by Emily Giedzinski
As an NCFA intern, I was lucky to attend Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Intern Briefing. There, fifteen young foster care alumni presented their suggested reforms based on their own experiences in the child welfare system. This program gives participants a ten week experience as Congressional Interns, an opportunity to report on their experiences, and recommend changes, and an opportunity to present those changes to Congress, the White House and other important experiences. Each intern had taken their own unique path to get to this point in their life, and was able to use those prior experiences to inform and educate Congress on what needs to be done to improve the lives of their peers still in care.
This year, the participants chose the theme Powerful Voices: Sharing Our Stories to Reform Child Welfare. Amongst the proposed reforms are “Addressing Barriers to Kinship Care”, “Exposing Adoption Subsidy Abuse”, and many other options for protecting the best interests of children. The reforms span a wide range of ways to improve the Child Welfare system for its vulnerable children on a variety of stages and situations that encompass foster care. Many focused on family, mental health, safety, and all were aimed towards increased chances for success for those children.
The briefing recommendations targeted specifics within the Child Welfare system, but the interns also mentioned general ways to aid those in foster care. Many had adamant opinions on the negative benefits of stereotypes when it comes to foster children, and how these titles can not only impede successful placement and academic success, but also foster a sense of self- fulfilling prophecy with negative consequences, create further barriers to attachment, and diminish already low self-esteem.
Many spoke about resiliency. They detailed the desire to overcome narrow predictions of their future, proving negative statistics wrong and displaying hope and dedication that carried them to exceptional outcomes despite hard backgrounds. Essentially all attested that resiliency is a quality that they possess and have drawn upon to get where they are.
These youth spoke for the many youth in foster care who, because of their hard experiences and inadequate supports did not have outcomes as positive as some in this program. Many youth face the hard outcomes of decreased education, increased homelessness, increased early pregnancy, and increased involvement with law enforcement. Perhaps with a little extra support, or the right structure and prevention, those youth could have improved outcomes and experiences. “We are not a representation of what ‘good foster youth’ looks like,” one of the interns stated, “We are a representation of what all foster youth could and should be.”