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Former foster kids tell Congress what policies they needed
Former foster kids got a chance to research policies that would have improved their lives in foster care, then offer policy recommendations to Congress, giving personal insights into a world many don't know. - photo by Lois M Collins
When Vaneshia Reed was 15, she was removed from the home of her mother, who abused her. But instead of going to live with a grandmother she loved and who wanted her, she was placed in foster care with a stranger.

Her grandmother was one of her strongest supporters, a role model and source of strength, but she was not eligible to provide kinship care for Reed because more than 15 years earlier she'd been convicted of a crime.

"Despite her flawless completion of parole, outstanding citizenship in the ensuing years, financial stability and demonstrated ability to provide a safe and permanent home for me, my grandmothers perceived status as an ex-felon prevented me from experiencing the benefits I would have received living with her. As a result, I lived in the foster home for over a year and a half, with so many other girls passing through I eventually lost count of them and was unable to create meaningful bonds with my caregivers and peers," writes Reed in "Powerful Voices: Sharing Our Stories to Reform Child Welfare."

Each year, a dozen former foster youths serve Congressional internships as part of the Foster Youth Internship Program. While in Washington, D.C., they research policies that would have mattered to them while they were in the system. And they make written recommendations as part of a policy briefing for lawmakers.

Reed's policy proposal asks that states more uniformly apply regulations about the criminal background of kin who could be caregivers. Federal law excludes some for specific crimes, like child abuse and sexual assault, and sets time limits for others. Someone who had reformed and been an upstanding citizen for years would at least be considered. Some states, however, currently apply a uniform ban, even if the crime was decades ago.

Other foster youths tackled topics such as foster care subsidy abuse, providing more assistance to older foster kids transitioning to adulthood, overprescribing psychotropic drugs, providing or withholding services from runaways and more. One of the interns, Jennifer Rhoades, asked that foster youths be given at least 14 days notice before they are moved, to help them prepare for the transition.

Many kids in foster care are moved often. Recently, the Deseret News told the story of Richard Oden and his sister, who lived in 10 homes over six years while in foster care. Moves to eight of those homes occurred within less than a two-year period.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is behind the internship program and the briefing, which took place a couple of weeks ago. The recommendations are also part of a White House briefing.

"Over the last few years, Congress has drafted and introduced legislation that address many of the issues presented by the Foster Youth Interns," notes "While some garnered a fair amount of support, not enough of them have been given the attention that is needed. It is paramount that Congress uses the stories of these remarkable interns, and take into account the interns recommendations when drafting or supporting foster care legislation."
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