How Foster Care Adoption Saved My Life

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In anticipation of National Adoption Day, CCAI interviewed Latena Hazard, a 2016 CCAI Fall Policy Intern, about her experiences in foster care and as an adoptee. Latena is from Worcester, Massachusetts, is a second-year law school student at Catholic University and believes every child deserves to be heard. We agree and hope you enjoy reading about her reflections on adoption from foster care.

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Latena with her mother, Phyllis, and sister, Latoya, on Latoya’s wedding day.

CCAI: How did being placed into foster care make you feel?

Latena: I didn’t understand the concept of foster care until I was roughly 7 years-old. Being in the foster care system gave me a sense of loneliness and that I didn’t belong. As children moved in and out of the house, you never knew if you were next. There were times when we were threatened with removal and school transfers. Foster care turned me into a people pleaser, afraid to do any wrong and always wanting and craving the acceptance of others. I always had questions that couldn’t be answered; mainly, why was I placed in foster care? Looking for and not receiving answers made me question my self-worth.

CCAI: What were the difficulties you experienced in foster care?

Latena: I think the most difficult thing about being in the foster care system was keeping and maintaining fulfilling friendships. I battle with attachment issues, and it became difficult trusting people enough to establish a connection. My foster home always had children coming and going, and I just always thought, “why build a connection when they’ll end up leaving anyways?”

CCAI: Tell us about your adoption story.

Latena: My sister Latoya and I were placed into foster care at the age of two and adopted together at the age of six. We were adopted by an amazing couple, Joseph and Phyllis Hazard. My parents were in their late 50’s when they adopted us. About that same time, they adopted Kristina Rose, and she became our little sister. Three years later our father passed away and although my heart was broken, I was grateful to be in my mother’s care. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, it left my mom with little help, and, eventually, Latoya and Kristina were taken out of the home. Latoya was placed in a foster home with terrible living conditions and Kristina went into a group home. While Kristina was placed back into the foster care system, I am forever grateful that my sister Latoya and I were reunited with my adoptive mom shortly after, and Kristina came back home a couple years later.

CCAI: Why is family important to you?

Latena: Family is the foundation of society in my opinion. They say you can’t choose your family, but in adoption, you’re someone’s choice. Having a family provides you with a better understanding of self, builds your self-confidence, secures your values and helps with communication skills. My family is everything to me; without them I would not be the person I am today. They are always there to guide me and give encouragement, to cheer me up when I’m down and to let me know that things will get better. They are my rock, and the reason I continue to do my best. I tell my mom every day that she’s the biggest blessing that could have ever happened to me.

CCAI: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Latena: I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for my mom adopting me. I have accomplished a lot over the last few years. My biggest accomplishment is being a member of the United States Navy on board the U.S.S. Essex and my current service in the U.S. Navy Reserves. I have traveled the world to protect and defend against foreign and domestic threats.

In addition, I battled the stereotype associated with foster care and education. High school was difficult, and I barely graduated. Achieving academic success wasn’t on my radar. However, in 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University, then went on to receive my Masters in Journalism from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Now, I plan to obtain my law degree from The Catholic University Columbus School of Law in 2018. Once I graduate from law school, I hope to practice family law and work on cases that will allow foster care children to have a voice. The desire to persevere and achieve was instilled in me during my time in foster care, and although it’s been a difficult journey I am proud of where I am today.

CCAI: Why is celebrating National Adoption Day significant?

Latena: National Adoption Day addresses a problem that needs to be dealt with in U.S. foster care. Adoption provides children with a loving, secure, structured environment to excel and be happy. There is so much that one person can do to bring joy into the life of a child.

National Adoption Day is one of CCAI’s signature focuses during National Adoption Month each November. 

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A National Adoption Month Spotlight and Guest Blog

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Investing in Older Youth in Foster Care: Reflections of an adoptive mother of 14 and a foster mother of over 70

by Gail Neher

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My husband John and I live in northern Maine. We are the parents of one biological son and 14 adoptees. When our son Jared went off to college, the house was quiet and lonely. In 1988, while sitting in our bedroom one night in New Mexico watching the evening news, a 12-year-old girl in residential care was featured on Wednesday’s Child. She just wanted a place to go for Christmas. It was as though lightening struck our house. There is no logical explanation, but this appeal set us on a completely unexpected and uncharted journey. Unfortunately, this particular girl did not become part of our family, but she continues to be a guiding spirit in all we do for children. Still, by the end of the year-long process in New Mexico, we were the parents of a sibling group of three – Melanie (4), Joseph (8) and David (12).

From that point on, we were hooked.

