From Foster Care to Capitol Hill

2014 Foster Youth Intern, Amnoni Myers, so graciously shared her story of survival at the recent Angels in Adoption gala. Watch her video and read her speech below!

Good evening everyone. It’s an honor to be here with all of you tonight. This is an opportunity that I would have never imagined a few years ago. But it’s because of Angels like you in my life that made it possible.

Life was not easy growing up. My mother abandoned me at birth and trauma became the theme that impacted my life early. I was taken in by a caregiver who neglected to feed and properly care for me. By the time I was six years old I experienced sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical violence. Already vulnerable, I entered into state care where I was separated from my siblings. My sense of family and identity was robbed. During my time in care, I moved around 5 times, and foster mothers seemed more interested in the economic benefits of caring for me than unconditionally loving and treating me like I was their own.

Sadly my story isn’t so unique. Thousands of children experience these types of obstacles each day but the uniqueness of my story is—I survived. Though survival wasn’t always easy, I thank God for placing people in my life then I needed it most because strangers became my family. Strange, right? But if it wasn’t for those who decided to invest in me, I wouldn’t be here today.

I would also like to credit my story of survival to my faith in God and to my inner determination and strength to NEVER GIVE UP despite the many odds that were against me. It was during a very critical time when I heard these important words: Never allow your past to dictate your future.

This summer I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program. This program impacted my life tremendously. As part of this experience, I was able to develop lifelong friendships with people who had been through experiences that were similar to mine.  What I found to be unique about CCAI is that they see potential in every intern that comes through their doors no matter what they have experienced. In my time as an intern I found that my voice finally mattered and was valued. CCAI provided a wealth of opportunities that I was able to experience right at my fingertips!

We went on retreats where we could share our stories with each other, learned how to effectively tell our stories to people we would be working with on Capitol Hill, and spent a weekend at Deep Creek Lake where some of us experienced jet skis, boating, and tubing for the first time. Growing up in the inner city never afforded me these types of opportunities so it felt good to be able to check off so many excursions on my bucket list at once (despite crashing into a tree and falling off the tubes multiple times).

As a Foster Youth Intern, I was assigned to the office of Senator Chuck Grassley. Because the Senator is a leader on foster care issues, I was able to work on projects specifically related to federal child welfare policy and my firsthand perspective was valued in the office because of my journey in the foster care system. My supervisor, Kathy, encouraged me to not only share my perspective with her, but also with the other interns in the office.

The Foster Youth Interns develop a policy report, which we present to policymakers and staff. The CCAI staff spends many long nights helping us refine our recommendations. For my policy recommendations I chose to focus on the need to standardize trauma-informed care training for caregivers and to provide ongoing training in this area. I envision that one day my recommendations will be enacted into law!

Although I was anxious about whether I was equipped to handle the workload of a Congressional Internship, being here gave me the chance to develop a healthier sense of myself. It was people like the staff at CCAI, Senator Chuck Grassley and his staff, my mentor Aisha, and my Sara Start Fund mentor who not only believed in me, but also invested their time in me, loved me, and adopted me into their families.

To tonight’s Angels in Adoption honorees, this is exactly what all of you have done for children like me. You saw something special in them that others didn’t see, and you are making an impact not only in their life but in the lives of future generations to come!

My time here on Capitol Hill has prepared me for my future goals to change and impact policy. I am now participating in a fellowship program in California where I am working with underprivileged youth and their families. Speaking of future goals, I also applied for The White House Internship this summer and I am keeping my fingers crossed that someone in the audience has a connection they can send my way!

I am eager to return to Washington D.C. because I know my work here is not quite finished. CCAI gave me wings so that I could fly, and with the experiences I have gained, I will continue to invest in the lives of children in the same ways that CCAI and all of you have invested in me!

