Foster Children Speak to Congress – is anyone listening?
This summer, fifteen former foster children worked as Capitol Hill interns and developed a set of policy recommendations outlined in a recently released report entitled “The Future of Foster Care – a revolution for change.”
Among the recommendations created by these former foster youth:
- Congress should require that an education advocate be trained and assigned to every foster child in special education;
- Congress should require that surrogate parents be trained on the unique needs of foster youth in special education;
- Documented and undocumented immigrant children within the foster care system deserve the same basic rights and freedoms that are granted to children in other demographics, yet the child welfare system is not set up to allow these children to access the services that they deserve;
- The greater prevalence of mental health issues among foster youth does not justify the assumption which too often exists among foster parents, child welfare professionals, or other adults involved in the foster child’s life that the best way to help alleviate issues is through medication;
- States need to be held accountable to the foster child’s education outcomes;
- To ensure that the foster youth is receiving a proper education, there should be an education point person placed within the foster youth’s school district;
- One option for ensuring the success of foster youth is to provide them with a consistent and stable mentoring relationship;
- Congress should fund individual charter schools dedicated entirely to early childhood and preschool education of foster children in the ten cities in the nation with the largest foster care populations;
- Each foster parent should be given the same monthly maintenance payment, regardless of behavioral, mental or physical health needs. If a youth needs more services, this is where the money needs to be invested. More resources, such as individual therapy, tutoring, parenting classes, family counseling, wraparound services, a behavior coach, or other services should be made available, however, not as direct funds to foster parents;
- Congress should require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect from the relevant agency of each state information on the type and quality of legal representation that children in the dependency court process receive and the laws and regulations that pertain to this representation;
- Congress should pass legislation requiring all states to recognize children in dependency court proceedings as a legal party to the case;
- Congress should require all states to implement a client directed model of legal representation for all children in the dependency court process. States should be allowed no more than three years to fully comply with this implementation, and those that do not fully comply should be penalized by a reduction in federal child welfare funding.
Congressional leaders and members should read and heed this excellent report. If there’s something everyone should be able to agree upon, it’s that foster children deserve our continued and tireless concern and advocacy. Given Congress’ record low standing and the American people’s absolute disgust with the functioning of government and the foul stench of mindless partisanship, perhaps this is one agenda which can bring members together to do what’s right and decent for a change.