Twelve Child Welfare Policy Ideas from Former Foster Youth

Every year, one of Youth Services Insider’s favorite assignments is poring over the policy recommendations of the 12 young people selected for the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a program operated by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each participant interns for a member of Congress and produces one proposal on how to improve child welfare policy.

This year’s collection, “Unlocking Potential,” did not disappoint.

These young people have all spent time in foster care, and have now spent time in politics, leaving with at least some sense of how the sausage is made. Each year, without fail, we find at least one “How has this not been done yet?” proposal within the words of this report.

Each year, it does seem like a theme or two emerges among the proposals. In 2014, it was youth empowerment and mental health services timelines. In 2015, it was quality of foster care for older youth and data collection on adoption. In 2016, it was stability and finance reform.

Here are a few themes we took away from this year’s slate of proposals.

Education

Four of the 12 interns honed in on education, and the message was clear in each of their arguments: most foster youth want to go to college, few do, and even fewer leave with a diploma.

The four sort of unintentionally combined to propose a continuum of support for foster youth. Eden Harris called for virtual success coaches to help teens as they begin to think about and plan for life after high school. Jameshia Shepherd proposed that the system should provide teens close to aging out with educational specialists and education plans that ensure foster youth are aware of any state and federal resources for college and workforce development.

On the college campus, Alexandria Ware would have each college that accepts federal student loans establish a single point of contact for current and former foster youth on campus to offer them support. Demontea Thompson proposes doubling the maximum federal aid award for foster youth to bring it in line with rising tuition and living costs.

Empowerment

Shepherd’s proposal about awareness of educational resources was one of several proposals that keyed on empowering current and former foster youth to take care of themselves, at 18 and beyond. Jameelah Love argued that it is time for a federal foster care bill of rights that specifically lays out certain guarantees to all foster youth, regardless of what state they live in.

Keola Limkin proposes that all states establish a youth-friendly ombudsman’s office for foster youth, which is the exact sort of vehicle a state might need to enforce something as weighty as a bill of rights.

Justin Abbasi proposes that case-planning for youth aging out of foster care include specific sessions to inform them about their health care plans and which local providers they can see about mental health and behavioral issues.

Well-Being

In the past decade there has been a push to make child well-being a co-equal mission of the child welfare system with safety and permanency. It is not yet a metric by which the federal government measures its significant investment in foster care.

Tiffany Boyd would change that with her proposal to establish a national standard of care, crafted to define the expectations of the federal government about what it means to support the youth in state and local foster care systems.

Alexis Arambul ideas are aimed at reducing the average number of placements experienced by foster youth, which one might construe to be a permanency proposal. But foster care isn’t really ever supposed to be permanent, and frequent placement shifts is a massive challenge to the well-being of a young person. Arambul proposes to craft a “child-focused recruitment model” for pairing foster parents with children.

Htet Htet Rogers argues for the construction of a national taxonomy of foster youth records that could be tapped to assess any number of well-being indicators: school performance, placement stability and doctor’s visits, just to name a few. Rogers’ concept would provide the kind of data necessary to enforce the concepts put forth by Boyd and Arambul.

More National Information

Rogers was not the only intern to take an interest in nationalizing data about youth in foster care. Tonisha Hora calls for a national abuse and neglect registry fueled by state inputs; she would also require states to store those records for longer periods of time and trigger investigations after a second report.

Michael Teresa Mellifera would bring some national understanding to an intersection of growing interest in youth services: the involvement of foster youth in the juvenile justice system. She would establish addressing “Disproportionate Crossover Youth Contact” as a core requirement in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which currently includes four core standards for state treatment of juvenile offenders.

Mellifera’s proposal would force states to get a better numerical handle on how much of their juvenile population came in from foster care, or risk losing a portion of its federal juvenile justice funding.

Click here to read the full report, including all of the FYI proposals. To see this year’s Congressional briefing on the report, watch the video below.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1152 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.