2014 Foster Youth Interns Release their Report to Congress


We are pleased to share with you the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) 2014 Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Report Shaping Tomorrow with Today’s Minds.  In it, former foster youth share their personal experiences and creative federal policy recommendations that address a range of child welfare issues, including:

  • Giving Youth a Voice: Contact After Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
  • Increasing Stability for Infants and Toddlers in Care
  • Essential Documentation for Youth in Care
  • Addressing the Trauma: Treating Children’s Mental Health with Screening and Assessments
  • Creating Best Practice Standards for the Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System
  • Renewing the System’s Commitment to Child Well Being: Fostering Resilience through Trauma Informed Training
  • Providing Comfort and Information to Children Transitioning into the System
  • Stolen Pasts, Corrupted Futures: Preventing Identity Theft for Youth in Foster Care
  • Empowering Foster Youth through Case Plan Trainings to Increase Youth’s Acceptance Rate of Extended Foster Care
  • Helping Foster Youth Overcome Barriers to Employment
  • Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth: Special Education and Mental Health

In past years, the Foster Youth Interns’ reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing the nearly 400,000 children currently in or transitioning out of the United States foster care system.

“A core value of our work at CCAI is to bring those with experiential knowledge of child welfare policy and practice to Washington, D.C., to share their firsthand accounts with policymakers such as the 150 Members of Congress in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. The Foster Youth Internship program is designed to do just that. Once again this summer, our interns have combined their individual life experiences in foster care across the nation with what they have learned about federal child welfare policy during their internships in the U.S. Congress. The result is this report filled with their innovative ideas to solve challenges they and other children in foster care face growing up in the system,” CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand wrote in the report.

The electronic copy of the Foster Youth Interns’ 2014 report is available here!

Meet the 2014 Foster Youth Interns!

By Ashleigh Davenport; 2014 FYI Resident Assistant

CCAI is excited to welcome the 2014 Foster Youth Interns (FYI’s) to Washington, D.C. to begin their summer interning on Capitol Hill.  This internship provides individuals who have spent a significant amount of time in the United States foster care system with the opportunity to intern in a United States Congressional office. They will not only share their experiences in foster care, but influence public policy through a report geared toward the improvement of the foster care system.

I remember being in their shoes last year as the excitement of a summer working on Capitol Hill began to build.  Participating in the 2013 Foster Youth Internship program and interning in the office of Senator John Boozman (R-AR) gave me direction in what I wanted to do with my law degree, provided life-long friendships, and gave me a place to tell my story.  This year, I have returned to CCAI and Capitol Hill to help the 2014 class receive everything they can from this amazing opportunity.

As this year’s FYI Resident Assistant, I would like to take a few moments of your time to introduce you to the new interns.  They are a wonderful group of interns that have overcome many challenges in order to make a difference for future generations of foster youth.  Let me tell you all a little bit about our 12 FYI’s:

CCAI 2014 Foster Youth Interns

Kaylia Ervin – Big Rapids, Michigan                                                                                                     Kaylia comes to us from Ferris State University where she studies Criminal Justice and Psychology.  She is passionate about protecting children from the overuse of psychotropic medication and will be interning in the office of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Dominique Freeman – Hyattsville, Maryland                                                                           Dominique currently attends Howard University where she is studying Psychology and Political Science.  Dominique plans to become a child psychologist for foster youth, and will be interning in the office of Representative Karen Bass (D-CA).

Darrah Hall – Memphis, Tennessee                                                                                                     Darrah is celebrating her graduation from the University of Memphis where she obtained a degree in both Anthropology and African-American Studies. Darrah will be interning in the Senate Majority Finance Committee this summer.

Kellie Henderson – Phillipsburg, Kansas                                                                                            Kellie received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Kansas in May.  She is passionate about making sure foster youth have financial resources and mentorship as they age out and decide to pursue higher education.  Kellie will be interning in the Senate Minority Finance Committee.

Jane Krienke – Kirksville, Missouri                                                                                                         Jane comes to us with a degree in Communication and Biology with a minor in Spanish from Truman State University.  With a passion for journalism and medicine, Jane will be interning in the office of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Samuel Leiva – Alexandria, Virginia                                                                                                        Sam attends Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where he studies American Studies and English.  He is interested in immigration policy, and the effect it has on the foster system. He will be interning in the office of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Wilondja Muyoma – Spokane, Washington                                                                                       Wilo was placed in a foster family in Seattle after being separated from his parents in The Congo.  He currently attends Whitworth University where he studies Economics and Politics with a minor in Computer Science. Wilo will be joining the office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) for the summer.

