Recently CASA for Children of DC had the honor of attending the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute 2019 Foster Youth Internship Program’s Congressional Briefing. From the moment that the briefing began, we were impressed by the poise and professionalism that the interns displayed. CCAI’S Foster Youth Internship Program is a well-respected congressional internship for young adults who have spent their formative years in the foster care system. Interns have the opportunity to intern in a congressional office, while also researching and writing a policy report over the course of the summer. The program culminates in a report that is presented by the interns in briefings to the U.S. Congress and the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Each of the interns shared their unique encounters with the foster care system and explained how their experiences guided them towards their research interests and policy recommendations. An intern in Representative Lauren Underwood’s office, Anna Zhang’s recommendations were aimed at placement instability. Over a period of 4 ½ years in foster care, Zhang experienced over 10 placements. She said that many of her placements were disrupted “because of the lack of compatibility with the foster family or due to their disregard for my love for my biological family and desire to remain connected to them.”
Zhang isn’t alone. More than 1/3 of foster youth experience 2 or more placements each year. Zhang’s report focused on the key issues she felt were important to placement instability: unsuitable matches between foster youth and their foster family placements, foster families hindering foster youth from maintaining relationships with their biological families and the need to notify youth of placement changes.
Her solutions included state plans to recruit potential foster and adoptive families and a matching strategy required to receive federal IV-B funds. She also recommended that the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act requires the List of Rights include a provision about placement stability and notifications to youth when placement changes occur.
Other interns like Sheree Hickman spoke about the challenges facing youth aging out of foster care. A lack of financial security and little education about financial literacy often leads to financial problems that cause even more stress to those aging out. Hickman recommended that a portion of the John J. Chafee Independence Program (Chafee) funding be designated to help youth aging out of care become financially stable and independent.
Senator Ron Wyden, Sheree’s supervisor was one of several members of Congress in attendance. Senator Wyden commended Hickman for her contributions to his office and remarked that her ideas will “put these valuable youngsters on the right side of history.”
During the Q&A period CCAI’s Board President and Former Sen. Mary Landrieu asked the panel if they had a CASA during their time in foster care. Several interns raised their hands. The interns spoke about the impact their CASAs had on their lives and recounted similar stories of a CASA who listened to them when no one else did and helped to unite the disconnected members of their team. Hickman’s relationship with her CASA has remained so strong after she aged out of the system that her CASA flew to DC to be in attendance at the briefing. Sen. Landrieu concluded that having a CASA was an essential part of a youth’s team.
For more information about CCAI and the Foster Youth Internship Program, visit http://www.ccainstitute.org.
About the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that was founded in 2001 by advocates of children in the U.S. and around the world in need of families. These advocates sought to match the commitment of members of Congress' Adoption Caucus, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, with the information and resources needed to make the dream of a family a reality for every child.
When Members of Congress and other policymakers hear direct experiences of those affected by child welfare policy, they become engaged in this issue and work to bring about legislative improvements to ensure each child's right to a family is realized.