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Grassley Q&A: National Foster Care Month

National Foster Care Month LogoFrom Press Release

 

Q:  Why is the month of May designated to observe the nation’s foster care system?

A: It’s a good opportunity to highlight an important issue that affects 400,000 children in America.  Every year 255,000 kids enter the foster care system and the average stay lasts two years. For nearly three decades, we have observed National Foster Care month in May.  Coincidentally, May offers a rite of passage for school students across the country.  The countdown to summer even brings fond memories to most adults who recall the carefree days of childhood.  The innocence of youth seems all too fleeting, especially when the grown-up realities of raising a family, paying bills, putting food on the table and making ends meet can take up every hour of the day.  Unfortunately, for too many of America’s at-risk youth, the absence of a loving family and a permanent home takes away the innocence of childhood before they even grow out of it.  Instead of growing up in a nurturing, loving environment with parents who take pride in their achievements and comfort their sorrows, a disadvantaged population of neglected and abused children grows up with no permanent place to call home.  Too many boys and girls in America are living in transition, waiting either for family reunification or permanent adoption.  This vulnerable population is placed under guardianship of the state and many enter the foster care system.  Sometimes, the temporary foster care system ends up being where children grow up.  Every year, 23,000 young men and women age out of the foster care system.  That means for the rest of their lives, these foster youth have no permanent support system to help guide them into the next chapter of their adult lives.  Finding one’s way in the world comes a whole lot easier when moms and dads are there to fall back upon for support, encouragement and stability.  Improving opportunities to help neglected children and vulnerable adolescents secure a forever family, realize their dreams and achieve their fullest potential is a year-round priority for those who work with at-risk kids on a daily basis.  Restoring a worry-free, secure childhood for foster kids who live under a cloud of uncertainty is in society’s best interest.  Thousands of foster care families, respite providers, social workers, court representatives and volunteers work around-the-clock to keep these kids safe, in school, off the streets and out of the juvenile justice system.

 

Q: What are you doing at the federal level to improve foster care?

A: Whereas the states have the primary responsibility for child welfare services, Congress has for decades approved spending laws to help states serve abused and neglected children.  As with all federal spending, I work to make sure the money is spent as intended.  And I have long championed policies that promote adoption, such as the federal adoption tax credit and incentives for adopting children with special needs, and measures to prevent child exploitation.  As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I plan to use this influential platform during the 114th Congress to raise visibility on injustices that stack the deck against victims and at-risk youth in our society, including children assigned to the foster care system.  Enforcing accountability in the juvenile justice system, enacting stronger laws to prevent human trafficking and strengthening opportunities for children to thrive after they enter foster care are important ways that policymakers can reduce barriers that put disadvantaged kids at risk.  This month, I’m also introducing a bill to create the sale of a foster youth postal stamp.  For a few extra pennies per stamp, Americans can help make a big difference to find permanent, loving homes for foster kids.  The extra funds raised through the sale of these stamps would finance federal grants to promote and increase adoptions.  As a society, we can do more to help mend broken hearts and find homes for children in the foster care system.  The good news is that so many good people in our communities open up their hearts and homes to serve as foster or adoptive families.

 

Q: What is the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth?

A: As a founder of the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth in 2009, I co-chair this 19-member bipartisan group to give voice to the challenges facing foster kids.  My co-chair is Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.  We work to identify approaches that will ensure foster families are qualified and that foster homes serve as a safe harbor for children awaiting adoption or family reunification.  We work with child welfare advocates, caseworkers, court officials and foster youth alumni to advance policies that make it easier for foster youth to complete their education, achieve financial security, find employment, curb homelessness, stay away from risky, illicit lifestyles, such as gangs and substance abuse, and grow up to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.  Most importantly, the caucus serves as a forum for those in the foster care system – the real experts – to share their stories and their suggestions for reform.

 

Q: What issues will the caucus focus on this month?

A: Our bipartisan caucus is holding a policy discussion in the U.S. Capitol during National Foster Care Month to examine kinship care and how we can support relatives who serve as foster care providers.  Arguably, grandparents and relatives who serve as foster care families can help keep siblings together, preserve family ties and sustain a family’s cultural heritage.  The caucus also will host a discussion on the homelessness of youth and the housing challenges they face, especially as thousands of foster youth age out of the system, many times at age 18.  Finally, the caucus will host forums on the mental health needs of foster youth, including the need to better train caseworkers and foster families about the trauma that many foster youth face on a daily basis.  During this month and throughout the year, let’s celebrate the foster care families and adoptive parents who answer the call to provide a safe, nurturing home for neglected and abused children.  Through no fault of their own, foster kids face a steeper climb up America’s ladder of opportunity.  Society can step up to make sure these kids get a strong foothold toward a bright future.