Amnoni Myers – Boston, Massachusetts                                                                                       Amnoni joins us from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts where she recently graduated with a double major in Social Work and Sociology.  Amnoni is passionate about breaking the cycle of poverty, and will be interning in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Robert (Tony) Parsons – Redford, Michigan                                                                                   Tony is a junior at Michigan State University studying Political Science and Pre-Law.  Tony enjoys singing and theater, and is interested in increasing stability and support for foster and adoptive families.  Tony will be working in the House Majority Ways and Means Committee.

Ta’Kijah (Ty) Randolph – Long Beach, California                                                                             Ty is a senior at California State University Long Beach where she is majoring in Communication and minoring in African Studies.  Ty is interested in the Independent Living Program and Chafee Grant and will be interning in the House Minority Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Emily Satifka – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania                                                                                      Emily joins us from Temple University in Philadelphia where she studies Political Science and Spanish.  In addition to her studies at Temple, she has a certificate in International Teaching English as a Foreign Language Training and teaches ESL classes to older immigrants.  Emily is interning in the office of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

Craig Stuart – Mesa, Arizona                                                                                                                       Craig currently attends Arizona State University where he studies Communications and Business.  He is passionate about finding ways to reunify the family by providing more resources to families that are facing hardship.  Craig will be interning in the office of Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ).

Welcome to Capitol Hill FYI Class of 2014! We have been eagerly awaiting your arrival and are so excited that you are finally here. This city stole my heart, and I know you will enjoy all of the opportunities that are available to you here. We look forward to celebrating your accomplishments this summer!


World Social Work Day – Story of one incredible social worker

CCAI would like to take a moment to honor the tens of thousands of social workers who dedicate their lives to protecting our world’s most vulnerable children. We also will continue to fight for the policies and programs social workers rely on to ensure that each and every child has a safe, loving and permanent family. 

In honor of this special day, we are pleased to share the story of one such hero, Scott Lee, and the immeasurable difference he made in the life of his daughter Mary, a CCAI Foster Youth Intern alumna.

Children have many superheroes such as batman, he-man, superwoman, spiderman and even their parents. But what about the 400,000 children in foster care? Who are their superheroes? We know that many of these children experience multiple placements, separation from siblings, changes in schools and trauma. As a former foster youth, I can say that my superhero was my case manager, Scott Lee. He was the one person who I felt like I could trust, that went out of his way to make sure I was doing well and encouraged me to pursue my educational goals. As a case manager he had lots of children on his caseload, but he always took the time to check in on me. In fact, he would pick me up from school and drive me home just so he could ask about my foster home and how school was going. There were times he gave up his weekends with his family to transport me to various events. When I decided that I wanted to be adopted, he supported my decision and encouraged me not to give up on finding a forever family even though I was a teenager.

To my surprise, Scott and his family became my forever family when they adopted me one week before my 18th birthday. As my case manager, he knew everything about me including the complaints from my foster parents. But he and his wife opened their hearts and home to me anyway.  For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged and that I was loved.  I feel so very blessed to have found permanency with such a wonderful and caring family. I know that this is not the norm for many children in foster care, but we’re making progress with finding life-long connections for our young people. In the meantime, case managers can help ensure that children have a positive experience during their stay in care.

Mary Lee

Even today my dad is still my superhero. He is always there when I need him, and he continues to support me and my goals. I am in awe of the work he has done as a father and case manager. I hope the work I do has as much impact as his has and that I too can be a superhero for the children and families I work with.

My dad is not only a superhero to me, but also to his church, community, friends and co-workers. His super powers include compassion, selflessness, dedication, and sharing joy with others. Like many case managers he has a desire and calling to help foster children, and will go out of his way to make sure they get the care and attention they desire and deserve. To all social workers out there – I applaud you. I know it can be a tiresome and thankless job, but I can assure you that you are making a difference.

