Fostering Policy: Introducing CCAI’s 2016 Foster Youth Interns

Foster_Youth_logoEvery summer, one of CCAI’s great honors is to host 12 extraordinary young people on Capitol Hill in our Foster Youth Internship Program®. This unique program offers current and former foster youth from across the nation (now college students and recent graduates) the opportunity to participate in a prestigious congressional office internship assignment, and in addition, to use their own life experiences to inform the U.S. Congress about ways to improve the U.S. foster care system through the annual Foster Youth Internship Program® Report and Congressional Briefing.

In preparation for these high-impact writing and presentation components of the Foster Youth Internship Program®, these 12 young people will research issues facing children and youth in the U.S. foster care system, reflect and write about their own personal insights and research findings related to these issues, and offer positive policy solutions to improve the lives of the over 415,000 of children and youth currently in the U.S. foster care system. Previous Foster Youth Interns’ policy reports have led to new laws and policies and the introduction of recent bills like the Timely Mental Health Act of 2015.

The 2016 Foster Youth Interns began their congressional internships this week, and we want to introduce them to you!

crystalLilCrystal Dernier is an alumnus of Broward County’s foster care system and current Florida Atlantic University graduate student studying both criminology and non-profit management. This summer, LilCrystal is interning with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and she will research placement stability and healthy relationships for foster youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
princessPrincess Harmon is an alumnus of Wayne County, Michigan’s foster care system and recently graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Communication. This summer, she is interning with the office of U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI). Inspired by her foster mom, Princess will research foster parent reimbursement rates and increasing financial support f or her CCAI Policy Report.

jasonJason Morin is an alumnus of Sarasota County, Florida’s foster care system. He recently graduated from the University of South Florida and is excited to start his first year of Law School at Florida International University this fall. Jason is interning with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and he will research substance abuse and the child welfare system, including prevention and Family Drug Treatment Courts for his CCAI Policy Report.

EricaErica Ontiveros is an alumnus of Orange County’s foster care system. She recently graduated from California State University, Fullerton and she will attend her dream school, UCLA, in the fall to obtain her Masters in Social Work. This summer, she is interning with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and she will research dual system-involved youth, focusing on the collaboration between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems for her CCAI Policy Report.
preciousPrecious Price is an alumnus of Connecticut’s foster care system and recently graduated with her Masters of Social Work from the University of Connecticut. This summer, she is interning with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and she will research the over-prescription of psychotropic medication for foster children and youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
vaneshiaVaneshia Reed spent her adolescent years in the Los Angeles County foster care system and most recently graduated from Harvard University with her Bachelors of Arts. Vaneshia is interning this summer with U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY). Vaneshia is excited to perform research about kinship care reform, including expanding a foster parent’s eligibility despite prior felony offenses for her CCAI Policy Report.
jennJennifer Rhodes is an alumnus of Tennessee’s foster care system and has continued to serve as a Peer Advocate for current foster youth. Most recently, she graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. Her internship placement is with the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and she will research permanency, including foster parent training and support for her CCAI Policy Report.
davidDavid Rivera has had 18 placements in the Tulare County, California foster care system and will be adopted by his foster parents this fall. He currently studies Communications at the College of the Sequoias. David’s internship this summer is with U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), and he will be researching placement stability of LGBTQ foster youth, including foster parent recruitment and training for his CCAI Policy Report.
KrisKristopher Wannquist spent his teenage years in Washington State foster care system. He attends Washington State University, where he is a rising junior majoring in Psychology. This summer, Kristopher is interning with U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and he will research extended foster care, including limiting eligibility and increasing accountability for his CCAI Policy Report.
ivyIvy-Marie Washington is an alumnus of Bexar County, Texas’s foster care system. Currently, she is a rising senior at Sam Houston State University where she is a Criminal Justice major. This summer, Ivy-Marie is interning in the office of U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and is keenly interested researching about juvenile law and runaway foster youth prevention for her CCAI Policy Report.
ToriVictoria Wichman spent time in 12 Ohio foster homes and 2 group homes during her time in foster care. She currently attends Hillsdale College in Michigan, is studying Psychology, and is on the track team. Victoria is interning in the office of U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) and she will research advocacy for foster youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
demetriusDemetrius Johnson is an alumnus of New York City’s foster care system and just graduated from St. John’s University. In the fall, Demetrius will be attending New York University and majoring in Business Management. His congressional internship this summer is in the office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and he will research adoption subsidies and limiting eligibility when adoption is dissolved for his CCAI Policy Report.

