On July 16, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) hosted the 2019 Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program Congressional Briefing. This was CCAI’s 17th annual hearing consisting of policy recommendations from each presenter of the 2019 FYI Cohort including Anthony Abshire, Joshua Christian, Liliana Cory, Ria Esteves, David Samuel Hall, Sheree Hickman, Mackenzie McGeehan, Alexander Oleson, Lino Peña-Martinez, Christopher Scott, Alexandra Talsky, and Anna Zhang. Every year, each Foster Youth Intern participates in a Congressional internship and additionally crafts a policy report with recommendations to be presented at a hearing and to the White House Domestic Policy Council. The 2019 policy report: Boundless Futures, Building a Youth-Focused Child Welfare System, can be found here.

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL) spoke. Each presenter spoke regarding their lived experience and the reason why their policy recommendations were important to them or the child welfare system. Anna discussed her four years in foster care and ten placements, and how much this damaged her relationship with her biological family. Anthony echoed the sentiment of continually moving, speaking about his 18 years in the system and over 45 placements. Placement change was common among the FYI’s, and Anthony explained he originally blamed his caseworkers for this. However, he continued that he has since realized that his caseworkers were overwhelmed since “the child welfare system places unrealistic expectations” on workers.

Lack of resources in the child welfare system was a theme among the FYI’s and was reemphasized through the lens of mental health by Ria, who shared that while her foster care experience was short, it still had negative impacts on her mental health. Although she was adopted into a wonderful family, Ria explains that healing from her previous traumas was difficult after adoption. For example, “counseling was prohibitively expensive for my family and me,” and public resources proved to be insufficient for mental health issues. Moreover, the lack of resources for foster care and kinship care placements was often raised. Liliana shared that while she was forever grateful to her Aunt for being her kinship care placement, her aunt did not have enough funding to cover everything. Therefore, Liliana focused one of her policy recommendations on a child-only SNAP benefit. Alexander also stated that his adoptive mom, while always emotionally supportive, could not always financially support him. He recommended making the adoption tax credit fully refundable.

In addition to a lack of concrete resources such as caseworkers, counseling, or disability assistance, lack of data was often brought up by the FYI’s. Alexandrea spoke of her outstanding achievement of graduating from college, which had always been a dream of hers. However, she knows that she is an anomaly among foster youth. Thus, she decided to formulate her policy recommendations around tracking college success for foster youth but found little to no national data about this topic. Lino also spoke about a lack of data for multisystem youth, claiming that absolutely no national data exists about multisystem youth, also known as crossover youth. Having interacted with both the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system, he focused his policy recommendations on crossover prevention services but found the lack of data to be a significant barrier.

Highlights from the reports are as follows:

• Recognizes the gap of data regarding foster youth’s college completion and requests Congress to conduct more data collection to monitor foster youth’s college success (page 47).
• Recommends better matching strategies for foster care youth and prospective foster families (page 51).
• Recommends expanding Chafee eligibility to all foster care youth, regardless of age, and expanding ETV eligibility to youth from age 14 to 18 adopted from foster care (page 43).
• Recognizes the prevalence of and requests a report on multisystem youth from the General Accountability Office (page 38).
• Recommends increasing financial security for foster youth aging out of care through allowing ETV-eligible youth in education-based IDA programs to save up to $1000 of their vouchers (page 27).
• Requests that all children in foster care with a disability be given an Individualized Care Plan and create an HHS national clearinghouse of best practices to care for children with disabilities (page 23).
• Recommends creating a child-only category under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (page 15).

FYI’s participates in a congressional office summer internship and the 2019 cohort included Representatives Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), James Langevin (D-RI), Richard Neal (D-MA), and Adam Smith (D-WA), and Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar(D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). To access the 2019 FYI Report, click here.