As a call to action, I ask legislators, child advocates, child welfare leadership and the public to continue the discussions around how we can best support case managers whether it is through increased training and supervision, smaller caseloads, and/or competitive salaries so they too can be superheroes, like my dad, for the vulnerable children they serve.

Mary R. Lee works as a National Transitional Living Coordinator at Youth Villages in Memphis, Tennessee. She is also a Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Foster Youth Intern Alumna.

CCAI Foster Youth Intern’s Congressional Report leads to FAFSA Fix at the U.S. Department of Education

During her summer in Washington, D.C., CCAI Foster Youth Intern (FYI) Maurissa Sorensen brought to light a troubling problem surrounding higher education and foster youth in the United States. In the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report, Hear Me Now, Maurissa explained how the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was not designed to help alumni of U.S. foster care identify the federal resources for higher education that were created for them to access. As Maurissa explained in her report, “when I started community college, I was asked to fill out the FAFSA form, which included checking a box stating that I was a foster youth. I now understand that the purpose of this box is to separate out youth who will not be able to comply with the sections of the form that address parental income. I spent more than seven years in community college and filled out the FAFSA form each year. Unfortunately, during this time, no one from the federal government ever used this information that I was a foster youth to bring attention to the U.S. Department of Education that I was a student who may need additional resources and supports.”

A December 2012 CCAI blog post featured Maurissa and how her testimony and contribution to the FYI report (starting on page 19) prompted action by former Senator John Kerry who introduced the Foster Youth Higher Education Opportunities Act that same year after Maurissa interned in his office. The bill directed the Department of Education to ensure foster youth are aware of any and all potential assistance they can attain in pursuing a higher education. The bill was not passed into law, but Senators Feinstein, Inhofe and Landrieu picked up the idea as their former colleague transitioned to his role as Secretary of State.

On January 17, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Senator Landrieu and her staff worked to ensure that Division H, Title III, Section 310 of the bill directs the Secretary of Education to modify the FAFSA form so that it contains an individual box for identifying students who are current or former foster youth, as well as to use that identification as a tool to notify those students of their potential eligibility for federal student aid.

On February 3, fourteen U.S. Senators sent a letter was sent to Secretaries Arne Duncan (DOE) and Kathleen Sebelius (HHS) on behalf of current and former foster youth regarding their educational outcomes. The letter noted that only three percent of foster youth graduate from college, and that in addition to recent changes to raise awareness of resources for foster youth more changes were needed. Specifically, the Senators’ letter asked that “the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services coordinate dissemination efforts to reach foster youth and provide them with information about the resources that have been created to help them succeed.”

In response, Secretary Duncan sent a March 5, 2014 letter detailing plans for specific DOE outreach activities and other next steps to address the problem of insufficient awareness of information and resources for foster youth pursuing higher education. In his letter, Secretary Duncan listed a number of initiatives that were under way and planned to raise awareness about information and resources for foster youth, including Maurissa’s idea from the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report: The Secretary’s letter announced that DOE will modify the 2015-2016 FASFA form to contain a box that identifies foster youth so that DOE can then notify them of their eligibility for federal higher education assistance specifically created for them.

Upon hearing this news, Maurissa responded:

As a foster youth alumni I have experienced the hardships and hurdles that many of our foster youth face, trying to juggle the balancing act of post-secondary schooling and managing personal finances. Foster youth are supposed to be able to access federal financial aid to offset some of the financial barriers of attending post-secondary education. In 2001 when I began my post-secondary educational journey I was not made aware of this funding, even though I filled out the FAFSA ever year and checked the appropriate box for foster youth. Over the last 13 years, without any of the funds created to assist me as a former foster youth in gaining my higher education, I have earned my Bachelors in Psychology from California State University, Chanel Islands, my Masters in Education from Harvard, and am now on track to earn my Masters in Social Work and Public Policy Administration in May 2016. I am overjoyed and excited to see the Department of Education taking initiative to use the FAFSA form as a tool to help identify and educate future youth about federal assistance programs they qualify for and hope this will spare them some of the additional challenges I faced acquiring higher education.