You can Encourage and support the 2016 Foster Youth Interns!

  • Send us an email or note of encouragement for the 2016 class and we’ll read it at their weekly community meeting where they work on their policy reports.
  • Contact Martina Arnold to learn more about ways you can participate in supporting the individual interns. There are various needs and opportunities surrounding the program each summer. We would be honored to have you join us in celebrating these young leaders.

Martina can be reached at

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


National Foster Care Month Briefing: Recruiting Top-Notch Caregivers and Foster Parents as a Pathway to Permanency


National Foster Care Month Briefing:

Recruiting Top-Notch Caregivers and Foster Parents 

as a Pathway to Permanency

May 11, 2016

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) makes remarks. Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography

There are currently more than 415,000 children in foster care and nearly 108,000 children waiting to be adopted.[1] Data indicates that among children who are adopted from foster care, the overwhelming majority are adopted by the foster parent (52%) or relative (32%) caring for them.[2]

Studies show that permanent, stable families lead to better life outcomes for children. In honor of National Foster Care Month, yesterday this bipartisan congressional briefing explored efforts to better recruit and retain quality caregivers as a pathway to permanency for children in foster care across the U.S.

Partnering with the Senate Foster Youth Caucus and Fostering Media Connections, CCAI was pleased to bring the voices of experts on both kinship and faith-based recruitment efforts to the U.S. Congress, particularly highlighting how particularly highlighting how a Colorado church has partnered with the state and local government to successfully lower the number of children waiting for adoption, and how a Pennsylvania county is raising the numbers of family taking in kin.

Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography

Themes from both panels included the need for and success derived from:

  • Culturally competent recruitment and licensing of families.
  • Collaboration with and support from the state and local child welfare agency.
  • Post-permanency and wrap-around support for families.
  • Honoring and engaging birth families and prioritizing reunification, with a willingness by caregivers to adopt should the child becomes eligible for adoption.

In advance of the briefing, we asked foster and kinship caregivers to respond to two questions in a survey and received 888 individual responses. Click to view the MAY 2016 SURVEY OF FOSTER AND KINSHIP CAREGIVER QUALITIES AND BARRIERS survey results.

Thank you to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), co-chairs of the Senate Foster Youth Caucus, for making this important briefing possible. Coming Soon: View the Caucus’ blog of this briefing.

[1] The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2014 Estimates as of July 2015 Data. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, retrieved May 2, 2016, from:

[2] Id.

Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography


Kathy Nuebel, Office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Arnie Eby, Chair, National Foster Parent Association’s Public Policy Committee and President, Maryland Resource Parent Association

Daniel Heimpel, Fostering Media Connections (CA)

Dr. Sharon McDaniel, Founder and CEO, A Second Chance (PA)

Eugenia Saunders, Kin Caregiver (PA)

Azzer, Youth Voice (PA)

Mr. & Mrs. McBride, Kin Caregiver (PA)

Becky Weichhand, Executive Director, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (DC)

Elizabeth Wiebe, Vice President for Engagement, Christian Alliance for Orphans (DC)

Rhonda Miescke, Family Care Manager, Project 1.27 (CO)

Misty Martin, Adoptive and Foster Parent (CO)


Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography


A Second Chance’s mission is to provide a safe, secure, and nurturing environment to children who are being cared for by their relatives or a close family friend – formally called “kinship care”. ASCI became a subcontracting agency of Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families in July, 1994. Through this partnership, 62% of children who enter care in PA are now served in kinship placements, significantly higher than the national average of 29%.

Read the Chronicle of Social Change’s article on Allegheny County’s successful kinship recruitment efforts here.

 Dr. Sharon McDaniel, MPA, Ed. D.

 Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer, A Second Chance, Inc.

In 1994, Sharon McDaniel launched A Second Chance, Inc. in her native Pittsburgh, PA., ushering in a then little-known model for providing safe, secure, and nurturing environments for children who are being cared for by their relatives or close family friends. That innovative approach is known as “kinship care.” Today, Dr. McDaniel, herself an alumna from foster care and a recipient of kinship care, serves more than 1,000 children and 800 families a day through A Second Chance Inc., a thriving non-profit, which also has a regional office in Philadelphia.

