Tools for Transformation: Building a Compassionate Child Welfare System – CCAI’s 2018 Foster Youth Interns Release Report and Recommendations


The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute announces the release of the 2018 Foster Youth Internship Program® Policy Report: Tools for Transformation: Building a Compassionate Child Welfare System.

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Congratulations to our 15th Anniversary Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program® class on the release of their policy report, Tools for Transformation: Building a Compassionate Child Welfare System! Each of our ten Foster Youth Interns spent the summer not only interning on Capitol Hill but also researching, writing and publishing a report of recommendations on reforming the U.S. child welfare system. Using their personal experiences, the Foster Youth Interns proposed concrete actions that Congress could take to improve child welfare policy.

CCAI’s 15th Anniversary Class of Foster Youth Interns presented their policy report recommendations at a congressional briefing on July 17, 2018, and a White House Administration Briefing on Foster Care Reform on July 23, 2018.

For eleven consecutive years, the FYI Program’s congressional policy report has provided the federal government with real solutions to some of its most challenging problems in the child welfare system. Previous reports have resulted in new federal legislation that helps the over 437,000 children in the U.S. foster care system.

Read the 2018 report here.

Read a summary of their recommendations below:

Brittney Barros (MI): Paving the Way to Sibling Connections

  • Congress should create and pass a National Sibling Bill of Rights, based off of state legislative models, that provides specific guidance on keeping siblings together.
  • Congress should authorize the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to establish a competitive grant program to encourage state child welfare agencies to develop specialized foster care programs designed specifically for sibling groups with a large number, a wide age range, and complex needs.
  • Congress should urge HHS to release, without delay, the December 2016 Final Rule on the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) which contains critical data elements related to sibling placement and separation.

Calli Crowder (OH): Building a Bridge to Adulthood: Supporting Foster Parents So Youth Can Thrive

  • Congress should authorize funds to direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide state child welfare agencies with technical assistance to help them maximize enhanced federal IV-E training dollars to expand and improve foster parent training.
  • Congress should authorize HHS to establish a new National Foster and Adoptive Parents Database (NFAPD) that requires state child welfare agencies to collect and submit key data on foster parents, relative caregivers and adoptive families.
  • Congress should establish a new pool of federal funding that allows states to reimburse foster families for the additional costs of critical youth development and enrichment activities that enhance normalcy, stability and a successful transition into adulthood.

Shay House (CA): One Home, One School: Investing in Placement and Educational Stability for Foster Youth

  • Congress should test targeted community-based recruitment to preserve children’s community connections
  • Congress should ensure training that equips foster parents with the necessary skill set to effectively serve this demographic of youth.
  • Congress should create peer support networks for foster parents.

Cortney Jones (TX): Ensuring Children’s Well-Being by Supporting Kinship Caregivers

  • Congress should allow states to use Title IV-E foster care dollars to fund kinship care services and supports.
  • States must include in their Title IV-E plan details on how they will ensure that all kinship families are made aware of the full range of options and services available through the child welfare agency and in the community.
  • Congress should expand and add additional funding to the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) of the Older Americans Act to ensure that kinship caregivers have access to legal representation.

Noor Kathem (AZ): Connecting Unaccompanied Refugee Minors with Culturally-Competent Foster Families and Comprehensive Support Services

  • Congress should authorize the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide competitive grants that allow states to establish comprehensive Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Navigator Programs that connect URMs with appropriate resources and help them navigate across multiple systems.
  • Congress should direct HHS’s Administration of Children, Youth and Families to establish a competitive program that allows states to develop targeted strategies to recruit and train culturally-competent, trauma-informed foster families for URMs.