A year or so later, we received a call about two little girls needing a short-term foster home. We had not wanted to foster because I knew I would struggle saying goodbye. But they needed us and we answered the call by becoming licensed therapeutic foster parents. And our hearts were broken as they returned to a terribly abusive home. There was nothing we could do for them, but from this experience we formed our master strategy for fostering.

John and I decided to provide a safe and loving environment for girls whose legal ties with their biological families were severed and who had run the gamut of available foster homes and services. Many were facing legal difficulties or already involved with the justice system. One 14-year-old was living in a shelter because she was “too difficult” for a foster family. These are truly the children with broken spirits and wounded hearts.

Over the last 28 years, we have opened our doors to more than 70 teenage girls. We believe they deserve to experience a safe and nurturing environment, to learn how to live in a healthy and active family, and to re frame their histories as they move forward into adulthood. Each child has a different story, yet the theme remains the same. Some are able to rise above their pasts; some will always struggle. Since 2002, 11 of these young women (including two sets of siblings) have requested to join our family permanently. Others have returned to their biological families, moved on to other foster homes, gone into residential treatment or gained independence from the system. We remain in contact with many, thanks to social media, and they know we remain committed to their welfare.

The need for families for these young people continues to escalate. Teenagers are not for everyone. This is a time in their lives when they are yearning and learning to be independent. They often play this out in very challenging behaviors. Putting teens into foster homes creates a struggle younger children don’t face, because they have been programmed to be letting go just as we try to “reel” them in. Healthy relationships can be so foreign for this age group, and families often feel they are only providing “three hots and a cot.” Expectations have to be adjusted with each young woman.

I often tell the girls my job is to teach them how to lunch and to shop. This sounds simple, but in reality it is about nurturing each individual while teaching her how to cooperate within the group. Our philosophy is to provide an opportunity for a young person to heal from their history, to accept that history as a building block and to move forward with support. Whenever possible, we partner with the young woman’s birth family as a sign of solidarity.

During National Adoption Month, I call special attention to our older youth in foster care who so desperately need permanency. We are pleased the federal government is spotlighting this unique and important subset of our foster care population this month. The transition into adulthood is difficult for all young people. For those with a history of broken relationships and trauma, this may not occur until they are in their 30s or even later. They need someone to walk ahead as a guide; to walk behind to encourage; but mostly to walk beside as they find their way. They are our hope for the future and we need to be their hope for the present.

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Gail and John are recipients of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s 2016 Angels in Adoption award and attended three days of special events associated with the Angels in Adoption Program in Washington, D.C. in September of this year.

 

 

 

 

Photo Essay: An Inside Look at the 2016 Angels in Adoption® Program

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CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program consists of three days of events in Washington, D.C. where those who have made an extraordinary contribution in the lives of children through adoption or foster care are celebrated by Members of Congress.

Take a look at some of the highlights from the 2016 Angels in Adoption® Program!

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2016 Angels in Adoption® Program honorees kicked off the week of events learning about CCAI and other child welfare organizations at CCAI’s Adoption and Foster Care Advocacy Fair and Ice Cream Social.
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The rain did not stop CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® honorees as they toured the U.S. Capitol Building!
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Congressional Coalition on Adoption member, U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) at the Senate Breakfast with his constituents and Angels in Adoption® honorees, Buck and DeAndra Gibson and CCAI Executive Director, Becky Weichhand.
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Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), congratulated Angels in Adoption® honorees for opening their hearts and homes to children in need of a loving family.

 

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Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar was joined by CCAI’s Executive Director, Becky Weichhand, CCAI’s Advisory Council Member, Kelly Gage, CCAI’s Director of Policy, Christen Glickman, 2016 National Angels in Adoption® honorees, Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski of the Minnesota Vikings, and 2016 Gala Emcees, Bill Klein and Dr. Jennifer Arnold from TLC’s the Little Couple.

 

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U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) met with Angels in Adoption® honorees during Hill Day.

