On March 3, DC Council Committee on Human Services Chaired by, Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 council member, held an oversight hearing on the performance of the Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA) for the past year. During the hearing the committee heard testimony from current and former foster youth and advocates.
Youth testimony begins one hour and thirty minutes into the hearing, with Shannon, who aged out of care in 2015. She testified about the difficulty she experienced finding housing and employment and being able to afford public transportation. Shannon is currently living at Casa Ruby. She shared her fear of becoming homeless, telling committee members: “Say for instance the Casa Ruby [don’t] work out, like anything just happen, I fall, and I need a place to live… I’m homeless… they don’t know what to do with me.” The amount of fear and pain Shannon expresses is undeniably shared by many foster care youth who age out of the system. According to her, one way to prevent the loss of dignity, the risk of homelessness and unemployment or under employment, and the lack of preparedness for being on one’s own is to begin transition plans as early as 14.
One hour and fifty seven minutes into the hearing, Ashley shares her testimony. Ashley is a freshman in college who aged out in 2015 after spending five years in foster care. At the time of the hearing, she was living in housing for teens who have aged out. She shared with the committee she felt ill prepared: “I do not feel I was properly prepared for my emancipation… 22 days before my 21st birthday I had no aftercare program plan in place.” So, she became proactive. She wrote a letter to then-CFSA Director Brenda Donald who arranged an emergency meeting. With the help of Donald, Ashley was able to put a plan in place. Her recommendation is that “youth should learn about their aftercare support at least a year before they age out.”
Two hours into the hearing, Latonya begins her testimony. Latonya talked about her desire for solid family reunification plans, and believes that CSFA needs to ensure a parent is stable before a child is reunited. When Latonya returned to her mother’s care at the age of 14, all of the resources she had while in foster care, including therapy, disappeared from her life. She ended up back in foster care at 17 because of difficulties with her mother and the lack of resources made available to her mother: “she was getting tested for drugs, but alcohol is what she really struggles with.” Latonya recommended that CSFA provide therapy and counseling for parents of children who return to their families, and that their families be financially prepared and have resources before reunification occurs. “CFSA should make sure that youth are returning to healthy and stable environments.”
Following Latonya was Diamond. She is a senior at a public charter school. In her testimony, Diamond focused on education, sharing how being placed in a high performing school has greatly helped her prepare for her future. She also spoke of the need for stability and supportive adult relationships. “We need community support workers that will actually support us, and actually stick around. If they are not sure if they can stick around they should not be hired because it gets hard to open up to people you don’t know and have to repeat our story again. [CSFA] should make sure all youth have someone consistent in their lives at home or at school who can be an educational advocate.”
Similar to Diamond, Nyree testified about the importance of education. Nyree explained how being adopted two months before she turned 15 put her at a significant disadvantage in regards to funding for college. ETV funding provided by the US Department of Education through CFSA is only available for those who are in foster care at the age of 15. Despite spending three years in care Nyree does not qualify for ETV funding. She also discussed foster teens’ need for emotional support, stating that foster youth aging out “should have a mentor as they transition, for the emotional support.”
Kamora came next, testifying two hours and fifty two minutes into the hearing. Kamora shared some of the emotional challenges she has experienced with connecting caused by being placed in foster care. “Growing up in care the topic of my birth parents didn’t really come up. This was a struggle for me, admitting that my birth parents neglected me, and a huge barrier has been trusting people enough to discuss it. Furthermore, stability and consistency were a problem for me.” Kamora also discussed the importance of having access to education.