Amber Lindamood (WA): Tools for Opportunity: An In-Depth Look at Childhood Trauma and Prevention Services

  • Congress should increase funding for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) programs that allow states to create and expand Family Resource Centers.
  • Congress should require that states include in their Title IV-E state plan details on how standardized assessment tools will be used to identify and address children’s needs.
  • Congress should establish a National Commission to make necessary recommendations to revise the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Ixchel Martinez (CA): Addressing the Needs of a Nation

  • Congress should authorize competitive state grants through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to assist in the development and implementation of evidence-based and trauma-informed schools that can then be brought to scale across the nation.
  • Congress should direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to collect additional data elements on the educational outcomes of youth in foster care, including attendance, graduation rates, dropout rates, number of foster youth with a learning or developmental disability, number of foster youth receiving IEP services, standardized test scores, suspensions and expulsion rates, grade promotion/retention rates, and number of foster youth enrolled in Low-Performing Schools to be reported in its national data collection efforts through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

Alison Myers (IL): Transforming Extended Foster Care: More Meaningful Preparation for a Brighter Future

  • Congress should require all states to extend foster care to age 21, and give them the option to extend to age 23 while providing states with additional funding grants to implement this requirement.
  • Congress should replace both the current transition plan and the requirements to receive extended care services with the single obligation of following an “Individualized Advancement Plan” (IAP). The IAP would dually serve as a transitional plan from ages 16 – 18 and as the conditions to receive extended care services from ages 18– 23.

Terrence Scraggins (ID): Acceptance and Empowerment: Helping LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care through Training, Data Collection and Non-Discrimination Laws

  • HHS should swiftly implement the 2016 Final Rule on AFCARS, including the data elements related to LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. States should begin screening youth, on a voluntary basis, on whether they identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Congress must pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (S. 1303/H.R. 2640) to ensure more individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ can become foster parents.
  • Congress should require states to provide training for youth, foster parents and professionals working within the child welfare system on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.

Jordan Sosa (CA): You Must Learn: Connecting Foster Youth to Social Capital and Higher Education

  • Congress should authorize grant programs to fund and scale programs like Guardian Scholars in California, which provides comprehensive supports to young people in college who have spent time in the foster care system.
  • Congress should pass the Foster Youth Mentoring Act (H.R. 2952) which creates a grant program within Title IV-B of the Social Security Act to provide mentoring programs for youth in foster care.
  • Congress should pass the Mentoring to Succeed Act (S. 1658) which amends the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 to give the Department of Education the authority to award grants to school-based mentoring programs to assist at-risk students in middle and high school.

We thank all of our Foster Youth Interns for their hard work this summer! We look forward to seeing the results of their recommendations. Learn more about CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program® here.

Contact Kate McLean at to learn more about the ways you can support 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 advocates.


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

Life as a Foster Youth Intern: Brittney Barros


June 29, 2018

I started off my Monday nervous. I looked at my intern calendar first thing in the morning and saw I was assigned to my first Capitol Visitors Center (CVC) tour. The beautiful architecture of the Capitol is quite intimidating. How could I express in words to the visitors the historical background this building has? I studied my tour notes anxiously hoping that I would be able to provide the most insightful tour the visitors had ever received. “Brittney, your tour is ready,” I hear my Intern Coordinator call out to me. I greeted my first tour with a big smile and welcoming heart, ready to show them our Nation’s most powerful establishment.

First, we entered the Crypt; next, the Rotunda, making our way through the oldest Supreme Court Chamber and analyzing the exact moments in history where the founding fathers met to establish our Country. After the tour, I thanked them for coming. They praised me for how good of a job I did and how much of an impact the tour had on their knowledge of history and their trip. I share this story to reflect on how as a congressional intern I can impact people’s lives.

Later that week, I had the opportunity to participate in a Latina Leaders Summit for Latinas that want to run for office one day, which fits me perfectly. I heard stories of perseverance from Latina congresswomen, such as State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA). They spoke about their trials and tribulations in running for office. Hearing their testimony inspired me as a young Latina with dreams of becoming a public servant.

Finally, to top off the end of the week, I witnessed an immigration protest with over 600 activists fighting for immigrant rights, ending detention camps, and reuniting families. This protest took place at the Hart Senate Building, right where my office is! I looked down from the 7th floor as the protestors chanted “Where are the children?” “We care,” and “Abolish ICE.” I felt goosebumps throughout my body as this organized chaos continued to fight for change. This protest reflected that the power belongs to the people.

I have had amazing opportunities through CCAI and my congressional office. From serving constituents by giving them tours, to witnessing a powerful protest, to going to events impacting my identity and community, this dual internship has provided me with everlasting memories, opportunities, and people with whom I can connect.

