Nationwide Listening Tour in Seattle
On May 28, Casey Family Programs, the nation's largest foundation focused entirely on foster care, and Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) hosted Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) in Seattle to learn more about best practices and challenges in Washington's child welfare system. The trip to Seattle was a part of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth's Nationwide Listening Tour. The tour began last year when the Caucus decided it wanted to learn more about state's foster care systems from service providers, state government officials, child welfare advocates and former foster youth first hand.
On the first day of the Listening Tour, Reps. McDermott, Bass and Reichert met at Casey Family Programs headquarters to hear from several panels that discussed different aspects of the Washington's foster care system.
Although Rep. Reichert is not a member of the Foster Youth Caucus, he is chair of subcommittee with direct jurisdiction over foster care reforms. He explained that he feels connected to foster youth due to his experience growing up in a troubled home and on the streets.
Other panelists, such as Casey Family Programs President and CEO William Bell, discussed the urgent need for comprehensive finance reform that would give state service providers more flexibility with how to spend federal dollars.
Some panelists discussed innovations in Washington state that they felt could be implemented on a national level.
From left, Justice Bobbe Bridge, Judge Patricia Clark, Director of Catholic Community Services's Integrated Family Preservation Service Mary Stone Smith, and CEO of the National CASA Association Michael Piraino explained their efforts to find safe, loving, and permanent homes for foster youth.
Throughout the day, panelists and Members discussed several topics including:
- an overview of Washington State Child Welfare
- the importance of child welfare data
- the unique role of philanthropy in child welfare,
On Day 2, Foster Youth Caucus Co-Chairs headed to Treehouse, Washington’s leading nonprofit organization addressing the essential education and enrichment needs of kids in foster care.
On site, Members of Congress and Congressional staff toured Treehouse facilities, including a learning center where foster youth can go for tutoring and after school activities. They also have a warehouse and store. Once clothes and goods are sorted, they go to a free store where foster youth can "shop" for school clothes, school supplies, and toiletries.
During the visit at Treehouse, the Caucus heard from panelists who discussed various strategies to improve well-being, education, and employment outcomes for current and former foster youth.
Treehouse advocates explained that, due to a number of challenges, less than half of foster youth graduate high school on time. Treehouse has an innovative plan to ensure that foster youth in King County graduate high school at the same rate as their peers with a plan for their future by 2017.
Mockingbird Society President Jim Theofolis explained how the Mockingbird Family Model prepares youth in foster care for adulthood.
The model consists of a micro-community (constellation) of foster and kinship families (satellite families) and an additional licensed foster family (hub home) organized to support children living in the constellation. Read more here.
As the Listening Tour drew to a close, the group headed to the University of Washington to discuss psychotropic drug use among foster youth and other therapies which often provide a better alternative.
Dawna Evans spoke powerfully about the nightmare of being forcibly medicated and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility. Watch below:
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth's Listening Tour in Seattle. It was an informative tour with many great ideas for comprehensive foster care reform.