Today, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held its first-ever "Shadow Day on Capitol Hill" where Members of Congress hosted current and emancipated foster youth from across the nation in Washington in an effort to help them understand the inner workings of the House of Representatives, learn about the legislative initiatives related to foster care, and share their stories with policy makers. In addition, the Caucus Co-Chairs U.S. Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) introduced the A+ PLUS Act, which focuses on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of youth in foster care.
The inaugural "Shadow Day on Capitol Hill" received an overwhelming response from Members of Congress that presented an occasion for 40 youth to participate in various meetings and briefings with Congressional Members, testify and share personal experiences during the Caucus' Foster Youth Town Hall on Capitol Hill, and attend a press conference to announce the A+ PLUS Act.
Introduced today, the A+ PLUS Act seeks to provide relief for children and youth in foster care who are often the most at risk and overlooked of all student populations. Currently, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), unintentionally hinders the educational success of students in foster care by creating a barrier between school records and the temporary guardians of the youth -- the child welfare agencies. Without access to a student's records, child welfare agencies and social workers are limited in their ability to ensure that the youth are enrolled in school in a timely fashion or advocate for the youth's educational success. The A+ PLUS Act will rectify this situation by granting child welfare agencies direct access to school records for youth in care.
"As a foster mom of 23, it was my honor to spend time with foster youth dedicated to finding positive solutions in the foster care system. Members of Congress today met tremendous young people who have experienced unthinkable challenges in their lives but their positive outlooks are inspiring," said Bachmann. "I hope that the foster youth enjoyed their time on Capitol Hill, but the benefit to Members of Congress hearing firsthand about the foster care system is invaluable."
"The inaugural "Shadow Day on Capitol Hill' was a great success and concluded with positive outcomes that will assist Congress in strengthening the child welfare system in a bipartisan fashion," said Bass. "Today, not only were the shadowing youth able to broaden their experiences by visiting the Hill and interacting one-on-one with Members of Congress, but the Members also had a rewarding opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges youth face and provide direction on how can come together as one Congressional body to have a favorable effect on the child welfare system."
"It is truly exciting to be able to bring foster youth from throughout the nation to Capitol Hill today," said Marino. "By working together through the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth we have been able to pinpoint specific reforms that will help provide greater opportunity to these young people. The A+ PLUS Act, which we will introduce today, is a great example. It makes a simple change to a provision in current law that has unintentionally hindered the educational success of foster youth. It has been a pleasure to work with Karen Bass, Jim McDermott and Michele Bachmann to highlight the challenges that foster youth face and I look forward to working with them for years to come."
"Only 3 percent of foster youth graduate from a 4-year college, and if we invest just a little bit in these great young people, we can make a huge difference in their lives -- they're full of potential but even with the 2008 improvements, not getting enough of the comprehensive help they need. When we help them, it helps the country," said McDermott.
Founded in 2011, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth was created by co-chairs Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to protect and promote the welfare of all children in foster care and those who have "aged out" of the system. The Caucus will provide a forum for Members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations to strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families.