Eugina Saunders

Pennsylvania, Kinship Caregiver

Eugina Saunders is a 36- year-old mother of 6 children and grandmother of 2 grandchildren.  She had 2 biological children and 4 children that she is adopting. She came to be involved with A second chance as a kinship caregiver having to assume custody of her grandson. She expresses that had it not been for the support of A Second Chance, Inc., chance she’s not sure how she would have made it through that devastating time of her life.  She was given not only monetary support, she was also given the opportunity to sit in on different support groups to be around her peers and people going through the same things that she was dealing with. After getting back on her feet, Eugina felt the desire to give back so she remand on the list for respite caregivers with her focus being teens. Eugina has not only increased her family size but was also given the opportunity to love, support and guide four teenagers who would have been split a part or even worse, aged out of foster care with no permanent or family connections.

Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography


Pennsylvania, Youth in Kin Care

Azzer is an honor roll high school student from Pittsburgh, PA and will be attending Drexel for dance and musical therapy. He is a founding member of the Kinship Youth Advisory Board of A Second Chance, Inc., and an avid dancer with 6 grand prizes for his performances in the past year. Azzer was adopted as a young child by his mother, Wilma, who passed away about 7 years ago. The biological daughter of Wilma assumed care of Azzer and his siblings, which marked the steep decline in the quality of their care. He and his siblings were subjected to physical and emotional abuse for years. During that time Azzer got into a lot of fights, had no access to educational and recreational programs, and mired due to a lack of structure. Someone in their extended family called Children, Youth and Families out of concern. Around the same time, his siblings joined Camp COPES, a summer basketball program hosted by A Second Chance, Inc., where they met Ms. Eugina Saunders. Once they understood that they had options, they began to think of who they would like to live with and who would care for 4 teenagers. They were relieved that Ms. Eugina wanted provide care and that all 4 of them were welcome to join her family.

 Mr. and Mrs. McBride

Pennsylvania, Kinship Caregivers

Mr. and Mrs. McBride have been kin caregivers for over 22 years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania through A Second Chance, Inc. They came in to kinship care when Mrs. McBride met a young woman in a group home while she was a social worker at Three Rivers Youth. They built a relationship with this young woman, and helped her with housing for her and her 3 children. Mrs. McBride called Children, Youth and Families out of concern when the mother of the children was struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. The children were temporarily placed with the McBrides (informal kin care) until they were referred to A Second Chance, Inc. and licensed as formal kin caregivers. Currently, the McBrides are giving back to the children at A Second Chance, Inc., through the work they do with the community advisory board and grandparent support group.


With a vision of “A Family Waiting for Every Child in Foster Care,” Project 1.27 strives to inspire, recruit and resource churches and families to foster and adopt the kids in their own backyard. The successes of the effort in Colorado – beginning with 875 children waiting for adoption, reduced over the past several years down to 265 – have inspired a network of “1.27s” in several states.

Read the Chronicle of Social Change’s article on successful faith-based recruitment efforts here.

Rhonda Miescke, MSW

Family Care Manager, Project 1.27

Rhonda started working in Ongoing Child Protection at Arapahoe County, CO in 1978 and alternated between Ongoing Child Protection, Therapeutic Foster Care, and Child Abuse Investigations for the first 11 years.  She went to graduate school while working in Child Abuse Investigations in 1987-1988 and graduated with her Master’s in Social Work in May 1988.  In 1988, Rhonda was promoted to Foster Care Supervisor until leaving Arapahoe County in 2007.  Over 400 children were adopted during her tenure as the Adoption Supervisor in Arapahoe County. Rhonda came to work at Project 1.27 as the Training Team Manager, later as a Case Manager, and now as the Family Care Manager.  Given her experience working in the child welfare system for nearly 29 years, she now utilizes experience and my faith to prepare and serve foster and adoptive families well. Rhonda has opened her home to her sister and her 3 youngest daughters, and her brother and his son.  She has the opportunity to practice every day what she teaches parents about how to parent children who have experienced trauma, as all of the children in her home have experienced significant trauma in their lives.

Photo Credit to Erica Baker Photography

 Misti Martin

Colorado, Foster and Adoptive Parent

Misti and Jon Martin are foster and adoptive parents from Colorado. They have a total of 9 children; four biological children ages 15-21, and 5 children adopted through foster care, ages 22 months-10 years old. Olivia, their adopted 7-year-old daughter, has significant medical needs, and a terminal heart condition. Currently, they are foster parents to a medically fragile 11-month-old baby girl. When they first started their training through Project 1.27, it was their intention to adopt one child, possibly two, if in a sibling group. They never imagined being parents to so many children, especially children with severe medical needs. The Martins believe that every child, no matter the diagnosis, disability, or prognosis has immeasurable value and deserves to know love and be loved. Every child, if given the opportunity, they will thrive in a stable, nurturing, and loving environment. Because of this, the Martins consider it a privilege to open their hearts and their home as a licensed medical foster home.

