Columnists Opinion

CAPITOL REPORT: Providing help for foster youth should be a priority

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to reflect on the status of our child welfare system and to plan for future policy implementations and change.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, black communities nationwide were under a full-fledged attack. Crack was everywhere: it was in our schools, it was in our parks, it was in our playgrounds, and for some, it was in our homes.

The epidemic wasn’t just affecting one part of the community; this impacted the entire community, leaving sons without fathers, daughters without sisters, and parents ultimately alone.

But the carnage didn’t stop there. National, state and local policies enacted during the crack epidemic exacerbated the destruction. Children in South Los Angeles were ripped away from their families and shipped off into the child welfare system, some to never see their parents, or their families, again.

It was at the height of the crack epidemic when the number of kids in foster care exploded and the percentage of black youth in the system skyrocketed.

Now, the country, not just our community, faces a new epidemic. Our child welfare system is already becoming increasingly populated due to the consequences of the opioid epidemic and the current crisis is starting to devastate families and our already over-worked and under-resourced child welfare system.

This time, we must apply the lessons learned from the crack epidemic: if you want successful policy, you must include the affected communities in the formulation of new policy.

We cannot afford to turn our backs on those impacted again.

At the end of this month, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth will host its seventh 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 are traveling thousands of miles to come to Washington to share their stories — both their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication or homelessness — as well as 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 and fight against this epidemic. The fiscal year 2018 omnibus bill that was passed earlier this year had the single biggest increase in investment in child welfare funding history along with a large investment in funds to combat the opioid crisis. Despite this progress, there will always be more work to be done and this month, I look forward to continuing this fight.

National Foster Care Month is 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. Our society is judged on how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. We must invest in life-improving foster care services, praise foster families, caregivers and relatives for their selflessness to others, and continue to provide a hand up so that foster youth can realize their full potential.

Rep. Karen Bass is the congresswoman from California’s 37th District, which includes Culver City, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw District and parts of South Los Angeles. Her Capitol Report column runs monthly in The Wave.