2011 FYI interns look forward to a summer on Capitol Hill

Next month, 15 former foster youth will leaves their homes from across the country and head to Washington, DC ready to leave their mark on Capitol Hill in an effort to improve the lives of their 423,000 brothers and sisters still in the foster care system.  These 15 individuals are either current college or graduate students, or recent graduates, who are devoting their summer to successfully complete a Congressional internship, participate in advocacy events, discuss their personal experience with policymakers and advocates, and network with some of the country’s most respected leaders on these issues in further impact foster care reform.

CCAI is looking forward to spending a life-changing summer with Kadidjia Adula (NY), Marjorie Delgadillo (CA), Lakeshia Dorsey (CA), Ruth Jimenez (NJ), Mitsu Klines (ID), Linda Lee (FL), Marisela Ortiz (WA), Desiree Parker (WI), Amy Peters (NE), Jessie Peterson (CA), Derrick Riggins (FL), Melanie Roberts (MO), Madison Sandoval-Lunn (NV), Richard Terrell (MN), and Taatianna VanReed (VA).

When asked what they are most looking forward to about the opportunity to be a 2011 Foster Youth Intern  , many of the interns recognized their responsibility to share their story and ultimately promote the well-being of children in care.  Desiree responds, “I am most excited about what a great opportunity this will be for me to learn about government and other aspects of foster care.  I am looking forward to taking what I learn back with me and helping more foster youth, like myself, further their futures.”

Amy agrees, stating, “I’m very excited about spending the entire summer in Washington D.C., to learn about the legislative process while advocating for something I’m so passionate about. I’m grateful to have this opportunity use my story and voice to make a difference on a national level. ”

Melanie says, “I’m looking forward to learning as much as I possibly can to help provide a voice for the many children who may have otherwise never be heard!”.

Jessie responds, “I am so excited to learn! I believe this is going to be an extremely beneficial experience where I gain knowledge through the work I do, people I meet, places I see and go, and so much more. As a result, I will be successful in aiding those youth still in the foster care system today and in the future”.

Richard sums it up by saying he is planning on, “Going to D.C, working with Congress, and working hard for change.”

CCAI is excited to share that the following offices will be hosting Foster Youth Interns this year: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Senate Finance Committee Majority, Senate Finance Committee Minority, and House Committee on Ways and Means Majority.

It is not easy after a life of being uprooted and displaced to once again leave behind everything and everyone for a summer of the unknown.  As a testament to their unbelievable character, these individuals did just that, continually stepping out of their comfort zone to reach for the common goal they had each individually set: to improve the foster care system for their brother and sisters currently in care.

Federal and state lawmakers discuss strengthening child welfare

CCAI and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) were pleased to host a policy roundtable between Members of Congress and state legislators on child welfare.  In this hour long discussion, both state and federal policymakers were given the opportunity to discuss ways in which the federal and state partnership in child welfare is working to protect children and ways in which it might be strengthened to better serve youth in the future.

Diedra Henry-Spires (Senate Finance Majority) and Becky Shipp (Senate Finance Minority) outlined what issues they expected to be on the Congressional agenda for the 112th Session and encouraged state lawmakers to provide insights on issues such as federal financing of foster care, Title IV-E Waivers, and the reauthorization of Promoting Safe and Stable Families program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  Overall, it was a wonderful beginning to what the group hoped would be an ongoing dialogue on issues near and dear to the hearts of all in attendance.

In attendance were Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA), Rep. Karen Bass (CA), Rep. David Cicilline (RI), Rep. James Langevin (RI), State Sen. Willie Simmons (MS), State Sen. Leslie Nutting (WY), State Sen. Mark Allen (OK), State Sen. Amanda McGill (NE), State Sen. Kim David (OK), State Sen. Tom Hansen (SD), State Sen. Juan Pichardo (RI), State Rep. Tom Burch (KY), State Rep. Terie Norelli (NH), State Rep. Ken Esquibel (WY), State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile (NH), State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (IL), State Rep. Barbara Ballard (KS), State Rep. Betsy Butler (CA), and State Rep. Omeria Scott (MS).

Representatives from the offices of Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL), Sen. John Barrasso (WY), Sen. John Kerry (MA), Sen. Jack Reed (RI), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Sen. Mike Enzi (WY), Sen. Pat Roberts (KS), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Rep. Dave Camp (MI), Rep. Jim Cooper (TN), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI), Rep. Dave Reichart (WA), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT), and Rep. Erik Paulsen (MN), and state representatives from the offices of Speaker John Perez (CA), the Executive Director of the Select Committee on Children & Youth (TN), the General Assembly’s Commission on Children (CT), the Senior Staff Attorney of the Legislative Council (WI), and the Director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators were in also attendance.

