For generations, our nation has believed in the American dream: that each individual is given an opportunity to succeed through hard work, grit, and determination.
However, for the more than 400,000 young people in foster care in the United States this dream can often seem out of reach. That’s why it’s critical for us – members of Congress – to interact with those currently and formerly in the foster care system, listen to their needs, and implement changes that make a difference in their lives. They are our constituents and our children, and they deserve their voice to be heard in our nation’s halls of power.
As co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, we have chosen to make the concerns and dreams of foster youth a focus of our public service. It has been a rewarding and educational experience—and today we will welcome more than 100 current and former foster youth to Washington, D.C., for Shadow Day, part of Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Week.
This event, hosted in conjunction with the National Foster Youth Institute, gives these future leaders the opportunity to follow their members of Congress for a day on Capitol Hill. While in Washington, they also participate in educational seminars and forums, as well as tour the sights and monuments of our nation’s capital.
Their presence on Capitol Hill is an important reminder to all of us of the work we still need to do to adequately meet the needs of foster youth. The 130 young people coming to this year’s Shadow Day have spent a combined 725 years in the foster care system—more than five-and-a-half years each. That’s nearly three terms for a member of the House of Representatives.
Foster youth are among our most unrecognized citizens. Many of them are shuffled between multiple homes, never really putting down roots, until they eventually age out of the system and are left to fend for themselves. The majority of this year’s delegates aged out, while just 12 percent found a permanent family through adoption.
Unfortunately, there are few groups looking out for foster youth. All these young people often have is their own strength—and what must feel like the faint promise of an American dream. Shadow Day is a chance for them to speak up and have their voices heard by our nation’s leaders. For members of Congress, having these courageous foster youth joining us as our “shadows” gives us a better perspective and serves as a reminder of the many issues they face.
Shadow Day has proven to be a truly enriching experience. Shadow Day participants are outstanding examples of inner strength, and it is our strong belief that everyone’s worldview would be improved by spending time with foster youth. These individuals exemplify the American values of perseverance and resilience.
However, these foster youth also remind us that there are hundreds of thousands of children just like them, who must overcome hardships and obstacles daily with no one to go to bat for them. As elected leaders, we owe it to them to be their advocates, and we look forward to having them with us today.
Mitchell represents Michigan’s 10th District and Langevin represents Rhode Island’s 2nd District.