For Us, This Is Personal: Why Congress Must Provide COVID Relief to Youth with Experience in Foster Care Now

Kodi Baughman, Aubrey Edwards-Luce, Dominique Freeman, Tony Parsons, Keri Richmond,
youth watching sun set

The child welfare system is expansive - sometimes overbearing - and uniquely complex in the outcomes it can deliver. Equally as complex are the young people that enter and exit, and the lives they choose to lead. Many of us take on roles to improve the lives of other vulnerable populations, whether they are in the child welfare system or not. Some of us become lawyers, teachers, social workers, and everything in between. The common thread is that we are advocates, and for us, the COVID-19 crisis and the lack of relief for those involved with child welfare is not only disappointing - it’s personal.

Since March, organizations from across the country that are youth-led and/or serve youth have organized and galvanized their networks to lift up the needs of youth in care during COVID-19. What has been especially notable is the many young people who have stepped up to advocate for the needs of themselves and their brothers and sisters in foster care. Alumni of the system have shared how unimaginable it would have been for them to navigate a global pandemic while also trying to navigate being in foster care or transitioning out of it. Young people still in the system have courageously shared the continuous hardships they have experienced as they have been laid off, displaced from their college campuses, or face homelessness.

Collectively these young people, alongside many organizations, have turned their passion and frustration into positive energy through the #UpChafee Campaign. This campaign focuses on raising the voices of young people in care on social media, in meetings, during briefings, to their Members of Congress, Senators, and the Trump Administration, all in the hopes of getting targeted COVID-19 relief. So far, the campaign has gotten over 3,100 signatures from individuals across the country, and over 220 organizations have signed a letter in support as well.

But to date, despite all of the efforts of so many people across the USA, NO meaningful relief has been delivered to these young people. Young people who often do not have family to lean back on are left overlooked and under-resourced at a time when support is desperately needed for the entire country.

For many of us, we chose to work in this profession to better the child welfare system for our brothers and sisters currently going through care. However, we are left feeling disappointed, exhausted, and heartbroken to continue to see the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking on their lives and to see many of our government leaders turn a blind eye. It is said that kids in foster care are kids of the government. So why is it that our government leaders continue to neglect, ignore, and deny these young people critically needed support? Why is it that airlines have received more relief than children and young people who are left on their own, battling to meet basic needs, many facing homelessness, and in some cases struggling to afford food?

We believe that these young people deserve better. We believe that it is the responsibility of our state and federal leaders to open their eyes and pay attention to young people in care.

Until meaningful relief is delivered, we will not be silent. We will continue to organize and amplify the voices of young people who have or are currently experiencing foster care. While tired, we will push forward. While discouraged, we will hold onto the hope that Congress and the Administration will wake up and hear our cries and respond. For many of us who are no longer in foster care, we will keep fighting for our siblings who are currently in the system, because young people in care deserve our collective investment.

For a majority of us who made it out of the foster care system just to turn around and work in child welfare full-time, the lack of response from Congress and the Administration does not just feel like a professional loss - for us, it’s personal.

 

Kodi Baughman, Public Policy Chair, Foster Care Alumni of America

Aubrey Edwards-Luce, Senior Director, Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, First Focus on Children

Dominique Freeman, Policy Specialist, FosterClub

Tony Parsons, Federal Policy Associate, Youth Villages

Keri Richmond

 

 

About the Expert

Jennifer Pokempner is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. At Juvenile Law Center, her work focuses on improving outcomes and opportunities for older youth in the foster care system through policy and legal advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.