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Landrieu Hears Policy Recommendations from Foster Youth Interning on Capitol Hill

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Landrieu Hears Policy Recommendations from Foster Youth Interning on Capitol Hill

Senator pledges to help improve health care system for foster youth and adopted children.

United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today participated in a congressional briefing presented by participants of the Congressional Coalition Adoptions Institute (CCAI) Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program. As Chair of the CCAI Advisory Board, Senator Landrieu heard the interns' firsthand accounts detailing the challenges facing American children in foster care. The group also offered legislators recommendations to improve health care, education, housing, adoption and mentoring policies for foster youth.

"CCAI interns have incredibly powerful personal stories that shed light on to the tremendous challenges foster youth face," Sen. Landrieu said. "They have each overcome immense adversity to demonstrate the great potential of foster youth in our nation. These interns have spent the summer in Washington learning how to use their experiences to bring about positive change to an inadequate foster care system. They are an inspiration to all of us."

The annual CCAI FYI Program provides college students who have spent their formative years in foster care an opportunity to intern in a Congressional office for a summer. The FYI program instructs these young adults on how to use their unique personal experiences to advocate for the needs of other waiting children.

Over the past two months, the 2009 Class of Foster Youth Interns have worked together to create a set of policy recommendations aimed at providing innovative solutions to the many injustices youth in care face daily. Their report, entitled Using Yesterday to Shape Tomorrow: Uniting 500,000 Foster Youth for One Mission, is designed to take federal policymakers through "a day in the life" of an American foster youth. Based on their cumulative experience, this report contains profiles that demonstrate both the daily and life-long struggles faced by the half a million children growing up in foster care in the United States.

As Congress discusses health care reform, CCAI interns stressed the importance of incorporating the needs of large numbers of uninsured former foster youth into the plan.

"These interns' well-designed recommendations provide Congress with a blueprint to make an immediate and lasting difference in the lives of the half a million children in foster care, particularly the 26,000 who age out without ever having their dream of a family fulfilled," Sen. Landrieu said. "This report gives us the opportunity to look at our laws through the eyes of young people who have lived under them. I look forward to working with my colleagues to incorporate this perspective into our efforts to reform our nation's health care, education and foster care systems."

The CCAI foster youth intern recommendations include:

• Add youth aging out of foster care as a group eligible for mandatory Medicaid coverage. Evidence shows that at least half of all youth who were in foster care until age 18 lacked health insurance when they were surveyed one year after leaving care. To address this coverage gap, Congress should provide youths who have aged out of the foster care system mandatory Medicaid coverage until they are 25 years old. In addition, the federal government should encourage states to add former foster youth to the list of persons who qualify for presumptive eligibility requirements.

• Amend federal law to allow states to grant foster parents the authority to enroll children in their care in age appropriate extracurricular, enrichment and social activities. Youth in foster care are often deprived of opportunities to engage in age appropriate after school and social activities such as girl and boy scouts, summer camps and sports because their foster parent cannot provide the state with proper assurances that everyone who comes into contact with the child has cleared an FBI background check. To address this, the State of California recently passed a law to enable caregivers to use the "prudent parent standard" in making decisions regarding youth's involvement in extracurricular and social activities. Laws such as this one allow foster youth to lead normal lives and are an important step in helping them develop self esteem, establish relationships and begin dreaming of a bright future.

• Authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to distribute grants to states for the purpose of developing and implementing evidenced based mental health programs for youth in care. A review of the two federally funded efforts reveals that there is very little, if any, focus on the specialized mental health needs of youth in foster care. To address this, Congress could authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to distribute grants to states for the purpose of developing and implementing evidenced based mental health programs for youth in care. Grants could be used for a wide variety of purposes, including but not limited to: providing support and training for mental health professionals on issues related to adoption and foster care; incentives for mental health professionals to accept former or current foster youth as patients; and the establishment of public private partnerships around the delivery of mental health services to youth in care.

• Strengthen and Improve the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) Program for Former Foster Youth. In 2002, Congress authorized $60 million in discretionary funding for eligible current and former foster youth to use for education and training. The vouchers, capped at $5,000 per year are available for the cost of a full-time or part-time attendance at an institution of higher education. The FYI Class of 2009 provided the following three ways that Congress might act to strengthen and improve this program: fully fund the program at $60 million; eliminate the yearly cap and raise the lifetime total from $20,000 to $40,000; and transfer jurisdiction over the program from HHS to Department of Education.

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