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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Leadership Reflections

Celebrating Fostering Connections While Envisioning More for Youth

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-WA

Two years ago, Congress enacted sweeping legislation that made major improvements to the nation’s child welfare system. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act allows states to provide financial support to grandparents and other relatives who care for children in foster care, and it makes states much more accountable in meeting the health and education needs of children under their supervision. The new law also supports states in extending foster care to age 21, giving older youth critical resources to make a successful transition into adulthood.

Fostering Connections is a major accomplishment, and as the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees child welfare programs, I am proud to have guided it to passage. Additional reforms to the child welfare system are still needed, and I am eager to work with my colleagues on Capitol Hill to move such legislation forward. However, I fear that providing the necessary resources to child welfare and safety-net programs is now in serious jeopardy due to a slow economic recovery and high unemployment. The need for government aid remains high; cuts in services will harm at-risk children and families, particularly youth aging out of foster care.

One example of the need for additional funding was recently highlighted in a New York Times article reporting the dramatic decline in public housing units across the country as housing agencies shutter units due to lack of funds. This lack of affordable housing affects a substantial number of youth who age out of foster care. Additionally, calls to repeal the new Affordable Care Act threaten the health and welfare of older youth who, under the new law, could get additional help paying for doctor visits, medical exams and prescription medication. With the stakes this high, we cannot afford to move backward on funding levels.

Reductions in spending on social service programs not only move the county in the wrong direction, they undermine the spirit of the Fostering Connections legislation, which was designed to extend sorely needed government-funded services to older youth transitioning into adulthood. It is not, nor was it intended to be, the silver bullet that solves all problems facing children in the child welfare system, but it is a significant step forward in addressing shortcomings within the foster care system.

We must maintain and continue to improve upon our country’s safety-net programs to respond to the needs of youth and families struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, we must continue to assist the children and families who come to the attention of the child welfare system.

CASA volunteers play a vital role in helping our most vulnerable children achieve the best outcomes possible. They are charged with advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children in the legal and social service systems to ensure they get everything they need and deserve. I am proud that the movement which began in Seattle in 1977 has now grown to include more than 70,000 volunteers nationwide who helped 237,000 children last year. Their service will be critical in the future as we work towards strengthening the foster care system.

As I reflect on what was accomplished in the Fostering Connections legislation, I cannot help but think of the unnecessary barriers our older youth continue to face as they try to make it on their own in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. Fostering Connections’ additional services provide a crucial extra measure of support to these youth, but it is still not enough.

It is time for all of my colleagues in Congress to commit to supporting the health and welfare of our most vulnerable youth—those who do not have the benefits of a traditional family network upon which to rely. The federal government must do more to ensure that children in foster care are not only supported and nurtured while in care but are given the necessary tools to achieve their true potential as they transition into adulthood.

I will continue to work to strengthen the child welfare system by not only preserving the progress we’ve made, but by expanding the critical services needed by America’s most vulnerable children and families. Our children deserve nothing less.

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Anonymous @ 2/21/2011 12:48:45 PM 
I hope that our government realizes the lost potential of these kids who age out of the system, with no means of support, and lacking and education beyond high school, if they have that. Girls often become pregnant so they can have some means of support. Boys often go from one petty job to another, living with friends or on the street. We need to help them get at least a two-year degree in something that will provide a living for them. It would save us money in the long run. Wanda L. Ford, CASA
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