Visit CCAI’s website to read about the conversation that took place between these federal and state legislators.

From Left: U.S. Rep. Cicilline, U.S. Rep. Langevin, U.S. Sen. Landrieu, Kathleen Strottman of CCAI, U.S. Rep. Bass
State Representative Barbara Ballard (KS)
State Senator Amanda McGill (NE)
State Representative Omeria Scott (MS)
State Representative Ken Esquibel (WY)

CCAI congratulates Holt International on 55 years

Holt International is celebrating 55 years of service at their annual international forum held here in Washington, DC this weekend.  Holt began their work as an adoption agency operating in Korea as a response to the many orphaned children that needed families following the Korean war.  This organization helped to pioneer international adoption as we know it, while continuing to evaluate and improve the practice over the past 55 years.  Holt now operates in over 10 countries and has place more than 40,000 children with loving families through intercountry adoption.

CCAI joined Holt at a reception this afternoon as part of their forum to share congratulatory remarks and highlight their good work:

We have found that there is no shortage of passion on the issues of adoption here on Capitol Hill – federal policymakers care deeply about finding families for every child in the world – what they sometimes lack are the “roadmaps” to making that possible. And that is where organizations like Holt step in.

CCAI has not only counted on Holt International to be a leader in our effort to raise awareness of the millions of children around the world living without a safe, loving and permanent family and to eliminate the legal and policy barriers that prevent these children from realizing that basic right,  but to a great extent we know that it is because of Holt’s  leadership that these efforts are even possible.  In particular, I would like to acknowledge the skilled advocacy and unmistakable passion of Susan Soon-keum Cox who many on the Hill know to be a voice for adopted children everywhere.

Now more than ever we must stand together and defend children’s right to a family — be it the right to stay in the family to which they are born; be it the right to live forever with their grandparents, aunt or uncle; be it the right to live in an adoptive family in their own country; or be it the right to live in a family here in the United States. 

CCAI was pleased to present Kim Brown, Holt International’s CEO, a congratulatory letter signed by the co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption caucus, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Rep. Karen Bass, and Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Photo credit: Holt International

One year later: Lessons learned from the Russian adoption case

Tomorrow, April 9, 2011, marks the one year anniversary since news broke of the heartbreaking case of Artyem Saviliev, a 7-year-old boy whose adoptive mother returned him to Russia alone on a plane.  For months this case caught the eyes of American as well as others around the world and significantly affected how Russian officials would work with the U.S. to process intercountry adoptions.

Since then, there have been many discussions about both the joys and challenges of adoption. If heeded, honest and open conversations about the needs of adoptive parents and the children they seek to adopt can be an essential step toward the development of improved adoption policies and practice.  But if the dialogue surrounding cases like this go no further than short lived media sound bites or are used only in support of long standing debates on the merits of domestic and international adoption, this already tragic case could have an unfortunate and long standing effect on future efforts to recruit prospective adoptive parents for the millions of children still in need of the love and support.

With this in mind, CCAI took a look into what are areas of adoption law and policy that were triggered by this case and which, if strengthened, could better protect the safety and well-being of adopted children and their families.  This report outlines five areas of adoption policy that could be in need of reform as well as legislative options for addressing identified shortfalls.

Click here to read CCAI’s report highlighting policy considerations raised by this adoption case.

Happy 10th Anniversary CCAI!

Today, CCAI celebrates its ten year anniversary!  Kerry Hasenbalg, CCAI’s Founding Executive Director and current CCAI Advisory Board Member, shares her reflections on the impact CCAI has made this past decade.

From Louisiana to Myanmar, Haiti to Japan, it seems that this last decade has been riddled with natural disasters of epic proportions.  Yet, in the aftermath of each tragedy, we have also witnessed rescue efforts of rivaling proportions.

When news of such mass human suffering is heard, countless people are compelled to act.  But the truth is that in every corner of our society every single day children are living out their own personal disasters as they are becoming fatherless and motherless.  The number of children who are considered orphans today is 50 times greater than the highest death toll on record resulting from any single natural disaster.

