In the 114th Congress, I am proud to be joining my colleagues as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. Foster youth are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and they belong to all of us. We have an obligation to treat them as we would our own children, ensuring the same opportunities and protections that all children should receive.
Securing a Bright Future for our Foster Youth
Children who enter the child welfare system after the age of 14 are much more likely to age out of foster care than be adopted, leaving too many without a legal family once they exit the custody of the state. These children, already at a disadvantage, end up with no support network to which they can turn in times of crisis. Last year, I sent a letter with 20 of my House and Senate colleagues to the President, asking him to expand funds for permanency planning for youth in foster care. Further, to help these children find their “forever family,” I intend to reintroduce the Permanent Families For All Children Act. By ending outdated eligibility requirements, this legislation would increase investments in child-focused recruitment and caseworker training, helping more youth in foster care find a permanent home.
Foster children can also be at a heightened risk for identity theft since their personal information passes through many hands, increasing the chances that someone could use their Social Security number for fraudulent purposes. Many young people leave foster care only to find their credit records already ruined, preventing them from finding housing, jobs or loans for school. For this reason, I am working to reintroduce the Foster Youth Financial Security Act, which would prepare foster youth who are transitioning to adulthood to properly manage their finances and protect their financial information while they are under the care of the state. This bill would empower foster children to make responsible financial decisions as adults by ensuring they receive a government issued identification card, information about housing and educational opportunities and financial literacy classes. Moreover, the bill would establish an individual development account for foster youth to provide initial funds for job-related expenses or housing when they leave state care.
A September 2013 Reuters investigation, “The Child Exchange,” brought to light an alarming trend of adopted children being “re-homed” into the custody of strangers without oversight. Given the broad lack of data concerning re-homing, I have commissioned a GAO study that will provide the government with accurate data to assess the full breadth and depth of this problem. In May of 2014, I also convened a roundtable discussion featuring child welfare and law enforcement professionals to ensure that all necessary parties are operating together on this vital issue.
To combat this practice and to provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to protect children, I reintroduced the Protecting Adopted Children Act. This bipartisan legislation would provide for pre- and post-adoptive counseling to ease the transition for children and families. It would help to fund specialized treatments for adopted children, including psychiatric residential services, outpatient mental health services, social skills training, intensive in-home supervision services, recreational therapy, suicide prevention and substance abuse treatment. Adoptive parents would have access to peer-to-peer mentoring and support groups in order to learn from experienced adoptive parents, and could access a 24-hour emergency hotline.
Foster Youth Shadow Days
Since its beginnings in 2012, I have hosted a Foster Youth from Rhode Island for Foster Youth Shadow Day on Capitol Hill. The young adults are able to spend the day accompanying me to committee hearings and constituent meetings, as well as getting to know my staff and see Congress firsthand. It is an honor and privilege to help these youth see the full world of possibilities available to them. Children in foster care deserve the same opportunities and protections as any other child, and I will continue to open my office to them.