On Saturday, February 25, I attended Town Hall meeting that was conducted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Care, in Los Angles. The meeting was chaired by Congresswoman Karen Bass, who in her short tenure in Congress is recognized as a strong advocate for foster children. More than anything else, the forum was an opportunity for advocates and foster youth to voice their concerns and address critical issues challenging the foster care system. As always, this was an opportunity for the public to comment on policy affecting services and the need for adequate funding.
Many eloquent presenters addressed the policy issues, but more importantly there were several articulate young adults, graduates of the foster care system who related, better than anyone else, the challenges and triumphs of life in foster care. The one young man that captured my attention approached the microphone and succinctly stated that three years ago he had stood at the bottom of a driveway wondering where he could go to get drugs and that today, thanks to the care he received while in foster care, he was clean and was headed to the University of San Francisco on a full scholarship. He ended by encouraging the legislators to maintain their support and thanked them for what they do.
There is an awful lot wrong with the foster care system; it is well-intended, but never-the-less can be harmful to its beneficiaries, separating families without plans for reunification, demonizing struggling parents and stigmatizing children. More often than not, it is inadequately funded and, therefore, ironically increasing the risk that it attempts to mitigate in the first place. In the midst of this quagmire, how refreshing it was to hear this young man’s testimony, pointing to the opportunities that do exist within the current system in spite of its flaws.
This event was a great prelude to several days spent in LA and Washington, DC advocating for those we serve in the child welfare system. That Saturday evening I had the pleasure of greeting Congresswoman Judy Chu who attended the Hillsides annual benefit as a pledge of her support for our mission. Sunday I flew to Washington to attend the national conference of the Child Welfare League of America. The conference began with a truly inspirational presentation by a young man, Lucas Boyce, who shared his story of being a foster child. Having lost his birth mother to addiction he was introduced to foster care in the home of a single mom who welcomed him as her own. Lucas’ foster mom provided him with a strong foundation that helped him complete his college education, at one point after college serve in the White House and now he is employed as the Director of Community Relations for the Orlando Magic.
Together with the many compelling stories of the children, youth and families we serve, I felt that I was well prepared to advocate on their behalf while meeting during my stay in Washington with the staffs of Congressmembers Roybal-Allard, Issa, Schiff, Bass and Senator Feinstein.
Knowing that these young people never gave up and battled the odds to be successful is truly inspirational; giving us reason to be hopeful and ever committed in our advocacy.