On Wednesday, July 22 the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) held the modified 2020 Foster Youth Internship Program congressional briefing webinar. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the twelve current and former foster youth interns (FYI 2020 cohort) spent their summer participating in a virtual internship where they provided policy solution to address four areas (1) aging out and well-being, (2) safety and stability, (3) child welfare workforce, or (4) permanency.

With the goal of exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the foster care system, one theme stood out during the congressional briefing, additional resources and flexibility is needed from the federal government for youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

Tashia empathized with college students with foster care experience.  She shared how when the dorms closed foster youth students became homeless and how, when she was an undergrad, she depended on school for housing and stability.

Many of the FYI participants discussed technology challenges during the pandemic for foster youth, families, and caseworkers. Alan discussed how his trauma from foster care carried over through his adoption and that therapy was beneficial for himself and his family. He worried that not every foster and adoptive family had access to therapy during this pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders meant that20 percent of homes do not have technology like a camera-enhanced laptop. He stated, “internet is not a luxury item it is essential.”

Junely entered the foster care system with her 1 month old son at fifteen years of age and experienced isolation and unsupportive foster homes as a teen parent. She stated that pregnant and parenting youth (PPY) struggle with challenges and needed the support of meeting the basic needs for their child(ren). Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act) was significant for PPY but more is needed to be done. Autumn also shared how the Family First Act has also created a multitude of new challenges for kinship navigator programs (KNPs) including not serving informal caregivers.

Recommendations included:

  1. Amend Title VII of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to award formula grants to states to address housing, mental health, social and academic support needs of foster and homeless youth working towards a postsecondary degree.
  2. Authorize Chafee or Title IV-B to allocate funds for basic needs of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should issue guidance to states on how they can meet the needs of expectant and parenting youth in foster care.
  3. Expand the American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs) program, authorized under the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, to provide TCCUs funding to establish a program for Tribal students who have experienced foster care, so they can succeed in higher education and connect with their Tribal communities.
  4. Authorize a new grant program under the Higher Education Act (HEA) to provide all foster children with computers, wi-fi access, internet hotspots, online tutors, and the other necessary technology supports to ensure them equitable virtual learning opportunities.
  5. Establish the Hope Fund, authorized under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, a new federal program that would mandate all states with extended foster care to create and contribute to a trust fund for every eligible young adult in foster care ages 18-21 through a federal-state partnership.
  6. The Children’s Bureau should create a pilot program to test different types of evidence based standards that may be more appropriate to evaluate the effectiveness of kinship navigator programs (KNPs).
  7. Allow Title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable youth and families involved in the child welfare system.
  8. Amend Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to make it clear that states can use federally-allocated funding under Kinship Navigator Programs to purchase critical goods and supplies to help caregivers meet basic needs and maintain family stability during the COVID-19 pandemic and other times of crisis.
  9. Provide an enhanced 75% funding match under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to encourage states to provide foster and adoptive families with wireless internet access, cell phones, laptops, and the other technologies they need to access mental health services and other important child welfare services remotely.
  10. The Children’s Bureau should disseminate guidance to state child welfare agencies prioritizing training during the COVID-19 pandemic and Congress should direct federal child welfare funding to training efforts that support the child welfare workforce.
  11. Provide funding through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to help state child welfare systems prepare disaster preparedness plans, plan for future disaster situations like COVID-19, and ensure the safety of children and youth under all circumstances.
  12. Increase funding to Title IV-B and direct some of that funding to support the purchase of technology, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, and internet access for children and families in the child welfare system.

Former Senator Mary Landrieu praised the FYI’s policy report as being thoughtful, specific, and having the research to back it up. She shared that each FYI has the opportunity to participated next summer for a “normal” FYI experience. The FYI 2020 cohort published policy report, Seeing Beyond The COVID-19 Pandemic: Creating Change for Vulnerable Children and Families, can be accessed here.