CCAI thanks Secretary Duncan for his leadership at the Department in addressing this critical information gap and expresses deep gratitude to Senators Dianne Feinstein, James Inhofe, Mary Landrieu, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Jay Rockefeller, Al Franken, Ron Wyden, Patty Murray, Ben Cardin, Chuck Grassley, Carl Levin, and Tim Kaine for their continued dedication to fighting for better educational opportunities and outcomes for our nation’s current and former foster youth.

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

By Kathleen Strottman

kathleen (640x424)

Despite the daunting winter weather, today millions of Americans will take to the roads, the air and the rails to travel home in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I cannot think of a better example of how ingrained the ideal of family is in our society than Thanksgiving, a day when we come together to share in a bountiful meal and give thanks for our collective blessings.  Like many of you, I will begin and end Thanksgiving Day with an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the blessing of my own family.  And if tomorrow is like most of my other Thanksgiving celebrations in recent years, I will revel in watching my children build lifelong memories with their grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins.

At some point tomorrow I will observe what has become another annual tradition.  I will pause and say a prayer for the millions of children all over the world who will spend this holiday alone.  There is not a day that goes by my heart does not ache for these children, whose dream of a family to share holiday traditions with seems more like an unreachable dream than a soon-to-be reality.  Yet on a day designed to serve as a reminder of just how much having a family means in our lives, it aches all the more.

CCAI was founded on the simple yet profound belief that every child needs and deserves a family to call their own.  We go to work each day with the hopes of identifying the legal and policy barriers which prevent children from realizing their basic right to a family.  While we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal of a family for every child, we have taken many steps toward making this dream a reality this year.  For this I am incredibly grateful.

More specifically, this year I will give thanks for:

10. The Adoption Tax Credit Working Group and the Save the Adoption Tax Credit Campaign.  There is no doubt in my mind that this organized, effective campaign played a major role in making the adoption tax credit a permanent part of the tax code. This means more children will find families.  I also firmly believe this group has what it takes to convince Congress to make the Adoption Tax Credit refundable.

9. Senator Charles Grassley (R- IA), who has been a leader in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption for over a decade, and who recently reminded all in attendance at the Voice for Adoption Portrait Project reception of how important the goal of a family really is when he said, “We must always remember that foster care is meant to be a layover, not a destination.”

8. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids who continue to prove there is no such thing as an unadoptable child.  I am particularly grateful for their recent video, which reminds us that meeting your child for the first time, no matter when that moment occurs, is always a once in a lifetime experience.

7. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, who served at this year’s Angels in Adoption Gala emcees.  Their passion for adoption, their giving hearts and their unmatchable wit made this year’s gala one to remember.

6. Dr. Charles Zeanah of Tulane University, whose passion and commitment to deinstitutionalizing children and improving foster care is second to none.   CCAI was very fortunate to have Dr. Zeanah join us on our 20/20 Vision Program’s Congressional delegation to Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam in February.  Additionally, his presentation to a key group of Guatemalan officials in April during our Pathways to Permanency training moved some in the group to tears.

5. For Pat O’Brien and his legacy at “You Gotta Believe,” an organization wholly committed to finding forever families for older children.  This recently posted YouTube video is just one example of the thousands of families who have been born as a result of Pat’s tenacity.

4. The USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity – the first ever federal policy to acknowledge that reducing the number of children outside of family care should be one of our universal foreign policy goals.  The release of this important plan has opened the minds of many federal policymakers to the idea that food and shelter do not make children thrive, families do.

3. For Dr. Sharen Ford, who retired this year after nearly 30 years with the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said – “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”  Dr. Ford, tens of thousands of our nation’s most vulnerable children have breathed easier because of you.

2. For the Foster Youth Interns (FYIs) from this summer and every summer before.  Not a day goes by that I am not inspired by their example.  I am so proud to see you each grow into the leaders you were always meant to be.

2013 Foster Youth Interns on the steps of the Capitol

1. For my incredible staff who every day make me proud to be the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

CCAI staff with 2013 National Angel in Adoption Deborra-lee Furness and husband Hugh Jackman
Not Pictured: Our awesome Director of Operations, Dan!