For the second time in four days, on Tuesday, May 19, the White House was the center for a discussion on foster care. This event was framed around the Champions of Change program in which the White House recognized 12 young people who had been in foster care at some point in their lives. The format included two panel discussions as well as comments by Administration officials and celebrities who offered personal perspectives. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave the keynote address highlighting the significance and importance of education to children who are involved with foster care.
Comments by celebrities focused on their role or involvement with the child welfare system. Cleo King, actress, talked about her efforts along with her partner to adopt a child from foster care. Seattle Seahawks tight end, Jimmy Graham told his very personal experiences about being abandoned starting at the age of eight, first by his stepfather, and then by his mother on more than one occasion to the child welfare system. He discussed his feeling of rejection and abandonment and how he was able to survive. Roy L Austin, Jr. the Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice moderated the first panel made up of some of the champions. The first panel focused on education and the barriers to success, first at the high school level and then at the university level. A very small percentage of children in foster care graduate from college with some studies showing only 50 percent of foster youth graduating from high school by age 18 and only 20 percent of those graduates going on to college. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke about his personal story which includes his birth mother placing him up for adoption as an infant. He was adopted but his mother struggled with alcoholism. His comments were followed by a second panel moderated by Rafael Lopez, Senior Policy Adviser for the Office of Science and Technology Policy with a discussion on the possible uses of technology and social media to help youth in foster care. The closing comments were offered by Tina Tchen the Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President. Both emphasized there great concern and their high priority for addressing child welfare and children in foster care.
The Champions and honorees include:
Nicole Dobbins, Executive Director of Voice for Adoption;
David Ambroz, Executive Director of Corporate Citizenship & Social Responsibility for Disney|ABC Television Group;
Maria Burgos, college senior graduating later this month with a degree in Health and Human Biology;
Sixto Cancel, college student and a Young Adult Consultant with the Children’s Bureau, working in the Center for
Daryle Conquering Bear Crow (Oglala Lakota), Healthy Living Program Assistant at the Denver Indian Family
Chelsea Faver, Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps;
Mary Lee; National YVLifeSet Coordinator for Youth Villages;
Sokhom Mao; Juvenile Justice Commissioner for Alameda County and a Public Education Specialist for the
California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) at the University of California, Berkeley;
Lupe Ortiz-Tovar; manager consultant coordination, engagement, and communication efforts with JBS
Briana Osbourne, a Youth Peer Mentor at Visions Unlimited, Inc., Sacramento;
Eriq Swiftwater. member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation;
George White, Program Assistant at the National Foster Youth Institute as well as a Founding Member of Fostering