WASHINGTON - May 18, 2010 - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, founder and co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, this week said the direct experiences of youth in the foster care system continue to be critical to improving policies that help foster youth find permanent, loving homes and smooth the transition of those who "age out" of the system.
"You can read all the studies in the world, but nothing compares to hearing from someone who's lived the experience," Grassley said. "Congress has to continue listening to foster kids and the people who work with them, then we need to act to improve whatever isn't working. We also need to listen to federal, state and local care providers. Youth in foster care are in the educational system as well as various social services programs. Everyone needs to communicate well, or kids might fall through the cracks."
Grassley highlighted the individual experiences of foster youth at a special event on Capitol Hill. The caucus hosted a preview of an upcoming Porch Productions documentary "From Place to Place," which follows six young people as they "age out" of the foster care system. Then the senators held a roundtable discussion with leading child welfare researchers, advocates, policy makers and young people from foster care.
The event focused on the challenges and needs of the half a million youth in foster care and provided a forum for discussing policy recommendations to improve the foster care system and better serve the youth in care.
Moderating the discussion was Gary Stangler, executive director, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Stangler is the co-author of the book "On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System," which dedicates a chapter to Reggie Kelsey, an 18-year-old from Des Moines who aged out of the foster care system and died in 2001. His death prompted advocacy for foster youth and improvements of services in Iowa.
The event was the latest in a series to highlight May as National Foster Care month. Last week, Grassley and the caucus co-chairman, Sen. Mary Landrieu, hosted a policy briefing covering recommendations in areas such as employment, housing, financial security, education, mentoring and permanency to improve the experiences and outcomes of youth in foster care. The panelists included researchers, child welfare experts, and alumni of the foster care system.
In 2008, Congress passed and the President signed legislation Grassley initiated to make major updates to foster care laws and dramatically increase adoption into permanent, loving homes. The law - Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act of 2008 -- also broke new ground by establishing opportunities for states to extend care and help "aged out" kids with education and vocational training. Monitoring implementation of this law is another focus of the Senate caucus.