 

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2016 Angels in Adoption® Gala Red Carpet! Left to Right: Jack Gerard, Claudette Gerard, Rick Spielman, Rob Brzezinski, Bill Klein, Dr. Jen Arnold, Becky Weichhand.
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2016 Angels in Adoption® Gala Emcees, Bill Klein and Dr, Jennifer Arnold of TLC’s The Little Couple spoke about the importance of family and how the adoption of their children, Zoey and Will, has played a huge role in their lives.
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CCAI Executive Director, Becky Weichhand, spoke about CCAI’s mission of children in families. The Angels in Adoption® Program is an opportunity to share the story of the heroes who have helped children in U.S. foster care and orphans around the world realize their basic right to a family.
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Demetrius Johnson, 2016 Foster Youth Internship Program® participant, waved to his soon-to-be adoptive parents in the crowd as he spoke about his experiences as an alumni of the U.S. foster care system and his plans for the future.
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CCAI’s 2016 Gala Entertainers, 2005 National Angels in Adoption® Alum and GRAMMY Award winning band, Jars of Clay, spent time off stage with Angels in Adoption® honorees.
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National Angels in Adoption® honoree and country music star, Jimmy Wayne, received his award via Verizon’s VGo from Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Senator, Roy Blunt (R-MO).
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Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in “Vikings purple” stands with Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski, of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, as they accept the 2016 National Angels in Adoption® award.

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We hope you enjoyed this photographic summary of CCAI’s 2016 Angels in Adoption® Program. We hope you’ll share this blog with others. Please be sure to follow CCAI on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and use the hashtag #adoptionangels!

To donate toward CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program and our mission of children in families, please visit www.ccainstitute.org/get-involved/donate.

 

The Angels in Adoption® Program is a signature program of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

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Photo Essay: An Inside Look at CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Delegation to Haiti

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CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program is a public-private partnership delegation model designed to educate Members of Congress, build relationships, increase positive dialogue and improve adoption and child welfare policy and practice around the globe.

CCAI’s most recent 20/20 Vision delegation was a follow up to our  20/20 Vision Program delegation to Haiti in August of 2014. Our goal was to gather on-the-ground knowledge about the needs of children in Haiti who are living outside of the care of families, as well as the solutions offered through programs, systems, law and policy that support placement and care of these children in families. The delegation plans to brainstorm ways to strengthen U.S. foreign policy for vulnerable children and families upon returning to the United States. Take a look at some of the highlights!

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Congressional Coalition on Adoption co-chair, U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), warmly greets a sibling group who has been reunified with their parents after spending time in an orphanage at a site visit in Haiti.
The delegation met from Bethany Global and learned about one of the first foster care in Haiti.
The delegation met with Bethany Global and learned about their foster care program in Haiti.
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Dr. Dana Johnson, a University of Minnesota Health neonatologist and founder of the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic sharing his reflections on site visits to help the delegation understand the effects of children languishing in orphanages.
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Representing the CCAI Board of Directors on the delegation was Susan Neely, CEO of the American Beverage Association.
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Members of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Delegation visiting with children who were recently reunified with their loving families. These children and families, with the support of their social workers at the Lumos Foundation, bravely shared their personal experiences with institutions to educate the delegates on paths into and out of orphanages.
CCAI Executive Director, Becky Weichhand, Restavek Freedom Executive Director Joan Conn and Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond shared a moment at a site visit.
CCAI Executive Director, Becky Weichhand, Restavek Freedom Executive Director Joan Conn and Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond shared a moment at a site visit.
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The delegation is briefed by a staff member at an orphanage, who shares the stories of several children in the care of the institution.
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A lone toy sits atop one child’s bunk bed in one of the institutions the delegation visited.
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The 20/20 Vision delegates met with Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, Director of the Institut du BienEtre Social et de Recherches (IBSER) – Haiti’s child protection and permanency authority, to learn about current opportunities and gaps in the continuum of family care options for children. Site visits throughout the trip provided insight into the full continuum of care for children in Haiti,  including reunification efforts, Haiti’s new foster care strategy and domestic and intercountry adoptions.
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U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) learning about the health condition of a child in need of a surgery at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. (Photo shared with permission.) Dr. Johnson explained to the delegation how most institutions worldwide house a high percentage of children with medical needs.
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The U.S. Embassy staff host a reception with the delegation and representatives of Haiti’s child welfare community. Pictured here, left to right: U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ); Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond; Minister of Social Affairs, Jean Rene Antoine Nicolas; CCAI Executive Director, Becky Weichhand; Charge d’Affaires, Brian Shukan; U.S.Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and U.S. Embassy Consular General, Bob Hannan. The delegation was deeply impressed with the kindness and dedication of the U.S. Embassy staff throughout our visit.
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A caregiver and a child recovering from surgery at a strategic orphanage visit.
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The CCAI 20/20 Vision Delegation, reunited families, foster families, youth and the Lumos Foundation’s Haitian staff after a strategic sharing session with these resilient families. (Photo taken with permission and at the request of the families.)
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The delegation met with UNICEF’s Country Director, Marc Vincent, to learn about UNICEF’s programs, priorities and investments in Haiti, including a foster care program. The group was also briefed by the U.S. Embassy and U.S.AID staff on U.S. foreign assistance and U.S.AID programming related to vulnerable children.
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The delegation toured the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a small group of law enforcement officers that works to protect children in conjunction with the Haitian Police Department and IBESR. The BPM tour included cases resolved through their casework and child protection database, in partnership with Restavek Freedom Foundation. The dedication of the BPM staff was profound, yet they face serious resource gaps as they work to protect Haiti’s most vulnerable children.
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CCAI was honored to be joined by three dedicated public servants during the delegation. Left to right: U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond and U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ).