CCAI Announces Its New Website

New Website Blog Image

CCAI Announces Its New Website


CCAI is excited to announce the launch of our brand new, user friendly website with more adoption and foster care resources, improved navigation and easy access to information about our programs and ways you can engage with us in adoption advocacy!

 What You’ll Find

To serve our various audiences better, we’ve divided the website into two distinct sites, the Main Site and the For Members of Congress site. When you visit the Main Site, you’ll find detailed information about CCAI, our five core programs and a comprehensive list of adoption and foster care related policy resources. The For Members of Congress site can be accessed by clicking the icon in the top right hand corner and is specially designed for congressional Members and staff to easily access to the most pertinent adoption and foster care information.

Additionally, the new website has been enhanced for use on mobile devices, so you will have access to CCAI’s programs and resources on the go.

Spread the Word!

Please help CCAI spread the word about the new website and our mission to eliminate obstacles preventing children from finding a safe, permanent and loving family! Forward this blog to a friend or family member so they can visit the website and connect with us. They can sign up to receive updates and news from us and follow us on other social media – all from the new site.

 Tell Us What You Think

Please take a moment to explore everything our new website has to offer and give us your feedback. We want to hear about your experience and any ideas or suggestions you might have. You can take our BRIEF NEW WEBSITE VISITOR SURVEY or email CCAI’s Senior Director of Programs, Allison Coble at

We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the new CCAI website!

Bill & Jen of TLC’s The Little Couple have a Special National Adoption Day Message for You

National Adoption Day is officially here! The dreams of thousands of children and families will come true today, at National Adoption Day celebrations in courthouses all across the nation where judges finalize more than 4,500 adoptions of children from foster care.

We are thrilled to announce that CCAI’s 2014 National Angels in Adoption™ honorees, Bill Klein and Dr. Jen Arnold of TLC’s The Little Couple, created a special National Adoption Day message to help celebrate this special day. Bill and Jen are adoptive parents and cannot imagine life without their precious children, Will and Zoey.

Will you help us raise awareness about these 4,500 adoptions as well as the almost 108,000 children and youth in foster care still waiting for a loving family to call their own? Share Bill and Jen’s video today to show your support of National Adoption Day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or by forwarding this email. Be sure to use with the following hashtags: #natadoptionday#nationaladoptionday, and #CCAIadoption.

As our friend and supporter, we want to celebrate this day with you too! Follow CCAI on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and be sure to tag us as you share the video! Together, we can be the difference for so many children seeking their forever families.

Watch Erik’s Surprise – The Power of Being Adopted at Age 18



November is National Adoption Month!

Celebrate  National Adoption Day  with CCAI Foster Youth Internship Program™ participant, Erik Barrus, by watching the  video of a special surprise he experienced at the 2015 Angels in Adoption™ Gala and reading his speech!

Erik’s Story

I first entered foster care when I was 14 years old and was placed in group homes the entire time because I was an undesirable, teenage male. The first two group homes I went into were little more than warehouses for children. They were cold…overcrowded…and unwelcoming. However, when I was 16 years old, I was placed at Open Gate Ranch and welcomed with open arms. I had a place to call home and people to call family. You see, the amazing couple that ran the Ranch, Craig and Becky Barrus, ended up adopting me as an adult when I was 18 years old. I need you all to understand this does NOT happen for most teenage boys in foster care! Not to mention the fact that children virtually never get adopted from group homes. But Craig and Becky have adopted a total of six boys, giving us all a forever family.

