On Monday, December 8 the White House held a special event to highlight some of the recent Administration efforts in regard to youth in foster care. CWLA attended the event that was wrapped around a premier viewing of the movie Annie. The event included remarks by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Joo Yeung Chang, Associate Commissioner for the Children’s Bureau.
In addition to the cast of Annie, the event included several dozen young people who either were in or are currently in foster care. Each speaker talked to the issue of youth in foster care and the challenges they must overcome.
The Vice President talked movingly about the loss of his first wife in a car accident shortly after being elected to the United States Senate in 1972 and how it presented him with a challenge in his life that he felt he might not overcome. He used that experience to offer words of encouragement to the young people in attendance. He also asked for their help in reaching out to other young people in foster care and other difficult life circumstances. Secretary Vilsack also recounted his past experiences including being born in an orphanage and placed up for adoption. He talked about his relationship with his mother and the challenges she faced and how it affected him. In between the various government officials, the small group were also addressed by young people who had been in foster care at some point in their lives.
The speeches and comments were followed by remarks by Roy Austin, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity on the Domestic Policy Council who described a series of recent actions by the Administration to assist youth in foster care. That announcement came with the release of a White House Factsheet that includes further links to several items including a new letter from the Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education Departments, regarding the new categorical eligibility standards in the school lunch program that were included in the 2010 reauthorization. Other items in the list included financial training tools for caseworkers working with children and youth in foster care, an announcement of a joint effort by HHS, and the Departments of Justice and Interior to strengthen enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and new actions by the Labor Department regarding youth job training.
The White House worked with Sony Pictures Entertainment to bring the movie to Washington along with the cast that included Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis, Cameron Diaz, and Director Will Gluck. Administration officials indicated that they understood that the movie may paint a rosier picture than many youth in care experience and that the experience of foster children in America ranges more broadly than could ever be captured in the movies.