With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: How many kids are in the foster care system in America?
A: On any given day, 415,000 children in the United States are living in foster care. For too many of America’s youth, the absence of a loving family and a permanent home stand in stark contrast to the stability and security that every child in this country deserves. Instead of growing up in a nurturing environment with parents and siblings who take pride in their achievements, who challenge them to do their best and who encourage them to rise above adversity and reach their fullest potential, a disadvantaged population of vulnerable children grows up with no permanent place to call home. Instead, hundreds of thousands of neglected or abused children in America live in an endless cycle of uncertainty and transition, waiting either for family reunification or permanent adoption. Every year, more than one-quarter of a million kids enter the foster care system. The average stay lasts for two years. And for those who aren’t reunited or adopted, the temporary foster care system becomes their permanent way of life. In fact, 23,000 young men and women age out of the foster care system without securing a permanent home or family to fall back upon for the rest of their lives. As long as I’m in the United States Senate, foster youth in America will not be forgotten or ignored by policymakers in Washington. As a founder of the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I co-chair a 19-member bipartisan working group of lawmakers who are committed to identifying challenges and solving problems for foster kids. Although it’s heartbreaking to know that so many kids go to bed each night without a mom or dad to tuck them in, the good news is that we have legions of foster care families, respite providers, social workers, court representatives and volunteers in communities across the country who want the best for them. We have good people who work around-the-clock to keep these kids safe, in school, off the streets and out of the juvenile justice system. From this leadership position in the U.S. Senate, I work to make sure the best policies are in place for foster youth to have the support they need. For this vulnerable population of young people, society has a moral responsibility to make sure foster homes serve as a safe harbor for kids awaiting adoption or family reunification. That means prioritizing quality foster parent recruitment, enforcing accountability and upholding best practices of care for the kids and sound stewardship of tax dollars for taxpayers.
Q: What can Washington do to improve foster care?
A: As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a senior member of the Finance Committee, I keep child welfare issues on the front burner as key spending and policy decisions are made in Washington. That includes promoting adoptions, fixing injustices for at-risk youth victimized by human trafficking, curbing substance abuse, raising awareness for mental health services, and reducing barriers for those assigned to the juvenile justice system that may impede their successful integration into society. As one example, I led a human trafficking bill through the Judiciary Committee last year and secured broad bipartisan passage for the legislation in the full Senate. This new law will open up financial resources and support services for sex trafficking victims to help rebuild their lives and cope with tragic circumstances. I also have written a bill to help speed up foster placements across state lines and am the lead sponsor of a bill that would allow states to support older youth as they transition to adulthood. Foster youth deserve equal opportunity to pursue happiness, complete their education, achieve financial independence and live the American Dream. For many foster kids, they must scale rungs on the ladder riddled with trauma and risk, uncertainty and instability, homelessness and hopelessness. I’m working to help make sure America’s ladder of opportunity stands strong for them and their families, and that our communities and our country are strengthened by their lifetime contributions to society. For the foster youth I have had the pleasure to meet personally and discuss the issues that matter most to them, I will continue working to serve as their champion and their voice in Washington.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Senator Grassley is a co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.