WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is working to educate fellow members of Congress and the public about the needs of youth in foster care, with a special focus on the 29,000 young people who "age out" of foster care each year without permanent families. May is National Foster Care Month.
"Children in foster care don't have highly paid 'K' street lobbyists advancing their cause," Grassley said. "To move forward with legislation, Congress needs to hear ideas and opinions directly from the community. Information sessions and panel discussions offer us the opportunity to learn what we need to do to move forward so that no child is ever without a permanent and loving home, and that foster youth have a smooth transition out of the system."
Grassley is founder and co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. This week, he and his co-chairman, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, 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 coordination with the briefing on older foster youth, Grassley joined in introducing a Senate resolution on National Foster Care Month. The measure, which was introduced with bipartisan support, encourages Congress to implement sound policy to improve the lives of the almost 500,000 children in the foster care system. For the text of the resolution, please click here.
And on Monday, Grassley will co-host an event that will feature excerpts from an upcoming Porch Productions documentary "From Place to Place", which follows six young people as they age out of the foster care system, followed by a roundtable discussion among two of the subjects of the film, leading child welfare researchers, advocates, young people from foster care, and policy makers. The documentary preview and roundtable discussion, "When Foster Care Becomes Home: What Can Be Done to Improve Options for Youth in Foster Care?", will be held on Monday, May 17, 2010, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST in Senate Dirksen Building, Room G-50, Washington, D.C.
Grassley said a forthcoming legislative vehicle to help foster youth is the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Grassley has urged the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, which earlier this year began holding hearings on the reauthorization of the act, to consider the direct experiences of foster youth in the nation's educational system and their suggestions for reform. Reforms could include better record-keeping, more of an effort to keep students in the same school when their foster home changes, and better coordination between school personnel and child welfare agencies in developing strategies to help these youths. Last month, a committee hearing including testimony from a foster youth, as Grassley encouraged. The teen-ager described her difficulties staying in a school throughout homelessness and then foster care.
"The older kids in foster care and the young adults who have just 'aged out' and don't have the support and stability of a permanent family face special challenges," Grassley said. "The issues challenging these young people - school attendance and performance, substance abuse, financial literacy, teen pregnancy, homelessness, and juvenile delinquency - have come to my attention through my efforts on foster care and adoption over the last 13 years."
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.