To learn more or engage with CCAI in our international child welfare advocacy, please contact info@ccainstitute.org and sign up for our listserv.

Photo Credit: Keziah Jean Photography, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Guest Blog: Reflections on CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Congressional Delegation to Haiti

 

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CCAI Guest Blogger: Jelani Freeman 

I traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) for its 20/20 Vision program – a public-private partnership which exists to increase positive dialogue and the exchange of information among private sector individuals, international and domestic government officials, and Members of Congress. I currently serve on the CCAI Advisory Council and participated in its Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program in 2003. From its early beginning in 2001, CCAI has been a leader in raising awareness and bringing together like-minded partners to ensure that every child in the world knows the love and support of a family. And that is exactly what its 20/20 Vision Program accomplished in Haiti this summer.

While this was the first time I ever visited Haiti, for many years I had felt a kinship to the island-nation through the literature of one of my favorite authors, Edwidge Danticat. I began reading Danticat as a high school student when I met her at a book signing for her short story collection – Krik Krak. Through her award-winning works like Breath, Eyes and Memory, The Farming of Bones, and The Dew Breaker, Danticat transported me to the countryside and urban spaces of Haiti where I could almost smell and taste the griyo & pikliz, see the stunning mountainous terrain and feel the cooling Caribbean waters on a hot day. Danticat unflinchingly writes about Haiti’s complicated revolutionary history and often gives a voice to those Haitians for whom silence is no longer a feasible option. Danticat described her home as best she could, trying to prepare me for all the beauty I would see, but as masterful of a storyteller as she is, I was quite simply unprepared for a country that is beautiful beyond belief – although it isn’t supposed to be.

Photo Credit: Erica Baker.
Photo Credit: Erica Baker.

After the 2010 earthquake and years of social and political unrest, Haiti remains a resilient nation, fixated on a brighter future. I saw the best example of this in the country’s child welfare system reform. Through strong public-private partnerships, Haiti is showing its commitment to a prosperous future by protecting and ensuring the development of its most valuable resource – its children. I saw this in the work of the dedicated staff of IBESR – Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research, which among other reforms, is leading the way to ensure that fraud is eradicated from its international adoption program to make sure that only children legally eligible to be adopted are authorized for adoption and strengthen their capacity in the full continuum of care for children.

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CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Delegation met with the leadership of IBESR, Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research. Photo Credit: Keziah Jean.

I witnessed how devoted the Haitian National Police’s Brigade for the Protection of Minors are to devising and implementing systems to stamp out child abuse, neglect and trafficking, in partnership with organizations like the Restavek Freedom Foundation.

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The delegation toured an office of the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a small group of law enforcement officers that works to protect children in collaboration with the Haitian National Police and IBESR. Photo Credit: Keziah Jean.

And while government agencies like these are working to lead the way in child welfare reform in Haiti, they are not alone, as I saw many private organizations that were not just treating the symptoms of a damaged child welfare system, but are aggressively seeking to identify the root causes and cure the problem. As we visited organizations like Papillon Enterprises and Peacycle, I learned that extreme poverty is what often tears families apart and places children in orphanages, because there is simply not enough money to care for the children. So private organizations have stepped to the forefront to provide job training and creation, in order for parents to have a sustainable income so that families can stay together or be reunified. Words cannot explain how heartwarming it was to hear from families that were once split up due to a lack of money, now back together because the parents accessed assistance and a stable income. The best place for children to thrive is in their families, and that is why its laudable that efforts are now beginning to remove barriers that keep children from their families in Haiti.

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Members of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Delegation heard from children who were recently reunified with their loving families. (Photography with permission from the family) Photo credit: Keziah Jean.

In circumstances where there is not a viable option to keep or return children to their families, Haitians are also now beginning to implement a foster care model. While our U.S. foster care system is not without its shortcomings, the science is clear that children cognitively develop faster and are without less severe health issues in family settings than children in congregate care – e.g., orphanages and group homes. While foster care in Haiti is still in its infancy, it is programs like CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program and this congressional delegation to Haiti that are so critical, because through information sharing, technical assistance from experts in the field, and strategic partnerships, Haiti has the opportunity to create and implement an excellent child welfare system.

