This is the first of two stories written by FosterClub All Star interns recounting their experiences discussing federal legislation with policymakers.
The Family First Act is a hot topic within the foster care community and has caught the attention of advocates nationwide.
Under the bill, federal funding for child welfare (known as Title IV) will be allowed to be used for prevention services such as family counseling, rehab for parents struggling with addiction, etc., to reduce instances of taking children into state custody. This bill will also “right-size group homes” by limited federal funding for congregate care if the group home cannot provide valid reasoning for children staying in their custody after a certain period of time.
This will push states to put more efforts into foster parent recruitment and keep young people in foster care in a family setting instead of in locked down facilities.
Earlier this month, FosterClub, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for foster youth, lead a discussion-based meeting on Family First with Fritz Graham, field representative for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jenny Wood, the chief deputy of the Administration of Children, Youth & Families. Many of FosterClub’s All Star interns (who have each experienced foster care) provided feedback on the bill through personal stories and experiences.
Their testimonies and heartbreaking realities filled the room with emotion and kept the conversation going on Family First.
“The group home treated me so badly. They locked me in solitary confinement and I didn’t even do anything,” said one of the interns,* Aliyah, crying. “They bounced me around from residential care to juvenile and didn’t get me enrolled into school for three weeks!”
Another All Star intern, Brittney, spoke about her experience in a group home as well and “would rather be homeless than be in a residential facility.”
“They underfed me and told me I would have to go to another facility because they weren’t equipped to help with my eating disorder,” she said. “They would often write us ‘Loss Of Privileges’ and one of the consequences to that is not being able to have home visits with your family.”
After hearing some of the experiences endured by the interns, Wood and Graham provided support and connections to networks of advocacy along with advice on what to do if the system is treating youth poorly.
“It’s our job as congressmen to help our people navigate the system,” Graham explained. Wood also provided her contact information to the interns for help and support.
The group concluded that without Family First these testimonies will continue to grow. By providing services to prevent people from entering into foster care and making sure group homes offer the best type of services needed, children are less likely to experience trauma, instability, and any other potential harm that a group home can cause, the group decided.
The Family First Act can help keep families together instead of having to undergo separation and grief. Youth and adult supporters in the meeting agreed that strengthening families is the key to a successful living – not tearing them apart.
*Last names have been withheld in the interest of the youths’ privacy.
Brittney Barros, after living with neglect, entered foster care at the age of 11. Her grandmother eventually became her guardian. Currently, Brittney works for Ozone House, a nonprofit organization for at-risk and homeless youth. In addition, she works with Speak Out, Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative, and the Parkwest Foundation. Brittney will be pursuing a degree in both music therapy and social work at Eastern Michigan University.