This week over 590 youth and alumni of foster care, along with concerned stakeholders, conveyed a letter to U.S. Senate leaders calling upon the upper chamber to vote on and pass the House-approved Family First Prevention Services Act. These young people are all too aware of how delays in child welfare reform will negatively impact the lives of their younger peers and all future children who enter foster care.
“We have personal experience in the foster care system and we are signing-on to this letter to support your efforts to improve the outcomes for thousands of our brothers and sisters in foster care,” the letter starts.
The Family First Act seeks to move the system toward a family-focused approach, and reduce the need for foster care placements by providing families with time-limited prevention services like therapy or substance abuse treatment. It would connect kinship caregivers to resources and services to better enable them to care for their relatives’ children. Also, the Act would ensure group homes provide the most vulnerable children with the care they need.
One advocate and alumni of California’s foster care system, Jesse Gabriel De Luna of Pomona, messaged to Congress, “I spent nine years in foster care in Los Angeles County. I do believe in keeping family together first, then if not, search other options close to a family situation. I see first-hand the destruction it puts on youth by placing them in foster care and even more devastating in group homes. Let’s keep families together safely.”
“As a foster care alumni initially placed in a for-profit, locked group home facility with little access to supportive services, coming from a family where no preventative services were offered prior to my placement, I am encouraged by the attention given to appropriate and less restrictive environments when foster care is necessary,” said Greta Munns, an alumni of Wisconsin’s foster care system. “I also know first hand as a new mom of twins the importance of a forever family; having people to call for advice on bad days, and someone to watch and spoil my kids when my husband and I need a night out. No facility I’ve been in has ever offered those supports, but family has.”
There are certainly individual youth and alumni who appreciate the quality care they received in group homes or believe their entry into foster care was unpreventable. However, an overwhelming majority of our young leaders support the Family First Act once they have had an opportunity to study the provisions, are educated about the federal role in foster care financing, and reflect on the experiences of their peers.
The Family First Act was crafted with significant input from young people in foster care. Over the last two years, groups of foster youth and alumni met with Congressional staff over a series of lunchbox sessions. Meetings with policymakers were held to discuss prevention and congregate care, drawing from detailed priorities outlined by the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council. Young leaders provided compelling testimony at congressional hearings. I am confident the Family First Act has carefully considered youth perspective while recognizing the limitations of federal funding’s impact to on-the-ground practice and services.
Young leaders from foster care are delivering the letter of support to policymakers in the Senate this week, urging action in the month of September. We can’t afford to ignore their pleas to improve foster care for their peers and children coming through the system in the future.
Celeste Bodner is the executive director of FosterClub, the national network for young people in foster care. She and her husband, Jeff, are foster and adoptive parents.