Washington DC: The cornerstone of the world. The place where so many fights have been won, injustices have been righted, and dreams have come true.
I have dreams. Dreams of one day becoming an official that aids in running this wonderful country that I live in. That’s why when I received notice that I would be a CCAI Foster Youth Intern placed in the office of Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, I related the experience to a kid fulfilling a dream of going to the infamous Disney World for the first time.
I immediately started to correlate politicians to characters thought of in the slumber of children across the world. Many people travel far and beyond to come to Disney world, so the match was made of the individuals I would interact with in the diverse city of Washington.
In addition, I envisioned every rollercoaster as an illustrious building or monument that is placed throughout the metropolitan region. I even went on to correlate places to dine in Disney World, to eateries such as Ben’s Chilli Bowl, where all my friends declared I needed to eat.
Although, I know Washington is going to be an amazing experience, I have in the forefront of my mind the solemn purpose for my journey: to make strides in the direction for improvement to foster care policy. So when I see a “Mickey Mouse” or getting ready to go to “Space Mountain” in Washington I will do my best to relay the issues that are not only close to my heart but the hearts of my other foster care brothers and sisters.
Advocates in this field all know the horrific statistic that there are currently over 175,000 youth age 13 and older in the foster care system. And each year, almost 30,000 youth ‘age out‘ of the foster care system to devastating outcomes of homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, or substance abuse.
The current issue of Fostering Families Today includes an article titled “Choosing Teens,” about one family’s experience with adopting an older youth in foster care. Denise and Bruce Kendrick from Texas were foster parents to younger children in care for years before realizing the horrible fact that there are tens of thousand of youth who will never know what it is like to belong in a family. One day, while reviewing the local Child Protective Services (CPS) website for educational updates they read the profiles of teenagers who were in need of homes. They scrolled through page after page of older teens waiting for someone to want and love them. The Kendricks instantly knew that they wanted to adopt an older teen. They inquired about one of the profiles they read and spoke with a worker at CPS who began the process of trying connect Denise and Bruce with the teenager they fell in love with while on the website.
After starting the adoption process they received a phone call informing them that an out-of-state relative had emerged and wanted to adopt the teen. Though they were saddened they would not be able to complete the adoption, they did not lose sight of their desire to provide a family for a teen in care. Denise and Bruce soon found another teenage boy, Brandan. They were prepared for and were determined to make Brandan a part of their family. Although Brandan did suffer from attachment issues he was given the helped he needed professionally and the love he need personally.
The article closes by saying, “Brandan is finding joy in the little things these days, like a dad who knows how he likes his burger cooked, and a mom who packs his lunch. The clock is ticking toward […] a time that for teens who are never adopted brings great hardship and for many, grim outcomes. But Brandan is a teen who was chosen.”
Last month, CCAI hosted a Congressional briefing to draw attention to the need for better foster adoptive parent recruitment models to be used in the field and supported by the federal government. This article goes to show that innovative methods, such as online photolisting, is just one effective way that older youth in care can find a family to call their own.
Four months after starting my internship at CCAI, I leave having gained valuable experiences, stronger communication skills, more confidence, and a better understanding of my goals in life.
I didn’t know what to expect before visiting the office for the first time. The close-knit, special, and busy office has been better than I imagined. There is always some project to be done, and everything has a meaningful purpose to ultimately help children find safe environments and loving families. The first few weeks at CCAI, I updated their website, answered the phone, and researched information to update our Country Updates pages. I was also assigned the fun task of searching through pictures from previous CCAI events, to put in frames to decorate our office walls with. Very soon after starting, I got the opportunity to attend meetings in Senate offices, and listen in on conference calls pertaining to adoption and general issues in Haiti and Uganda.
When I reflect on the projects I have worked on throughout my internship, the most significant work was helping prepare for the Haiti Convening titled “Building a Strong Foundation for Children and Families of Haiti” that we hosted on May 21st. I gathered contact information for our invitee list by doing research and calling offices to request a prospective speaker or invitee’s information. Calling offices I didn’t know much about; to ask for contact information for a person whom I also knew nothing about, put me outside of my comfort zone. Eventually, it got easier. As I called more offices, and learned more about the convening we were planning, I gained confidence in my communication abilities and myself. The convening itself was a great experience just being in the same room listening to these amazing, influential people present and discuss information to ultimately help Haiti and its children.
I have never worked with people so passionate and committed to the work they do. It’s very motivating, and even contagious. The staff members at CCAI begin projects with a flawless end in mind and do what it takes to complete the goal, even if it means late nights at the office, or bringing work home with them.
Interning here has been an eye-opening experience to the career path I want to pursue in the future. Despite a two-hour commute each way to get to CCAI; I wouldn’t have changed this internship experience for the world.