Floor Statement of Sen. Chuck Grassley on Foster Youth and an Individual Experience
Delivered Monday, July 7, 2014
Mr. President, for many years, I have been an advocate for reforming the foster care system and making sure the government is doing the best it can to protect and care for those who are abused, neglected, and removed from their families. That is why Senator Landrieu and I started the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. We wanted a forum to discuss policies and practices and to learn more about the challenges that foster youth face. We want to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable youth who don’t have a permanent place to call home.
The caucus cannot function without the input and insight from foster youth. These children are the experts on the foster care system. They tell us what works or what needs to change. They share their experiences and provide us with real world stories about how our policies truly affect them.
Today, I want to highlight the story of one particular person whom I have had the privilege of getting to know.
Amnoni Myers is an intern in my office this summer. She’s participating in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Intern program. I wanted to tell her story because it’s important not to forget that there are children in this country, like Amnoni, who don’t have a permanent family or place to call home. Despite her circumstances, Amnoni has risen up and made a better life for herself. So, allow me to share her story.
Amnoni Myers, a native of Boston, became a ward of the state the day she was born. She was abandoned at birth.
When Amnoni was six months old, her great aunt learned of Amnoni and her two other siblings and decided to take them in. She lived in her great aunt’s care for ten years.
Even though she had a better family environment, life still presented her with many challenges. Amnoni struggled with rejection and trauma at a very young age resulting from different types of abuse.
At the age of ten, Amnoni was reunited with her biological mother because the state granted her temporary custody. Amnoni thought her life was finally secure. Her mother promised to care for her and never give her up again. Unfortunately, after a short two years, Amnoni’s mother voluntarily returned her and her siblings back to the state.
So, at the age of 12, Amnoni was separated from her siblings and placed with foster families until the age of eighteen. Though Amnoni and her brother were placed together for a short period of time, they were later separated as Amnoni moved around in the system. During her time in foster care, she was moved several times, never experiencing permanency or stability.
To Amnoni, foster parents seemed more interested in the cash benefits of parenting rather than the human investment. She experienced emotional and verbal abuse in the places she stayed. She didn’t know unconditional love. Her foster families didn’t take the time to manage her trauma, but instead, added to it.
One of the most difficult experiences Amnoni faced was aging out of the foster care system.
During the summer, while still in care, Amnoni entered into an intense college preparation program that would determine if she was adequately prepared to enroll in a post-secondary institution. Already anxious about the future of her success and if she would be able to handle the workload of the program, she received a phone call from her social worker that afternoon. She was told her foster mother was no longer being paid for Amnoni’s bed. Because the money was running out for her foster mother, Amnoni was forced to leave the home immediately.
The shock and devastation of those words crushed Amnoni. She lived in that home with that family for three years. She considered it to be a long-term living situation. Amnoni returned to find her belongings packed in garbage bags waiting for her at the door.
Amnoni aged out of the system in a way no person should ever have to experience. She left a place she considered home, not knowing what her future would hold. She was on her own, shoved into independence with no family, support, or a place to call home.
Amnoni’s aging-out experience left her feeling shattered and confused. She felt betrayed by both her foster mother who claimed to love her and the child welfare system that claimed to protect her. While this experience quickly taught Amnoni the value of independence, she would have preferred to have a smoother transition into adulthood.
When Amnoni left her so-called home at age 18, she was taken in by her former mentor and her family. She resided there for five years. Living there was a reminder that love, family, and support do exist.
In 2008, Amnoni learned she had post traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and panic anxiety. These diagnoses led her to take a break from school to gain control over these disruptions. Amnoni entered into a Christian residential program, Mercy Ministries, where she was able to gain a better understanding of herself. This experience motivated Amnoni to attend Gordon College, a Christian institution outside of Boston.
Today, she is working in my office, sitting in this chamber, learning how the government works. She is becoming an advocate for foster youth who face the same experiences as she does.
Despite the challenges, Amnoni feels very fortunate. She has been able to attend college, graduate this year, and hopes to pursue a meaningful career. Knowing that many children and youth don’t have adequate support systems in their life to help them along their life journey, Amnoni pursued an education in social work and sociology.
Many people who have gone through similar experiences resort to other paths because of the lack of support and services they receive. Many foster children age out of the system without supportive services in place to ensure healthier lives. Thankfully, Amnoni has had a network of support to guide and direct her through these difficult times.
Amnoni’s experience has fueled her passion to advocate for those who don’t have a voice to fight for themselves. As Amnoni looks back on her life, she realizes her past does not have to determine her future. She is on her way to becoming a monumental figure for those who have suffered, giving youth across the country a voice and making a difference in this world.
I appreciate Amnoni’s willingness to let me share her story. She’s a very brave woman. She knows we can learn from her. We must do right by her and others in the foster care system.
I hope my colleagues have the chance to say hello to Amnoni while she’s here, and take a minute to commend her for being an advocate for other youth.