WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, founders and co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, are sponsoring a speakers’ series event tomorrow, Tuesday, November 29, from 2 to 4 p.m. in SVC 203-02 in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.
The purpose of the speakers’ series, which is a 2011 initiative of the Caucus, is to highlight grass-root practitioners of innovative programs and strategies that improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care and to allow these individuals to share their experiences in the field and their ideas about reforms to the system. Ultimately, the Senate Caucus plans to release a compilation of best practices.
“A major goal of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth is to help draw out and spread innovative strategies and best practices in the foster care community and focus on making things better for kids in the system and when they leave the system,” Grassley said. “It’s fitting that the policy community take time right now to focus on what can be done to foster valuable permanent connections for these kids. These kids often feel even more lonely and isolated during the holiday season.”
“I am happy to continue working with Senator Grassley and the other members of the Foster Youth Caucus to highlight foster care best practices. I am pleased that the House also recently formed a Caucus on Foster Care to further highlight these issues,” said Sen. Landrieu. “Organizations like Wendy’s Wonderful Kids are achieving remarkable success placing children by implementing innovative practices. This success upends the belief that some children are ‘unadoptable,’ and gives hope for every child in foster care. By spreading the word on best practices, we move closer to finding a home for every child waiting for his or her forever family.”
Landrieu and Grassley will speak at tomorrow’s event. There will be presentations by leaders in the foster-care community and a discussion of issues associated with adopting older youth and the release of important research on effective methods for increasing successful adoptions of older youth.
Since forming the Senate Caucus in 2009, Grassley and Landrieu have sponsored a series of working sessions with the goal of assembling policy recommendations for child welfare reform. The Caucus has engaged current and former foster youth in these working sessions. The senators have said they want the Caucus, which is particularly focused on youth when they age-out of the foster care system, to build on improvements made by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. This law provides additional federal incentives for states to move children from foster care to adoptive homes, expands adoption assistance to all special needs foster youth, allows states to extend care to youth up to age 21, allows for federal reimbursement for kinship care, and makes health and education improvements for youth in foster care.
A listing of the speakers for tomorrow’s event is below.
Adopted from foster care
In foster care, Gretchen Looney was separated from her siblings, moved many times and suffered a disrupted pre-adoption placement. Not surprisingly, she was adamantly opposed to adoption when she was referred to the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program in June of 2010. Gretchen was adopted three months ago by Joseph and Camille Looney, who are both members of the United States Air Force.
Foster Care Alumni
Christina Miranda entered foster care at the age of five and aged out at 18 without a permanent connection or place to go. She lived in over 10 foster homes and attended 10 different schools. Despite the many unfavorable outcomes and odds that she faced, she graduated from high school and college. Christina attributes much of her success to Paula, a professor who took her in when she had no place to go during a Christmas holiday break. Since then, Paula accepted Christina into her family and has provided the unconditional love and support Christina yearned for all her life. Christina states "... without Paula believing in me, I wouldn't have believed in myself. There is no such thing as an unadoptable child. Every human being deserves a loving family to call their own." Christina is currently a graduate student and continues to be a child welfare advocate in hopes of helping vulnerable children who are in the shoes she once wore.
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter
Adoption Rhode Island
Angela is a native of Cape Verde, off the West African coast. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Rhode Island College and has been working in the child welfare field for 15 years. Her broad range of experience includes therapeutic residential care, supervision, and intake. For six years, Angela has been the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter at Adoption Rhode Island. During that time, Angela has served, or is currently serving, 51 of the state’s hardest to place children and has found adoptive families for 27 of them, with six more in pre-adoptive placements. Angela says she loves this work, and is honored to be a part of the Caucus presentation.
Rita L. Soronen
President & CEO
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
For more than 25 years, Rita Soronen has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children. Ms. Soronen has provided leadership for local, state and national efforts to improve the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, while striving to assure safe, and permanent homes for North America’s children. Since 2001 and under Ms. Soronen’s leadership, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national non-profit public charity, has significantly increased its grant-making and awareness commitments, while developing strategic signature initiatives that underscore and act on the urgency of the issue. In 2010, the Foundation dedicated more than $11 million in privately generated resources to grants and award-winning national awareness activities, including Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, Adoption-Friendly Workplace and the annual 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list, National Adoption Day, national foster care adoption attitudes research, A Child is Waiting: A Step-by-Step Guide to Adoption, national foster care adoption poster and PSA campaigns and educational videos. Since 2005, the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program has grown from seven pilot site grants to 122 active sites across the U.S., the District of Columbia and five provinces in Canada dedicated to evidence-based strategies that aggressively and effectively move children from foster care to permanent families. More than 3,400 children have been adopted or placed in pre-adoptive homes as a direct result of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. Ms. Soronen serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the Ohio CASA/GAL Association, the Public Education Committee of the National CASA Association and is a fellow of the Jefferson Fellowship for Executive Leadership. Ms. Soronen is a recipient of the Angels in Adoption Award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the National CASA Association Kappa Alpha Theta Program Director of the Year Award and the Ohio CASA/GAL Association Statewide Leadership Award.
Vice President for Public Policy
Hope Cooper is Vice President for Public Policy at Child Trends. In this position she develops and directs policy communications strategies to ensure that Child Trends’ research is conveyed in timely and meaningful ways with decision makers. Ms. Cooper has nearly 20 years of public policy experience. Prior to joining Child Trends, she served as a senior officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts where she directed Pew’s Kids Are Waiting Campaign and also designed and managed other national initiatives to advance changes in public policy. Ms. Cooper also spent 10 years working in the U.S. Senate, including as a policy advisor to the Senate Finance Committee, where she was responsible for legislation and oversight of Medicaid, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and other income-related health and social service programs.