Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute held a roundtable discussion on foster care and adoption legislative and policy priorities for the 113th Congress. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) started off the discussion describing two priorities: 1) To convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure youth in foster care will be eligible for Medicaid coverage up to age 26 even when moving from state to state, and 2) Passing legislation that will provide training for child welfare workers on issues involving sex trafficking of youth in foster care.
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) spoke about her passion for adoption and her interest in pursuing initiatives to improve adoption policies. She was followed by Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who spoke about improving education opportunities for children in foster care and opening the door to adoptions of children in Russia. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) focused on family finding programs, especially the successful Wendy’s Wonderful Kids initiative, and the need to expand such family finding efforts
to more areas around the country.
Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduced the A+Plus Act, H.R. 5871, which will reform national education law to allow access to students’ records for children who are in foster care. Currently, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), unintentionally hinders the educational success of students in foster care by creating a barrier between school records and the temporary guardians of the youth – the child welfare agencies. Without access to a student’s records, child welfare agencies and social workers are limited in their ability to advocate for the youth’s educational success. The A+Plus Act will rectify this obstacle by granting child welfare agencies direct access to school records for youth in care. The legislation has been introduced by all four co-chairs of the caucus, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Tom Marino (R-PA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and enjoys bipartisan support.
The caucus held a rally to support the bill and to celebrate Foster Youth Shadow Day in which 25 young people who emancipated from foster care spent the day with a Member of Congress. Many of the youth spoke at the rally in support of the legislation as well as other issues they hope to see addressed to improve the lives of young people who have experienced out-of-home care.
Bass spoke about how moved she was by the stories of the young people and how impressed she was with their advocacy. Marino shared with the audience his experience being a foster father to a teenager who will be emancipating soon.
Last Saturday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held a listening and learning tour session in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida. The purpose of the session was to gain a better understanding of Florida’s state and local child welfare system.
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.
The bipartisan Caucus was formed last year to create an ongoing discussion among Members of the House, who are interested in improving policies that affect the lives of youth and families involved with the foster care system. The Caucus tasked themselves with a national “listening tour” to gain insight into the challenges and barriers that exist around safety, permanency, well-being, education, and youth and family engagement. The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth has over forty Congressional representatives and is chaired by Representatives Tom Marino (R-PA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN).