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Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.

The 112th Congress has been successful for child welfare and for those children, youth, and families it serves. In addition to passing the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovations Act (P.L. 112-34), a bill that included provisions to enhance and improve child welfare, child welfare celebrated another success: creation of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. In 2011, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Tom Marino (R-PA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) founded the bipartisan caucus. The co-chairs created the caucus to protect and promote the welfare of all children in out-of-home placement (foster care) and those that have transitioned from foster care to adulthood. The caucus provides a forum for congressional representatives to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop policy recommendations for improving child welfare outcomes. The co-chairs will focus their work in five key areas: safety; permanency; well-being; educational opportunities; and youth, family, and community engagement.

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In 2012, the caucus launched a National Listening and Learning Tour. Caucus members traveled to cities across the country to gain a better understanding of the current state of affairs in foster care. The first stop on the tour was Los Angeles. "I was honored to host Members from the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in Los Angeles for our inaugural Listening Tour," Representative Bass said. "Members of the Caucus not only gained direct knowledge about foster care in California, but they also furthered their understanding of policies that are still needed to produce a substantial impact on foster care nationwide."

Los Angeles site visits by the caucus included the Department of Children and Family Services, SHIELDS for Families, and the L.A. Children's Court. Caucus members also hosted a community town hall, where they learned about unique prevention and family unification techniques that have made a tremendous difference in safely reducing the number of children in the Los Angeles foster care system.

The second stop on the tour was Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) invited members of the caucus to Florida to learn first-hand how the state's system might provide ideas for potential positive federal policy modifications to improve outcomes for children in the system. In 2001, Florida redesigned its child welfare system to a community-based care model. This new system meant that foster care and other related services are provided by locally based private agencies. These agencies help promote a sense of increased community ownership of service delivery and design. This model was also designed to increase accountability, resource development, and system performance.

Saginaw, Michigan was the third stop on the caucus tour. Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and a member of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth hosted members for this event. In Saginaw, caucus members were joined by staff from Casey Family Programs and key administration officials to learn directly from local experts, foster youth, and parents. Attendees also learned about Michigan's efforts to obtain a Title IV-E child welfare funding waiver. Michigan's waiver will help the state improve access to early intervention and prevention services, better address the unique needs of rural and Indian child welfare, and increase higher education success through an innovative scholarship program.

At this stop, caucus Co-Chair Marino said, "having been a prosecutor for most of my legal career, I have seen the devastating effects an unstable family life can have on children during their formative years. It's so important that we take a lead in promoting an awareness of the foster care system throughout the country."

In addition to the nationwide listening and learning tour, the caucus held other opportunities to share knowledge and best practices in child welfare. In conjunction with National Foster Care Month (celebrated each May), the caucus hosted the inaugural Shadow Day on Capitol Hill. During Shadow Day 2012, members of Congress hosted current foster youth, and those that have been emancipated, for a day of learning on how the House of Representatives works, emerging legislative issues related to foster care, and an opportunity to share their personal experiences with caucus members. In July, the caucus hosted a briefing on the child welfare response to human trafficking.

The caucus will continue exploring legislative reform efforts in five designated areas: Safety; Permanency; Well-being; Educational Opportunities; and Youth, Family, and Community Engagement; the ultimate goal is reducing the number of children in care.

Christina Crayton is the senior child welfare policy associate at APHSA and staff liaison to the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators.
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Title Annotation:legislative update
Author:Crayton, Christina
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:754
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