National Forum Highlights Recommendations To Overhaul U.S. Foster Care System

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The need to reform our nation's foster care system was illustrated today at a Capitol Hill event featuring those most affected by the child welfare system.  Titled “Protecting Children, Promoting Permanent Families,” and co-sponsored by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), the forum featured adoptive parents, former foster youth, a birth parent, and a relative caregiver. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Representative James L. Oberstar (D-MN), President of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, both spoke at the event. Members of the national, nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care discussed their recommendations for reform of federal child welfare financing and court oversight of foster care.

“It's important that we make sure the federal adoption assistance and adoption incentive programs work as well as they possibly can in order to find permanent homes for children. The stories we've heard today show how a little love and a permanent home can provide foster children with the promise and stability they need for a successful home,” said Senator Grassley at this event.

“Now is the time for foster care reform,” stated Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Pew Commission member Maura Corrigan. “Working together, states and the federal government can ensure that children move safely and quickly from foster care into permanent, loving families, and that these families have access to the supports and services they need.”

By sharing their personal experiences with the child welfare system, the panelists demonstrated the importance of permanent families for children, the critical role supports play in keeping families together, and the need to help children once they return home, are adopted, or are placed with a permanent legal guardian. They also demonstrated the critical role that courts and child welfare agencies play in the lives of foster children. Participants included:

  • Sean Kearney, an adoptive parent struggling to meet the special medical needs of his children. In the current child welfare system, he says, “the focus does not seem to be on the welfare of the child.”     
  • Jessica Delgado, now 26, aged out of foster care without finding a family. “The scary part was when I turned 18,” she recalls. “I had nowhere to go.”    
  • Melissa Smith, a birth mother who successfully battled addiction while keeping her family together. “None of it was (my son's fault). To be able to heal with him while I was healing – that was just a beautiful thing,” she explains.    
  • Sonya Merrill, an adoptive mother of three daughters with special needs. Without years of therapy and services provided by adoption subsidies and post-adoption programs, Sonya knows her daughters would not be where they are today.
    Helen Clay, a foster and adoptive mother providing permanence for her grandson. Although she has been encouraged to adopt him, Helen feels this would be confusing for her young grandson: “He has enough problems without his aunts and his mother becoming his sisters.”    
  • Mary Lee, now a law student, was adopted from foster care at 17. It wasn't until age 16 that a judge finally asked her what she wanted in life. “I want what everyone wants – I want a family of my own,” she replied.

“The stories we've heard today demonstrate the critical need for reform of our foster care system in several areas,” stated Representative Oberstar.  “Children need our help finding safe, permanent families, and families need our support to ensure that they can stay together.”

The forum highlighted the need for foster care reform as outlined by the recommendations of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care. The national, nonpartisan Commission, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and composed of leading experts in child welfare, legislators, administrators, advocates, academics, and foster and adoptive parents, undertook the first-ever comprehensive assessment of two key aspects of foster care: reform of federal child welfare financing and court oversight of foster care.

The recently passed Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 ushers into law several of the Pew Commission's court recommendations. It requires that states demonstrate “substantial, ongoing and meaningful” collaboration between courts and child welfare agencies, and provides $100 million over five years for two new grant programs designed to strengthen court performance and provide opportunities for training.

“The Pew Commission applauds Congressional action designed to improve court oversight of foster care, and is grateful to the members responsible for this progress, especially the leadership provided by Senator Grassley (R-IA) and Representatives Wally Herger (R-CA) and Bill Thomas (R-CA),” said Pew Commission Chairman and former Congressman Bill Frenzel (R-MN). Frenzel noted that both Republicans and Democrats have previously introduced legislation to enact the Commission's court recommendations, including Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Looking ahead, Pew Commission Vice Chairman and former Congressman William H. Gray (D-PA) said, “More remains to be done, especially with respect to foster care financing reform. Our Commission's financing recommendations would give states a flexible and reliable source of federal funding, new incentives, and strengthen accountability for outcomes for children in care. The stories we've heard today demonstrate why this reform is needed now.”

About The North American Council on Adoptable Children

Since its founding in 1974 by adoptive parents, the North American Council on Adoptable Children has been dedicated to the mission that every child deserves a permanent family. Through education, support, capacity building, and advocacy, NACAC promotes and supports permanence for children and youth in foster care in the U.S. and Canada. Visit www.nacac.org for more information.

About The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the tens of thousands of orphans and foster children in the United States and the millions of orphans around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes through adoption; and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCA) was created in 1985 as a bicameral, bipartisan caucus of members of Congress dedicated to improving adoption policy and practice, and to focusing public attention on the advantages of adoption. In 2001, the CCA's active co-chairs created the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute to more effectively raise Congressional and public awareness about the issue of adoption. Senator Larry Craig, Senator Mary Landrieu, Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite and Congressman Jim Oberstar currently serve as both the co-chairs of the CCA and the Congressional directors of the CCAI. Visit www.ccainstitute.org for more information.