Life as a Foster Youth Intern: Amber Lindamood



February 14, 2018.
I’m sitting in a middle row in my Social Work 506 Research Methods class, feeling like I’m about to throw up, hands sweating, heart racing. My phone rings. As it vibrates on my desk, I stare at it in wonder—not knowing if I should answer it or not, knowing it holds information that will change my summer….and life.

A month prior, I had just started my second quarter of grad school. I was feeling fresh, excited to be taking a different set of classes, and eager for new opportunities. Researching TedTalks for an assignment late one night, I came across an opportunity of a lifetime: a D.C. internship designed specifically for foster youth. This summer-long internship allows foster care alumni the opportunity to write a child welfare policy report that reflects personal experience and best practices. The interns present this report to Members of Congress at the end of the summer. I Googled it to see if it was legit (it was) and found out I had a little over a week to complete all of the required application materials.

I grabbed my backpack, and after what seemed like a LIFETIME, I went outside and answered my phone. I was greeted by a kind voice from a woman in D.C. stating, “This year we had a large number of applicants, and while we were impressed with your application and resume….”

Was my essay not profound? Does this agency really care about the future of kids just like me? Am I not good enough? Smart enough? Why don’t they like me?

“…we’re excited to offer you a spot in this year’s Foster Youth Internship Program.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

June 20, 2018.
Celebrating my fourth week in D.C., I close my notebook and begin to cry. It’s been a long and emotionally draining week, and though many emotions have been stirred in my heart, I don’t feel alone.

I was removed from my biological family at the age of six due to severe allegations of abuse and neglect. Food insecurity, addiction, and physical and emotional abuse are all parts of my story that brought me into care. Many times my lived experience left me feeling isolated and alone, and I felt that no one understood or truly cared about what I was going through. All I wanted was someone to listen to and invest in me, and for the longest time, I didn’t have that—or feel worthy enough to receive it.

I sit at my desk after finishing a heart-wrenching constituent phone call, and I’m brought back to this space. In the back of my mind, I see myself as a little girl, big brown eyes sparkling, looking to my mother for some sign of visibility and recognition.

As I center myself back into the current moment, I begin to realize my past experiences weren’t all in vain, and that this feeling isn’t truly a phenomenon. The longing to be heard and valued are expressed and felt by folks all over the world, and working in my congressional office has provided me with a tiny glimpse of these experiences all over the country.

How would our world be different if we made listening and validation a normal part of life?

How would this change our families, communities, and government?

As I continue on my policy writing and self-actualization journey, I encourage you to join me by reflecting on your personal life experiences and how you invest into the lives of people around you. What are your passions? How can we use our strengths to better others?  When was the last time we set our phones aside, looked someone in the eyes, and just soaked in the moment?

I truly believe that everyone longs to be seen and valued, and all we need to do is listen.

Life as a Foster Youth Intern: Terrence Scraggins


Like many applicants to CCAI’s extremely competitive Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program®, I applied to this internship multiple times. The first time I applied was several years ago. It was spring of 2009, and I was a new high school graduate with only a year and a half of college under my belt. I was not yet well-versed on or even ready to take such a big leap into the intimidating Capitol Hill lifestyle. Here I am nearly ten years later, and I made the cut!

If you had asked me ten years ago if I had planned to fail out of school, join the US Navy, return to that same school and recently be admitted to Boise State University’s School of Social Work, I would’ve laughed. Yet, here I am doing it with pride!

Don’t be fooled though; it isn’t all fun and games. There is definitely a lot of fun involved, but there is also so much hard work and dedication asked of me.

When I accepted this internship, I had no idea what to expect. As a foster care alum, I knew from experience that you should never try to set expectations concerning the unknown as it typically only sets you up for disappointment. The Foster Youth Internship Program® is such a unique program. I chose to set no expectations, and for that, I am so glad.

So far, this has been one of the greatest and most humbling experiences I have been fortunate enough to be involved with. I get to tell my story while also working with and meeting individuals who can make an impact—people who have the ability to make history through policies and laws.

