Spotlight Exclusives

Reducing Barriers Youth Face in Foster Care

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When children enter foster care, it is literally a life-changing experience. Almost immediately, foster children face a dizzying array of changes in their lives that are anything but familiar. Once separated from their parents sometimes without even being able to take any personal belongings they are taken to stay in homes they may have never visited, to live with families they may have never met, and to attend schools they may have never seen. Their lives have been turned upside down, and they are forced to start over. They have to begin again to make new friends and make new efforts to participate in activities they once freely enjoyed.
In 2011, this experience occurred to over 250,000 boys and girls. But changefor these children doesn۪t end with moving to a new home. Even afterward, many foster youth face further difficulties and barriers to participating in everyday activities like spending time with friends, playing sports, finding a summer job, or even getting a driver۪s license. These limitations can impact their future, making them more likely to face poverty and other challenges as adults. The fact that youth in foster care face such difficulties is troublesome. Even more troublesome, however, is that these problems are often caused by government rules and regulations. We must do everything we can to change that.
In May, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, which I chair, held a hearing to examine why youth in foster care face barriers to participating in everyday activities that are central to their well-being. We learned about one foster youth from Washington state who couldn۪t go on vacations with his foster family because federal rules didn۪t allow him to travel; another couldn۪t play in the high school marching band. A former foster youth spoke about how her foster parent had to break the rules to allow her to play volleyball and travel with her team, which she now recognizes as one of the most important experiences of her life. Another youth living in a group foster home was initially blocked from getting a job he needed to save up for his 18th birthday, when he would “age out” of foster care and be sent out on his own. The child welfare system can۪t do this to kids and still expect that they will reach their full potential. While we clearly need laws to make sure children are safe, these examples highlight how in some cases we have gone too far and are hurting their prospects for a normal life.
Luckily, the tide seems to be turning. In recent years, Congress has enacted several reforms to improve the lives of our nation۪s youth. The bipartisan Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 sought to reduce the number of children in foster care through increased adoption, as well as ensure states keep foster youth in the same school whenever possible. The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, enacted in 2011, reinforced the importance of school stability and allowed states to test better ways of serving children at risk of abuse and neglect. And the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, signed into law earlier this year, allows child welfare workers access to educational records of foster youth so children who must change schools are less likely to fall behind.
Some states also took action to help children in foster care experience the same opportunities as other youth. In 2003, California amended its laws and regulations to eliminate unnecessary restrictions on the activities of youth in foster care and provided foster parents with more discretion to make responsible decisions. Earlier this year, Florida enacted similar laws to reduce rules that were unnecessarily limiting the activities of children in foster care.
To ensure more states take action, every member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources joined me in signing a letter to state child welfare administrators asking them to increase efforts to improve the lives of children in foster care, as well as tell us what federal barriers may keep these children from leading normal and happy lives. I look forward to working with them to ensure these children have every opportunity to succeed.
Children in foster care need our support to ensure that they grow up and become successful adults. The abuse and neglect many have suffered as children contributes to the likelihood they will face poverty or other difficulties as adults. We need to make sure that our efforts to keep them safe don۪t prevent them from gaining the skills and experience they will need to lead healthy, productive lives after leaving foster care. Our Subcommittee will keep working in Congress and with the states to ensure children in foster care have every opportunity to succeed so they can go on to lead happy, successful lives.
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U.S. Representative Dave Reichert represents Washington state۪s eighth congressional district and is the Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

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