Q: What should Iowans know about foster care?
A: Some of the most vulnerable children in our communities have no permanent place to call home. Across the United States, about 400,000 children and youth currently are in the foster care system. Every day, 691 new children enter the "system" due to abuse or neglect. That means nearly 5,000 children each week find themselves entering foster care, a transitional place to live for kids who have nowhere else to go. More than 79,000 children will stay in foster care for more than three years. Of those, more than 23,400 will "age out" of foster care without ever finding an adoptive family or a permanent place to call home. A closer look at these young adults reveals some troubling numbers: only one-quarter has earned a high school diploma or GED, less than two percent finish college, more than 50 percent experiences homelessness, and nearly 30 percent has spent time behind bars. At the policymaking tables in the U.S. Senate, I'm working to help make this transition less uncertain for young adults who age out of the system. Leaving home for the first time brings anxiety to kids raised in the same household their entire lives. Imagine starting out in the adult world with no permanent home base of emotional or financial support.
May is National Foster Care Month. Society owes a debt of gratitude to the brigade of caregivers, foster families, teachers, social workers, employers, family members, friends and neighbors who are caring for this vulnerable population and helping foster kids feel welcome and loved. Every child deserves the stability and certainty that a loving, permanent home and family can provide. Thanks to the support of these ordinary citizens in our hometown communities, they are making an extraordinary difference in the lives of foster kids.
Q: What is the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth?
A: My advocacy for foster youth started nearly two decades ago with passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Since then, I have worked with a grassroots coalition of families, foster youth, child welfare advocates, court representatives and social workers to identify barriers that block foster kids from finding a permanent, loving home either through adoption, guardianship or reunification with their birth family. My work in the U.S. Senate has included securing adoption incentives through the federal tax code, improving services for troubled families, focusing on educational stability for those who move from home to home, keeping siblings together when they enter the state's care, and helping older youth to know what educational assistance is available to them to pursue their dream of a college education. Promoting adoption and permanency in the lives of foster kids helps them reach their fullest potential and become productive citizens in society. At the urging of current and former foster kids, in 2009, I helped launch the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth as a call to action for lawmakers in Congress. The caucus serves as a clearinghouse for research on child welfare issues, bringing people together to identify and solve problems facing foster youth. I'm glad to report the caucus is gaining strong support from across party lines and regional areas of the country. We will continue working to keep the national spotlight on the challenges confronting foster youth.
Q: How can Iowans who want to help get involved?
A: Iowans can make a positive impact for foster youth in their communities by being a mentor, guardian or foster parent. Volunteers help to build bonds with foster kids. They may serve as a trusted resource and a listening ear. They can help guide youth through bureaucracies, including the courts and education systems. Iowans may contact an organization known as CASA supported by the U.S. Justice Department since 1985. CASA the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children is a community-based network of 77,000 volunteers. CASA recruits, trains and supports citizen-volunteers. After receiving comprehensive training, volunteers are assigned to a child in their community who has been a victim of abuse or neglect. From there on out, CASA volunteer will look out for the rights and needs of that child in courtrooms and foster care settings in their communities. CASA volunteers can make a lifelong impact on vulnerable kids looking for certainty and stability. Iowans may make a donation to help keep this vital support system in place or register to volunteer. Go to www.casaforchildren.org to learn more. Volunteers may find a CASA program in their area with a zip code search on the website. Also, in Iowa, a youth-driven organization known as AMP Achieving Maximum Potential is made of up of members age 13 and older who've been involved in foster care, adoption or other out-of-home placements. At www.ampiowa.org, it's a program of The Partnership of Iowa Foster Care Youth Councils.