The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 11 former foster youths who completed Congressional internships. The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.
Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today, we highlight the recommendations made by Kellie Henderson, 23, a former foster youth from Phillipsburg, Kan., who this year earned her Master’s degree in social work at the University of Kansas.
Each state should be required to develop a “Comfort and Inform Curriculum” designed to prepare youths for the foster care system. The curriculum should empower the youth by explaining the specific rights he or she has as a foster youth, and also detail the role of each professional they are likely to come into contact with.
Youths should begin on this curriculum before their first dependency court hearing.
A qualitative study of foster youths done in 2003 and cited by Henderson found that nearly all children were confused about “the reasons for being in care and what would happen in the future.” A separate study in 2010 noted among foster youths “feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty about the purpose and duration of the foster care placement…and difficulty adjusting to new relationships.”
In Her Own Words
“From when I was rescued to when I actually entered foster care, I felt lost and confused and concerned for my siblings who were also removed from our home. The night of my rescue, adults I had never met before asked me to explain in exhausting detail the abuse I had endured. After midnight, I was taken to a state-run children’s home.”
The Chronicle’s Take
Henderson’s horrific experience and abrupt shift to an unknown system brings into specific relief a problem that gets too much lip service and not enough real attention. The appropriate uses of foster care can be debated, but the need to empower the youths who do enter care should be a no-brainer.
There is pending legislation in Congress that would require states to provide foster youths with a list of rights, which is a start. But Henderson’s concept of a program designed to engage youths in empowering discussions about their future would have far greater impact.
Can the federal government effectively mandate this? It could try, but this might be the sort of concept that needs to be pushed on a state-by-state basis, with some federal dollars freed up to incentive development and/or implementation of a curriculum.
The Chronicle knows of one strong curriculum in the empowerment arena: the Rights and Advocacy Guidelines developed by Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff for New York City youth. It’s an excellent document to kickstart a brainstorm session on a rights curriculum.
Click here to read Henderson’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.