Having 11 other brilliant and like-minded adults as fellow FYIs whose stories and backgrounds are similar to mine has been so helpful. When we first arrived, we attended a retreat where we had quality bonding time. I learned so much about myself as well as about each individual’s specific story. Feeling support from peers who have gone and are going through similar aspects of my life was so rewarding. We have a connection many others are unable to attain. We are all using our own life experiences, both positive and negative, to foster change. This is extremely empowering for me! Not to mention the positive vibe we all have. Not once have I felt made fun of or judged for the way I think or what I say.

On a lighter note, having never been to our nation’s capital before this internship, I can’t get enough of D.C. culture! As a beginning/intermediate runner, I’ve begun to incorporate national landmarks into my runs. On our second or third day here, a couple of my fellow cohort members and I ran to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. I’ve also run to the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial and along the Potomac River. I would have to say the most impactful monument I have been to thus far was the WWII Memorial. The history and meaning behind it gave me chills. This memorial shed new light on our country’s history and culture. I hope to visit the African American History Museum as well as the Holocaust Memorial Museum as these are also crucial pages in American history.

What I’m trying to say in not so many words is that CCAI is doing great things. To say I’m in D.C. is a blessing within itself. I sincerely look forward to continuing to immerse myself in our nation’s capital and its intricate culture. I also look forward to helping pave the way for youth in care who need us now more than ever. They are the real heroes and deserve so much credit.

If you haven’t been to our nation’s capital yet, you must go at some point—it will change your life!

U.S. Representative ROBERT ADERHOLT (R-AL 4) Named Adoption Coalition Co-Chair for the 115th Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 13, 2018 –The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), in partnership with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCA), announced the newest CCA co-chair for the 115th Congress: Representative Robert Aderholt of Alabama.

The CCA is the largest bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Member organization and works to engage Members of Congress on issues pertaining to children in need of permanency and adoption, children in the foster care system, and domestic and international child welfare, as well as to advocate for every child’s right to a safe, stable and loving family. The role of the CCA co-chairs is to lead and actively engage their colleagues in Congress and draft and support federal policies that help place children in families.

Representative Aderholt is serving his 11th term in Congress and is a member of the powerful Committee on Appropriations. Prior to serving in Congress, Rep. Aderholt was an aide to Alabama Governor Fob James, and a Municipal Judge. Aderholt and his family are longtime supporters of CCAI, adoption, foster youth and child welfare issues. Since his first days as a Member of Congress, he has sponsored and co-sponsored dozens of bills relating to adoption and child welfare issues, and over the years Rep. Aderholt has made clear his commitment to children without families, whether through assisting families in his own state and district, participating in CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program, advocating for preservation of the adoption tax credit, or responding to international crises such as the Russian ban on intercountry adoption that impacted hundreds of American families who were in the process of adopting. In 2016, Rep. Aderholt joined CCAI on a 20/20 Vision Program congressional delegation to Haiti, which moved him deeply and strengthened his commitment to elevating family care for orphans and vulnerable children as a priority for the U.S. government.

“I am honored to be the new Republican House Co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. I look forward to working with my co-chairs and colleagues to promote adoption among U.S. families and in our policies and laws. Adoption is such a wonderful choice and I will do all I can to help more children find their forever families,” Aderholt said.

Aderholt will join CCA’s current three co-chairs: Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative Brenda Lawrence of Michigan.

“The Congressional Coalition on Adoption plays a pivotal role in advancing policies to protect foster youth and promote adoption,” said Blunt. “As a champion for foster youth and adoptive families, Rep. Aderholt will be a strong addition to the team. I look forward to working with him and the CCA to continue our effort to help more children find the safe, loving home they deserve.”

By joining the CCA, Members of Congress have the opportunity to participate in programs and events throughout the year that allow them to interact with vulnerable children and youth, the families that care for them, and subject matter experts to hear the stories of the challenges and opportunities they experience and to strengthen federal policy with this information.

“As Senate co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption I’ve worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help make the adoption process better for families across our country. As the new House co-chair, Rep. Aderholt will be an important advocate for adoptive families as we work to ensure that every child has a safe home and a loving family,” Klobuchar said.

Lawrence said, Our adoptive and foster youth are deserving of strong advocates in Congress. Because of his indisputable passion and dedication to serving some of the most vulnerable populations, I am proud to welcome Rep. Aderholt as the new Co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. I look forward to working with him as we fight for children in need of a permanent and loving family.” 

