Foster Youth Listening Tour
Casey Family Programs, the nation's largest foundation focused entirely on foster care, and Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) are hosting the Foster Youth Caucus in Seattle on May 28 and 29. The visit will help Members of Congress learn more about best practices and challenges in Washington's child welfare system. This stop marks the first trip in 2013, but the Nationwide Listening Tour plans to visit with child welfare organizations in Texas and New York this summer.
Highlighting Rhode Island’s leadership in working to improve opportunities for foster youth, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and Rhode Island Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline met with state officials, advocates, parents and youth today about ways to use successful efforts in the Ocean State to improve national policy. Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) Director Janice DeFrances took part in the events, helping to guide the policy conversations.
A series of site visits and discussions, part of the Caucus’ Nationwide Listening Tour, examined innovative child welfare practices and public-private partnerships, beginning with a stop at Nina’s House in Providence. The single family home on Fairfield Avenue offers a homelike setting where clinicians from Providence Children’s Museum’s Families Together program provide therapeutic visitation and permanency planning for children in foster care and their families. Bass and Langevin toured the house and took part in a discussion with the staff, advocates and a Families Together client.
In June, Casey Family Programs and Congressional Foster Youth Chairman Dave Camp (D-MI) invited the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to Saginaw, Michigan. Congresswoman Donna Christensen (D-VI), Congressmember Karen Bass (D-CA) and U.S. Health and Human Services Commissioner Bryan Samuels heard directly from Michigan child welfare leaders as well as foster youth and alumni.
Community members highlighted a variety of topics related to foster care in Michigan. At Western Michigan University, students shared about their experiences in foster care and the Seita Scholars program. This pioneering university program provides a comprehensive support system for individuals who have aged out of the foster care system and wish to earn a college degree.
Child welfare leaders discussed several local efforts to help foster youth. Michigan recently enacted the Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care program which allows foster children to choose to remain under state care until age 21 if they are in school, in job training, or employed 80 hours per month. Innovative programs like the Baby Court Project aim to end multi-generational neglect and reunify families by providing intensive training and counseling for parents who have been accused of neglecting or abusing their infants. Other new programs address the unique challenges of providing quality foster care to Michigan's large population of rural and Indian youth.
Michigan is currently working to attain a child welfare funding waiver for federal Title I-EV funding in order to increase access to early intervention and foster care prevention programs.
The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held the second stop of its nationwide listening and learning tour in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to gain a better understanding of Florida’s state and local child welfare system. Hosted by U.S. Reps. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Caucus co-chair U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) was invited by the Members to learn first-hand how Florida’s system may provide ideas for potential positive federal policy modifications in order to improve outcomes for children in the system.
“I commend the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth for choosing South Florida as a stop on its nationwide tour,” said Congressman Hastings. “As we shed light on the issues facing our child welfare system, it also gives me great pride to bring attention to the countless members of our community working tirelessly to give foster youth a voice.”
“We must do better to protect foster children just as we would our own, and these forums help us gather the necessary input to improve the foster care system,” said Congresswoman Wilson, sponsor of the Rilya Wilson Act in both the Florida state Senate and in Congress.
Florida’s child welfare system was redesigned in 2001 to reflect a community-based care model. The new community-based care system combines the outsourcing of foster care and related services to private agencies to promote a sense of increased local community ownership of service delivery and design. Under the new initiative, Florida’s Department of Children and Families negotiates and contracts with local non-profit agencies to provide services to children who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned in their community. All of Florida’s 67 counties participate and operate under this model, which is designed to increase accountability, resource development and system performance.
“I’d like to thank my colleagues, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and Congressman Alcee Hastings, for inviting us to their hometowns to learn about the strategies Florida has undertaken to transform its foster care system,” said Rep. Bass. “Our second stop on the listening tour has provided us with an exceptional wealth of knowledge so it is with great hope that the Caucus continues to travel throughout the country learning ways we can positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.”
In an effort to address many of the ongoing issues foster youth face, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth launched a national listening tour in Los Angeles. Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Tom Marino (R-Penn.) joined other Members of the Caucus on Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, in several events to gain a better understanding of the current state of foster care throughout the nation, and identify potential federal policy modifications to improve the outcomes for children in the system. Caucus members will travel to four cities to for similar listening tour stops.
“I was honored to host Members from the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in Los Angeles for our inaugural Listening Tour,” said Rep. Bass. “As the former Speaker of California, I know first-hand the obstacles, concerns and triumphs the California child welfare system has encountered over the last few years so I greatly appreciate the time my colleagues took to join us in LA. Both Republican and Democratic Members of the Caucus not only gained direct knowledge about foster care in California, but they also furthered their understanding of policies that are still needed to produce a substantial impact on foster care nationwide.”
Los Angeles County, with a population of 10.5 million, operates one of the nation's largest child welfare systems. In 2006, Los Angeles received a federal waiver allowing the county to have increased flexibility in how it funds its child welfare program, which resulted in the number of children in foster care decreasing from approximately 30,000 to 15,000 youth over the course of 12 years. Through site visits to the Department of Children and Family Services, SHIELDS for Families, the L.A. Children's Court, as well as a community town hall, Members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth received an in-depth perspective of the unique prevention and family unification techniques that have made a tremendous difference in safely reducing the number of children in the Los Angeles foster care system.
“Having been a prosecutor for most of my legal career, I have seen the devastating effects an unstable family life can have on children during their formative years,” Marino said. “It is so important that we take a lead in promoting an awareness of the foster care system throughout the county and in encouraging those who can make a difference to do so.”
Currently there are more that 424,000 youth in the nation's foster care system and approximately 29,500 children age-out or exit the system each year without ever finding a permanent family. Youth who transition out of the foster care system without the security of a long-term living situation are often at a higher risk for unemployment, poor educational outcomes, health issues, early parenthood, long-term dependency on public assistance, increased rates of incarceration and homelessness.