One On One: Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Linda Spears

Vice President, Policy & Public Affairs

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May was National Foster Care Month. What have you been doing lately in relation to foster youth?

Irecently participated in a panel sponsored by the Senate's Foster Care Coalition where several former foster youth spoke. It was heartbreaking. They talked about not being able to grow up like other kids; about not going to the prom or staying over at friends' houses because of agency safety policies. The three main points I heard were that they wanted to feel normal, they wanted relationships, and they didn't want their relationships to only include people who were paid to be in their lives. To me, hearing this was devastating. I think it's so important to listen very closely to the concerns of foster youth, and to look at how our services affect them with a new lens.

While we have to focus on large-scale policy changes and put better regulations in place, it is also important to think about the little decisions taking place on a daily basis in foster homes and group care facilities. While there has to be order and rules, they may not be worth preventing a child from going to the prom. We get into large-scale debates around transitioning to adulthood versus finding permanent families. But above everything should be this one constant of kids having healthy relationships in their lives at every level.

Child welfare finance reform has been a hot topic lately. Can you explain what is going on with this on Capitol Hill?

It looks like members of Congress want to look seriously at child welfare finance reform. They're looking at the basics of how to fix the de-link and what kinds of flexibility is needed to promote a full array of programs for abused and neglected children. It's the core question of whether Title IV-E just supports foster care or whether states should be able to use it toward other needed services.

Right now, CWLA and other organizations are working on recommendations for what finance reform should look like. We are discussing how to prioritize what the most important things are, while being sure that we don't sell kids short in developing our approach to finance reform. CWLA's public policy advisory committee is working on guiding principles that will help us respond to all of the many proposals out there and guide our own strategy on Capitol Hill.

You've been involved with the campaign to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Can you tell us more about that?

CWLA has been an ongoing supporter and advocate for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) since its original passage more than 20 years ago. If you look at the specific rights in the CRC and you look at CWLA's Standards of Excellence, you'll see a lot of similarities between the two. We're really excited that there's some energy about getting the CRC back on the policy agenda in the Obama Administration. There's a chance to raise awareness about what the convention does for children and about the United States' status as one of only two remaining countries not to have ratified the convention.

There is a special issue of Child Welfare journal coming up this fall on the CRC, which will really give people a chance to dig into this topic. Its going to look at educational protections, safety and family support protections, legal protections for kids, and juvenile justice issues. The special issue will have real analysis of what's in the CRC and some information about its implications for the United States and for our kids.

Is CWLA supporting any upcoming legislation?

Senator Al Franken has been working on a bill designed to put protections in place for children of illegal immigrants. The bill comes out of the experiences of our members and other public agencies that have been called in to provide services after immigration raids. In those raids, a couple of things typically happened: 1) the child welfare authorities were not notified until after the raid took place, 2) no one knew what was happening to the children of those who were detained, and 3) there were some minors detained with adults at the worksite who were too young to be working.

The processing of the illegal immigrant parents disregards the fact that they have children who need to be attended to. Parents don't have a formal way to reach out to their children, and children can end up in state custody without parents knowing. The Franken bill is a comprehensive way to begin to address these issues; it's one of the best things I've seen that addresses this issue in a way that's very kid-friendly. The legislation would allow parents to go to family court if there's a case involving their kids, to make a call within six hours to plan for their kids' care, and to apply for passports and visas for their children if parents are getting deported and want to bring their children with them.

Given all the debate about immigration right now, will this be the thing that can get done? Perhaps. If we can make services for kids related to immigration issues more humane, then we've made a step in the right direction.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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