The co-chairs and CCA are supported by CCAI, the non-profit institute dedicated to raising awareness about children in need of families both domestically and internationally and to eliminating the policy barriers that hinder children from finding their forever families.

“We are so pleased that Representative Aderholt is stepping into this leadership role in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to child welfare and adoption policy. CCAI looks forward to supporting him and his staff in the co-chair role as a resource,” said Becky Weichhand, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

For more than 30 years, CCA Members have led Congress in the passage of legislation that has dramatically improved the lives of children and families including the “Adoption and Safe Families Act,” the “John Chafee Foster Care Independence Act,” the “Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act,” the “Hope for Children Act,” the “Intercountry Adoption Act,” the “Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act,” and the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.” Most recently, many CCA Members supported the passage of the “Family First Prevention and Services Act.”

Today there are over 437,000 children in foster care, and nearly 118,000 of these children are eligible for adoption, waiting for families to call their own. Children living in orphanages globally are estimated conservatively at eight million, with unknown numbers living on the streets.


The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute ( is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that serves as an objective, educational resource for information critical to advancing the efforts of federal policymakers on behalf of children in need of families. This year, CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program celebrates its 20th year, and the Foster Youth Internship Program® celebrates its 15th anniversary. Both programs are beloved by Members of Congress and bring the voices of experience in foster care and adoption to the halls of power in the U.S. Congress. To learn more about CCAI, follow the organization on Twitter (, Facebook ( and YouTube (


A Special Message from a Foster Care Alumna to Our Veterans

A Special Message from a Foster Care Alumna to Our Veterans

from Tonisha Hora, CCAI 2017 Foster Youth Intern 

As we celebrate National Adoption Month and Veterans Day this November, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) honors all our Veterans, as well as our Foster Youth Interns and Angels in Adoption® Honorees who have served (and are serving) in our military. We asked Tonisha Hora, one of our 2017 Foster Youth Interns and a service member in the Army National Guard, to share about herself and offer a message to our Veterans.

Tonisha visits with Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), on the Speaker’s Balcony of the Capitol this summer during the Foster Youth Internship Program® Hill Day.

What is your current role in the Reserves?

Tonisha with her siblings

I am a Wheel Vehicle Mechanic as well as a Recovery Specialist/Operator in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

What are your future goals? How are both your experiences in the Foster Youth Internship Program® and in the National Guard moving you in the direction of these goals?

Personally, my husband and I are excited for kids, whenever that may come, and I hope to be a foster parent one day as well as possibly adopt.

Professionally, I have so many aspirations which all involve helping people. Specifically, I am passionate about abused children and foster care, as well as numerous other humanitarian issues. I plan on pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work and/or Public Policy, or perhaps even a law degree, and continue to try to change policies that will help marginalized groups of people, including those I have mentioned.

Regarding CCAI, Being a Foster Youth Intern this summer at CCAI quite literally changed my life. It opened my eyes to new career paths and interests as well as opened a multitude of doors and connections. It was truly a blessing.

Tonisha with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (WI), in who’s office she worked this summer.

The military has been helpful in my life in so many ways, too. The experience has really helped me solidify the mentality that I can do anything I aspire to do when I put in the effort. I’ve learned that giving 100% is essential, or you will not know your true potential. The military is truly my family and I cannot imagine not having them. And while I did not join for the college aid, today, I am so glad that I have it as a resource, because having been in foster care and not having family financial support, this has been a huge blessing financially. I am able to focus more on activities and volunteering in college that helped boost my resume and professional experiences, instead of being stressed about trying to make ends meet.


As we celebrate Veterans Day, what is your message to our veterans?

I just want to thank you all so much for your service and the sacrifice you and your families have made. You chose to possibly put your life on the line for others and that in itself is bravery and commitment. I applauded you and consider you an inspiration.

Tonisha Hora was a participant in the 2017 Foster Youth Internship Program®, one of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s signature programs. Special thanks to Jockey Being Family Foundation for sponsoring Tonisha’s participation in this elite internship program this summer as a member of our Sponsors Circle. To learn more about ways you can get involved with the Foster Youth Interns or National Adoption Month, please visit us at and contact Martina Arnold at 


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