This year, I had the privilege to participate in Foster Youth Shadow Day where Hailey from Ohio joined me in meetings for a day and shared her story of the foster care system. Hearing the perspective of someone who has experienced foster care firsthand inspires me to work to ensure children and youth who face difficult situations have the support they need. As the father of two children, it is especially important to me that we ensure our nation’s children and youth have the opportunity to live in homes where they can grow up and reach their full potential. We have the responsibility to look at our existing programs and systems to determine where improvements can be made so we can provide real help and solutions to those in need.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 264,000 children entered into foster care in 2014. However, the broken foster care system is not equipped to properly take care of and place the hundreds of thousands needing help. We need to take steps to try to keep more families together and improve foster care services.
In Congress, we have been working to address some of the shortcomings of the current system. Last month, the House passed the Family First Prevention Services Act by a unanimous vote. As part of this bill, states would be able to provide family services assistance for biological and adoptive families to help keep families together. These services include mental health, substance abuse and in-home parent training and therapy. When foster care is needed, this legislation also will ensure more children are placed with families rather than in non-family settings, such as group homes or congregate care.
Unfortunately, there are also times where children are left without a home. The Department of Education identified more than 1.3 million homeless children and youth in the 2013-2014 school-year. Sadly, many are not eligible to receive some assistance because of the narrow definition of “homeless” from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that does not include them staying temporarily in places like someone’s house and motels. That’s why, last year I introduced bipartisan legislation with Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) to expand the definition of “homeless” to include all children identified as homeless by other federal agencies. They should not have to navigate through the definitions and regulations of multiple federal agencies to receive the help and support they need.
While these are issues not easily solved overnight, I hope we can continue to look at the systems and policies to find common-sense solutions to better support children and youth facing tough circumstances.
As always, if you have questions or comments about this or any other issue facing the federal government, I invite you to call my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654 or Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049.
Steve Stivers is a member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.