On Tuesday, July 28 Capitol Hill participants heard from a number of young people as they presented their ideas on how to reform child welfare. The event was a presentation by a dozen Capitol Hill interns who were sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). The interns work the summer months in various Capitol Hill offices learning about Washington DC and politics. All participants have been in foster care. Annually the internship program culminates in a presentation on how Washington can make reforms to current child welfare policy and law based on the recommendations of the interns who wrap their own experiences in their policy recommendations. All 12 interns presented their recommendation ranging from the need for greater mental health services to substance-abuse to better support for education. During the course of the hour and a half event the audience also heard from several members of Congress including: Senator Ron Widen (D-OR), Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ). Each intern presented their own life story on how they came into foster care and the reasons why and then offered recommendations on a policy area they’ve studied over the last month and a half. A major part of the discussion focused on needed mental health services and supports both for parents and young people. There was also a call of more and better data collection in several areas. Topics also focused on specific populations including youth, African American males and young people vulnerable to suicide. The specific recommendation topics were:
- Mental health services for parents,
- Collecting relevant data to address adoption disruption and dissolution,
- Increasing positive outcomes for African-American males in the foster care system,
- Address the overuse of psychotropic medication,
- Trauma informed training and peer to peer support for youth, to address youth suicide
- Family group homes: A chance at normalcy for hard to place teens,
- Redefining homelessness to improve outcomes for aged out foster youth,
- Addressing the need for education and vocational specialists for youth,
- Need to improve reporting of sexual abuse in foster care,
- Improving access to extracurricular activities,
- Improving educational outcomes for foster youth, and
- Creating consistency among states in mental health services for foster children.
The CCAI supports the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and has had this internship program since 2003. It is part of a number of internship programs that bring young people from foster care to Capitol Hill annually.