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Jelani at the Delegation’s Welcome Reception with congressional staff, Assistant Secretary of State, Michele Bond and the Haitian child welfare community. Photo Credit: Keziah Jean.

Jelani Freeman serves on CCAI’s Advisory Council, is a dedicated alumni of CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program®, and Serves on the Board of the Barker Adoption Foundation.

Interview: U.S. Representatives Lawrence, McMorris Rodgers on Importance of FYI Program

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Bipartisan Politics at its Best: Two Members of Congress Reflect on Hosting CCAI’s Foster Youth Interns This Summer

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is proud to be entirely bipartisan, serving both sides of the aisle. This week we interviewed U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, and U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chair of the House Republican Conference, about their experiences hosting a CCAI Foster Youth Intern this summer.

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U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) with CCAI Foster Youth Intern, Princess Harmon (Photo Credit: Erica Baker Photography)

As an advocate for adoption and foster youth, what have you learned and what are your greatest successes on child welfare in your role as a U.S. Representative?

After assuming office in January 2015, my very first legislative accomplishment was passing an amendment impacting foster youth within ESSA, also known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. My amendment required the U.S. Secretary of Education to track the educational progress of foster youth in America. I believe that by truly understanding how our youth in care are performing in school, we can most effectively target federal resources to the areas in greatest need.

Why is CCAI’s commitment to bipartisanship support for foster children and youth important to you?

CCAI’s commitment to bipartisanship is essential to the fate of foster children and youth in America. At the end of the day, the well-being and success of our children should never be a partisan issue. I work each day to display my commitment to bipartisanship in this Congress. My very first amendment to ESSA was the only Democrat amendment accepted with unanimous bipartisan support. The passage of this amendment proves that support for foster youth is a topic that bridges the partisan divide. Its inclusion in the long overdue education reauthorization package demonstrates how we can work across the aisle to advance policy’s that will change the lives of foster youth in this country.

How has CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program® personally impacted you?

My CCAI Foster Youth Intern this past summer made valuable contributions to my office. I enjoyed her hard work and dedication to serve my constituents back home in Michigan. Her passion for advocacy and creating solutions to addressing the needs of the adoption and foster community have left a lasting impression on me.

Why would you encourage your fellow Congressional Colleagues to host a CCAI Foster Youth Intern next summer?

My CCAI Foster Youth Intern has played an integral role in my office. Her diverse perspective bring a unique voice to an issue that might not be widely addressed in my colleagues’ offices. I’ve enjoyed the intern I hosted and encourage my colleagues to also open their offices to a CCAI Foster Youth Intern.

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE Cathy McMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA) 
U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) with CCAI Foster Youth Intern, Kristopher Wannquist (Photo Credit: Erica Baker Photography)

As an advocate for adoption and foster youth, what have you learned and what are your greatest successes on child welfare in your role as a U.S. Representative and at the House Republican Conference?

I have the honor of representing remarkable adoptive families in Eastern Washington, like the Ubachs, who have taken in vulnerable youth with disabilities into their homes and into their hearts. The Ubachs, and Kris, my CCAI Foster Youth Intern this summer, are not only reminders of the challenges vulnerable youth face in this country, but also of their potential if given the chance to pursue their vision of the American Dream.

Why is CCAI’s commitment to bipartisanship support for foster children and youth important to you?

Being a voice for people, no matter their background or walk of life, is not a partisan issue – it’s a key responsibility of our elected representatives. The House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans have worked together since the foundation of the Adoption and Foster Youth caucuses, to shine a light on America’s “forgotten youth.”

How has CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program® personally impacted you?

For me, it brings the stories home. Kris is an inspiration. He had a rough start to life. As he said himself, he could have—should have—been a statistic. But by the grace of God, resilience, and extended foster care, he is now a confident young man and a thriving student at Washington State University here in my Eastern Washington district. He’s using his experience to advocate for the next generation of foster youth, and it was remarkable to witness his growth in the CCAI intern program. He is a passionate young man, a hard worker, and, thanks to the program, we’re all better for having heard his story.

Why would you encourage your fellow Congressional colleagues to host a CCAI Foster Youth Intern next summer?

The American people send us here to serve as their voice in our government, so it’s important to have an open mind and an open heart to people from all backgrounds. Having a foster youth intern provides a unique, and often underrepresented, perspective to policy making, and is of value to any Congressional office.

To learn more about ways you can participate in supporting the individual interns, contact CCAI’s Director of DevelopmentMartina Arnold.

The Foster Youth Internship Program® is a signature program of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

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