In the shadow of another epidemic, we must protect our children
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When a child is removed from their parent and placed in the child welfare system, the government becomes that child’s parent. Too often, the government forgets this commitment and life goes on for those not in the child welfare system. But for those in it, they come to feel trapped and forgotten. It’s our job as elected officials here in Congress, to make sure that we support our children and reform the child welfare system.

May is National Foster Care Month; a month to honor the successes and challenges of the more than 400,000 foster youth across the country and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of those who work to improve outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Making sure that all children have a permanent and loving home is not a Democrat or Republican issue—it should be an American priority.

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As we write this, our country’s child welfare system becomes increasingly populated due to the consequences of a drug epidemic ravaging our country. The last time an epidemic of this magnitude occurred, the number of kids in foster care exploded. By 1999, after the epidemic had somewhat subsided, there were more than 567,000 youth in the foster care system -- almost 150,000 more youth than were in the system just three years ago. The current crisis is already devastating families and our already over-worked and under-resourced child welfare system. We have learned so much from past epidemics and how it affected those in the child welfare system - one of the most pointed lessons being the inclusion of those who are living within the system that we need to reform. Now, we must apply those lessons to the epidemic at hand.

This year, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, in conjunction with the National Foster Youth Institute, hosted its 7th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, a program that brings foster youth from all over the country to meet and shadow the very members of Congress who represent them in Washington, D.C. No one knows more about the pitfalls of our nation’s child welfare system than those who grew up in it. These young people traveled thousands of miles to come to D.C. to share their stories - their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication, or homelessness; in addition to their successes with mentorship, adoption, family reunification, community activism and independent living.

The result of these visits is a better understanding of how to improve the child welfare system. The Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus bill passed earlier this year had the single biggest increase in child care funding history. There were also significant funding increases for many child welfare programs that are normally left with frozen funding levels or across-the-board cuts. While the package didn’t have everything either of us would want and included some things that we both would’ve liked to do without, the progress made on behalf of the youth in our child welfare system is much needed and significant.

This visit is not an end; it’s a continuation of our work to reform the child welfare system and to include the voices of those directly impacted in that change.

Our society is judged on how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. We must provide a hand up to foster youth and celebrate their accomplishments, praise foster families, caregivers, and relatives for their selflessness to others, continue investing in life improving foster care services, and always assist children as they age out of the foster care system.

To the foster youth of this country: we hear you and we’re here for you. 

Reps. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassSentencing reform is critical for youth in the justice system Pregnant and imprisoned: The crisis thousands of women are facing Santorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI MORE (D-Calif.) and Tom MarinoThomas (Tom) Anthony Marino'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol In the shadow of another epidemic, we must protect our children Republicans refuse to back opioids bill sponsored by vulnerable Dem MORE (R-Pa.) are co-founders and co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, one of the largest bipartisan caucuses in all of Congress.