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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington DC

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak about a bill that I have the pleasure of helping to lead with several of my colleagues, particularly Senator Grassley, who has been my long-standing partner and a wonderful cochair of the foster care caucus. There are any number of us, Republicans and Democrats, who have our eyes on and our hearts connected to the 500,000 children who are technically being raised by the government.

The government does many things well, but raising children isn't one of them. So it is our responsibility, when we enter into or respond to a case of abuse, gross abuse, neglect, or gross neglect, that we respond appropriately by removing children from homes who have, unfortunately, been tortured at times by their own parents. That, of course, is inconceivable to me and to many, but, unfortunately, it happens.

So we remove children--hopefully temporarily--until the situation at home can be addressed with community services, faith-based services and support, where the children can be reunited with parents who have been healed, possibly, of their situation. That is not always the case, and we work as quickly as we can to find responsible and able relatives to take in the child--willing and able relatives, the law says, to take in the child with sibling groups intact. If that is not possible, then we seek to find a family in the community that will adopt these children.

The thing I want to say about these wonderful children is that while their families may be broken--families may disintegrate for all sorts of reasons, including mental health, drug abuse, uncontrollable violence, criminal activity that disintegrates the family, and children are most certainly affected--these children, in many instances, aren't broken. Their families are broken. The possibility of these children, from the ages of zero to 1 or 2 or 3 or 9 or 12 or 15, being given an opportunity to be adopted into the loving arms of a stable family who will raise that child or children as their own or to be reunified with loving family members is ideal.

As I said, governments do many things well, but raising children isn't one of them. Human beings raise other human beings, and we need to do a better job of placing our children in quality, temporary foster homes, and then finding permanent, loving homes.

We have this crazy notion in America and around the world that children are grown when they are 18, so we put all of their belongings in a plastic bag and we say goodbye to them, and we tell them: Please forget my cell phone number because you have aged out of the system.

Several of us have been working for years, including former Senator Chafee, for one, to create more permanent opportunities for extended, independent living. While I support that--it is much better than putting their things in a bag, their few little items after 18 years, and sending them on their way--we now can extend that help until they are 21. However, what we really need to be doing is finding families for these children.

I am 57 and I still need my family. I still talk to my mother and father almost every day. I was with my family this weekend. They will be with me and have been with me for every important moment of my life. When did somebody get a notion that children don't need a family after they are 18? It is a silly notion, and it is not even true. We would not send our own children into the world alone by themselves. So our whole foster system needs great reform, and we are working on that.

But one piece of this system that needs reform is what we are trying to address today by introducing the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which is a bill that Senator Grassley and many others, including Senator Begich, Senator Blunt, Senator Boxer, Senator Franken, and Senator Klobuchar have graciously agreed to cosponsor and provide their leadership. Congresswoman Bass is a U.S. Representative from California's 33rd District. She, along with Congresswoman Bachmann from Minnesota, Congressman Marino from Pennsylvania, and Congressman McDermott from Washington State, has introduced the same bipartisan bill in the House. So we are very excited about the strong bipartisan support for this bill.

All this bill says--and it makes such sense I can't believe it is not in the law already--is that when a child comes into the care of the government, the government agency responsible for the care of this child--now it is not parents any longer because the parents' rights either have been terminated or are in the process of being terminated--the government will have the right, or the agencies representing the government, to their academic records.

What is happening now is foster children are getting lost not only in the system but lost in their schools because of the difficulty in getting access to education records under the guise that these records should be private, et cetera.

What is happening is some of these privacy rules are not protecting the children, they are protecting the system that is broken, and that is the problem. We are doing everything we can to protect the privacy of the child, but what is happening is some of these privacy rules are putting up a screen so that we can't find out that the school is not doing its job on behalf of the child, or the social workers are not doing their job on behalf of the child.

So this simply streamlines the process of making sure academic records can be accessed by foster families--either adoptive families or guardians--without having to go through the courts for a long, extended timeframe.

I think this is an important change. It is one of probably 100 changes to this system that need to be made. Of course, we can make these new laws in Washington. A lot of this has to be carried out with heart and compassion and common sense, which, unfortunately, we cannot legislate from Washington. But what we can do is try, when we see a problem--this problem was identified not by me or by my staff. It was actually identified by foster youth who came up here this summer to intern and brought to our attention the issue that some of their records are not accessible to their foster families who are trying their best to raise them and to help them, et cetera. So the young people themselves have asked for this change. We are happy to accommodate that request.

Let me end by saying again, there are over 480,000--about 400,000 to 500,000--children who are in our foster care system representing less than one-half of 1 percent of all the children in America, which is about 100 million. But it is an important one-half of 1 percent because these are children whose families have failed them terribly. These are children who are vulnerable and need us to love them extra specially, to help them extra specially. That is what some of us spend a good bit of our time trying to do because they are willing and able to become great citizens of our Nation but need that extra special help.

So this Uninterrupted Scholars Act will give access, appropriately with protections, to their academic records. Senator Franken has a bill to give them choice in public schools to help give them stability in their public schools, so they can stay with their friends, their teachers, as they, unfortunately, have to move around in the system.

Many people will benefit--most importantly, the youth involved.


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