment and education. The study’s emphasis on cities resulted in reporting by Louisville news outlets at the Courier-Journal and WFPL. Media exposure of the status of disconnected youth in Kentuckiana has led to remarkable new efforts that focus on this population.

In light of this compelling evidence: social workers, legislators, and other helping professionals in the state of Kentucky have amassed their efforts to cultivate community partnerships and programs to support disconnected youth on their journey into emerging adulthood.

According to their website, here is a description of each program, and how it addresses the needs of disconnected youth and youth ‘aging out’.

Family Scholar House plans to open its fifth Louisville campus at the Riverport Landings development in southwest Jefferson County. The project goal is to equip families and youth to excel in education and to obtain independence. The new facility is expected to be ready by 2017 and will accommodate low-income families, single-parent families, and young adults formerly in foster care.

Fostering Success is a summer employment program developed by Gov. Matt Bevin that began June 1, 2016. The program provides job training via the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services for youth ages 18 to 23 years old. The program will run for 10 weeks and culminate with meetings with college and career counselors to prepare participants for future education and employment goals. Approximately 100 youth will be employed full-time at a rate of $10.00 dollars per hour. Fostering Success is one of the seminal programs in the state to target youth aging out.

Project LIFE serves 60 kids across Kentucky, including 25 in Louisville and offers an empowering environment to prepare them for success. Youth are given a housing voucher, along with social supports to improve access to education, employment, and income management skills.

Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CYSA) is an initiative created to address the barriers faced by Louisville’s disconnected young people. The mission is to develop: a standard agenda that meets the needs of Louisville’s vulnerable youth and young adults; common measurement tools that define collective goals and strategies; mutually supportive activities that create new partnerships and execute thoughtful programs; effective communication that creates a viable structure; foundational support that stimulates growth, responsibility, and dependability.

Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams (TAYLRD) is an effort to create a unique program for young people born out of the federal government’s proposal called “Now is the Time” Healthy Transitions Grant Program. The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) in Kentucky requested and received funding and Seven Counties was chosen as a venue to open drop-in centers where young people can foster relationships and access support /services to achieve their future goals. Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSS) and Youth Coordinators work together with clients to define what concerns are most important, and then appropriate services/supports are brought into the drop-in centers. Some of the supports/services offered include: case management, life skills development, employment services, academic support, legal support, and therapy.

True Up founded by foster care alum Frank Harshaw, is a nurturing group of foster care alumni who have overcome obstacles to employment, pursuing education, gaining independence and solidifying healthy relationships. They have chosen to pay it forward through mentorship. True Up empowers foster youth through academic and hands-on learning in the following areas: Mobility & Transportation, Career Mapping, Financial Management, Relationship Building Skills, and Educational Achievement.

These are just a few of the innovative programs and resources available in the state of Kentucky. As helping professionals and the broader community create data driven programs for disconnected youth and youth aging out, expected outcomes will be much more positive in the near future.

Rep. Bass Introduces The Foster Youth Mentoring Act

On June 23, 2017, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass serves as a Co-chair 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 young people in the system face,” Bass said. “In all of my years working in child welfare, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, we’ve heard their voices clearly: They want a consistent source of advice and support–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. There are kids in every congressional district that would benefit from this bill’s passage.”

“Youth in foster care face enough challenges. Having a consistent caring adult in their lives shouldn’t be one of them,” said MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership’s CEO David Shapiro. “Mentors offer much-needed stability and support academic achievement, professional and social-emotional development, and provide the kind of individual attention often not possible through the child welfare system.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act would expand urgently needed access to this critical asset for so many more young people in need. Closing this support and opportunity gap for youth in foster care through evidence-based relationships can help reverse the negative outcomes we see far too frequently for these young people compared to their peers. MENTOR thanks Representative Bass for her tremendous leadership in working to improve outcomes for these young people and elevating the personal stories of foster youth to a national level through her work in Congress.”

Read their joint op-ed in the Huffington Post about the importance of mentorship here.

Bill Summary

The bill connects youth in foster care with adult volunteer mentors by providing support for mentoring programs for foster youth. The bill would:

  • Authorize funding to provide support to mentoring programs that serve foster youth. Programs would be eligible to receive funds to support the expansion of their services to more youth in foster care and to improve services for current foster youth in their programs.
  • Ensures that mentoring programs participating in the grant program are currently engaged or developing quality mentoring standards to ensure best practices in the screening of volunteers, matching process and successful mentoring relationships.
  • Provide intensive training to adult volunteers who serve as mentors to foster youth to assure that they are competent in understanding child development, family dynamics, the child welfare system and other relevant systems that affect foster youth.
  • Increase coordination between mentoring programs and statewide child welfare systems by supporting the expansion of mentoring services for foster youth.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to address the need for greater support of mentoring programs that serve youth in foster care.  Foster youth face challenges as they navigate growing up often without the support of a consistent caring adult. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to fill that gap to provide foster youth with the social capital, resources, and support they need to develop positive relationships and connections.

Exit mobile version