My adoptive parents have been a large influence in my life and have guided me to help others who are currently in foster care. They’ve taught me what it means to be a part of a family. For the first time I felt like I had a mother and father that loved and cared about me and I was their son. They taught by example how to give and receive love, and how families are always there for each other – through thick and thin. Some people say that blood is thicker than water. Though this may be somewhat true, my parents do not abide by that at all. They take boys into their home from all across the State of Montana and give them a safe refuge as well as unabashed love.

erik and senator blunt
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) surprised Erik Barrus by appearing on stage after Erik’s speech to congratulate him. Photo Credit: David Madison

Children, even teenage boys, need adoption to feel love and permanency. That is a big reason why I applied to the CCAI Foster Youth Internship Program™ in D.C. this past summer. I have always wanted to work in an arena where I could effect change. CCAI and their internship gave me that opportunity. I was able to work with the Senate Finance Committee as they considered group home reform. This was a fortuitous placement, because much of my experience in foster care was in group homes. As a Foster Youth Intern, I was able to learn so much about how I can help children who are still in foster care and are hoping to find their own forever families. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute gave me the opportunity to share my story and use it to, hopefully, impact Members of Congress, and by extension, kids in foster care across the country.

Tonight, we celebrate those who step forward to provide children and youth loving families. They are truly terrestrial “angels.” My parents gave me the gift of family, as well as a chance at a bright future – things I didn’t have growing up and didn’t even think were attainable. Being part of a family was something I always hoped for, but never thought was possible for me to have. I honestly was not sure that I was worthy of such a beautiful gift. I am so grateful for this opportunity that I have been given to be here and speak to you about the importance of fostering and adopting children and youth. It is cliché, but children are the future and if we are failing them now then how can we expect them to succeed in the future. If they are not granted normalcy as a child how can they be expected to be “normal” adults.

Erik Barrus was embraced by his dad, Craig Barrus. Erik had no clue his dad was going to surprise him on stage at the 2015 Angels in Adoption™ Gala! Photo Credit: Gordon Wenzel

My dad has always pushed me to do my best, try new things, and to expand my horizons. I cannot imagine being here in our nation’s capital to be a voice and representative for children in foster care if it were not for my father always pushing me out of my comfort zone and to strive for success. My dad and mom have helped to make me that man I am today and for that I will be forever grateful and forever in their debt.

Save the date for CCAI’s #GivingTuesday!

giving tuesday

With more than 415,000 children in foster care and an additional 100,000 waiting to be adopted, CCAI is dedicated to raising awareness and providing programs that support the children across this nation and around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family. Choose CCAI on December 1st for #GivingTuesday and help us create a spectacular display of love and support for these vulnerable children. Your support will make the difference, each and every donation will make an impact!


Photo Essay: An Inside Look at the 2015 Angels in Adoption™ Program


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 2015 Angels in Adoption™ Program!

CCAI kicked off the Angels in Adoption™ activities with a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building!
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), spoke to Angels in Adoption™ honorees at the Senate Congressional Breakfast.
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), celebrated the Roland Family’s recent adoption at the Senate Congressional Breakfast.
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CCAI Advisory Council Member, U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), congratulated his constituents, the Lightner Family, at the Congressional Luncheon.
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair, U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), congratulated Angels in Adoption™ honorees Bruce and Denise Kendrick for opening their hearts and home to children in need of a loving family.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) met with Angels in Adoption™ honorees during Hill Day.
2015 Angels in Adoption™  Gala Red Carpet! Left to Right: Becky Weichhand, Jack Gerard, Claudette Gerard, Erik Barrus, Korie and Willie Robertson.


Gala emcee’s Willie and Korie Robertson shared from their hearts: “We are honored and humbled to be a part of the Angels in Adoption™ Gala again this year. Adoption has been a huge blessing to our family and we want to do all that we can to support adoptive parents and help children in need find their forever families.” (Korie’s new book “Strong and Kind” releases on October 19th.)
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.”
Foster Youth Intern Alumni, Erik Barrus, received a hug from his adoptive dad, Craig Barrus. During the Gala, Erik shared his story of being adopted at age 18 out of foster care. CCAI surprised Erik on stage by flying in Craig from his home in Montana. “My parents gave me the gift of family, as well as a chance at a bright future–things I didn’t have growing up and didn’t even think were attainable. Being part of a family was something I always hoped for, but never thought was possible for me to have. I honestly was not sure that I was worthy of such a beautiful gift.”


Emmy nominated actress, Connie Britton’s acceptance speech. “I can’t imagine anything that would mean more to me than receiving this award.”
Singer and actress, Rachel Crow received her Angels in Adoption™ award from Congressional Coalition on Adoption Co-Chair U.S. Representative Trent Franks. “I am motivated to see that each child feels loved and important and is given the opportunity to find a stable, loving home that will enable them to pursue their talents and dreams – just like I was.”
Rachel Crow invited all who had been in foster care or adopted to join her on stage as she sang “Fight Song.”