Ten years ago, CCAI became a voice in our nation’s capital on behalf these millions of children in crisis.  And looking back, I realize that as an organization it has been incredibly successful at making the issues facing orphans and foster children very real to the lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Its ability to facilitate education interactions between those working in the trenches of child welfare and those at the highest level of government is unsurpassed.

One of my first events with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption was putting up a physical maze in the Rayburn House Office building for Members of Congress to walk through and get a “feel” for what it would be like to be “stuck” in foster care.  At the end of the maze there were a group of young adults who had “aged out” waiting to meet the Members as they exited the maze.   As a result of a conversation which took place between Senator Mary Landrieu and one of these youths, the Coalition got its first intern to help with the work.   The power of this one intern’s testimony brought about a two-fold increase in congressional involvement in our child welfare events on “the Hill”.  As CCAI recognized the power of a story to affect change for these millions of children and the need to bring like voices to the Hill, CCAI’s foster youth internship program was born.

Since that time there have been more than one hundred interns who have taken part in this program.  Not only have more informed laws affecting kids been written as a result of these internships but these young people have also received a much deserved “leg up” in their own future endeavors.  It has been amazingly satisfying to watch how the graduates have gone on to affect change all over the world for vulnerable children.

From CCAI’s foster youth internship program to its domestic roundtables, Capitol Hill briefings and international fact-finding trips, CCAI is affecting real and lasting change. Today, CCAI’s clarion call to organize and mobilize is being heard around the globe; and its results are being felt in the places which matter most – the hearts of countless children. I am proud to have been a part of the early workings of CCAI; and I am exceedingly blessed to now be witnessing how it continues to carrying out its mission in such creative and effectual ways.

Just as I had the opportunity to plow the fields at CCAI in its early days working on these issues at the macro level, I am now personally witnessing their importance at the micro level in entirely new ways. My husband and I finished our home study this last year and although we have not yet adopted, the completion of our home study has allowed us to provide respite care for foster families.  We are currently providing care for our friend’s foster son while they are in Haiti helping to rebuild.

And as we oversee this precious nine-year-old boy’s daily activities, we are reminded how impressionable is his young mind and how fragile are his emotions.  In order that he and other children in similar situations can continue to be protected, encouraged and advocated for, it is critical that lawmakers are also kept “in touch” with the fragility of these young souls.  CCAI is doing a tremendous job keeping these truths top of mind for our federal legislators.  Governments don’t do a good job raising children; children are meant to be raised in families, not under the care of the state.  So, while we still have children under the care of Uncle Sam, it is comforting to know that CCAI is active in ensuring that Uncle Sam protects these little ones and acts properly on their behalf.

CCAI recognizes that the best emergency response teams are the ones who listen to those in the middle of the crisis because the ones on the ground likely possess the information most critical to rectifying the problems and mending the fractures. I applaud CCAI for bringing the testimonies of those “on the ground,” such as: orphans, foster children, adoptive families, and orphan care workers who are caught in the middle of the child welfare crisis to the ears of government representatives who have the power to respond to the pain and affect positive change on a grand scale. So, to those at CCAI, I encourage you to keep on keeping on even when it’s difficult because your labor is not in vain. Happy 10 year Anniversary!


Kerry Hasenbalg

Founding Executive Director, CCAI

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child Abuse Prevention Month is recognized each April as a way to raise public awareness about child abuse and ultimately support families and protect children.  The CDC highlights that, “approximately 772,000 children are confirmed by Child Protective Services each year as being abused or neglected. These confirmed cases, however, represent only a fraction of the true magnitude of the problem.”  While the majority of these families will receive services to promote healthy family functioning and ensure the children can remain safely st home, over 250,000 children will enter foster care each year.  It is important for policymakers and practitioners to understand how to best serve families in need to promote healthy families and avoid placing children in foster care when possible.

This year, the theme of Child Abuse Prevention Month is “Strengthening Families and Communities.”  Recognizing the importance of identifying risk factors and building upon the strengths that already exist in the family and community, the 2011  Child Abuse Prevention Resource Guide serves as a tool for practitioners working with families.

In preparation for this month, the Child Welfare Information Gateway updated its site on preventing child abuse, where information on positive parenting, community resources, and preventative programs is available.  One organization, Parents Anonymous, announced the launch of a national hotline and website meant to provide emotional support and resources to parents.  Yesterday, the White House showed support by issuing a Presidential Proclamation in support of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

How will you raise awareness about child abuse prevention this month?

Our Nation’s Future Begins At Home.

Photo Credit: CDC