By: Andrea Poe
With the United States Capitol as a backdrop, Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, and freshman Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California, last Thursday held a joint press conference highlighting the Foster Care Mentoring Act, legislation they have co-authored that would provide funding for mentors specifically focused on foster care youth.
The bill proposes to connect children in foster care with responsible, caring adults by:
*Authorizing $15 million to establish statewide foster care mentoring programs. States would be eligible to receive up to $600,000 to establish or expand a foster care mentoring program.
*Providing $4 million to begin a national public awareness campaign and mentor recruitment program. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of the need for foster care mentors.
*Allowing loans up to $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for those who volunteer to mentor a child in care. Mentors who participate in a foster care mentor program would be eligible to receive up to $2,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for every 200 hours they serve for a total of $10,000.
While there are many mentoring programs around the country, very few are dedicated to working with youth in foster care. At the press conference, Senator Landrieu explained the duty of the government to take care of the children that it has removed from abusive and neglectful homes. "These children are our children," she said. "The government now has the primary responsibility for these children."
In addition to a legal and ethical imperative, there's a strong financial incentive for the government to invest in mentoring programs that can help foster youth grow into productive, tax-paying citizens. A 2007 study by economists at Wilder Research and the University of Minnesota found benefits of $2.72 returned on every dollar invested in a Minneapolis youth mentoring program.
"Foster care is a bipartisan issue. If we don't properly care for the children, you can raise the issues of whether we [the government] are guilty of abuse and neglect," Rep. Bass said.
There are approximately 450,000 children in foster care the United States. Studies report high school dropout rates among foster care youth as high as 55 percent. Fewer than 15 percent go on to college. Foster care alumni found that within four years after leaving foster care fewer than half had jobs; fewer than 1 in 5 were self supporting; nearly half of the population had been arrested; and a quarter had been homeless.
Former foster youth, who now work in Washington, were on hand at Thursday's press conference to emphasize the need for mentors.
Betty Krupa, today an assistant scheduler for Senator Landrieu, shared her personal story of life in foster care and urged passage of the bill.
Krupa described the critical role that a DARE® Officer made in her life when she took her on outings, spent time with her and guided her into adulthood while in the system. She related how her brother, who, like her, was sent to multiple foster care homes, did not have a mentor in his life. The lack of a responsible, caring adult in his life left him rudderless. When he aged out of the foster care system, he committed suicide.
The bill, which will be introduced by Rep. Bass on the House floor this summer, was introduced by Sen. Landrieu in the Senate last March.