Educating Foster Kids Is My Business, a Duty of Government, and Right for All Americans

By Representative Danny K. Davis

Danny_570Daisake Ikeda, a peacebuilder, Buddhist philosopher, educator and poet once said, “Genuine leadership is found in ceaseless efforts to foster young people, to pave the way forward for them.”

This quote sums up the purpose of Fostering the Future. This annual campaign celebrates National Foster Care Month and highlights best practices across the country to maximize the educational well-being of foster youth. I firmly believe that the best solutions are grounded in the voices of the young people most affected by them.

That is why I have been delighted to partner with Children’s Rights this month to help raise the voices of foster care alumni who are speaking out about an issue that they have identified as being of primary importance: educational stability. As ranking member of the subcommittee on Human Resources for the House Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over child welfare issues, and a member of the Congressional Caucus for Foster Youth, I strive to raise important child welfare matters, and promote legislation designed to eradicate many of the systemic problems you have heard about during this year’s Fostering the Future campaign.

Far too many foster youth emancipate from the child welfare system with no high school diploma, and no option to pursue a post-secondary credential. Education is a fundamental human right for all citizens of the United States. Education is the key to success – the key to economic success, social success, and societal success. Currently, foster youth do not enjoy equal access to education, and we must change that.

For this reason, I steadfastly advocate to improve the educational well-being of foster youth. As we reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year, we have an opportunity to better prepare K-12 teachers to work with foster and other traumatized youth. We must improve our policies to support foster youth to complete college and pursue stable and meaningful careers.

To this end I have partnered with my colleague, Senator Dick Durbin, to introduce the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act. When children experience traumatic events, like child abuse and neglect, stress alters the developing brain which can impact social-emotional well-being and force children into survival mode. A child’s natural response to this trauma may result in difficulty paying attention or regulating emotions that often are overlooked or misunderstood in a school setting. This can lead to school suspensions, poor student achievement, or escalation of conflicts.

Our bill provides comprehensive system reform. A key provision of the bill would improve pre-service training programs to prepare educators to work with students who have experienced trauma. We include incentives for the development of curricula focused on building teachers’ trauma skills related to the identification, support, interventions and discipline.

In addition I am introducing three other bills to promote college going among foster youth. One bill would substantially increase scholarships for foster youth and dedicate funds to community colleges and universities to build institutions of excellence skilled at graduating foster youth. Another bill would reduce food insecurity for foster youth who are attending college full time. A final bill makes it easier foster youth to get a driver’s license and cover fees associated with securing a vehicle to attend school.

We know that ensuring the educational success of our foster children across America mandates that we not only prepare our children to be successful in the classroom, but also support them in the before and after school hours so they are ready to learn. This means these young people have access to reliable transportation to and from school, are not distracted by hunger, and have access to caring, consistent adults who are available to assist them in busting down barriers that impede their ability to achieve their educational goals, such as lack of financial aid, lack of access to health and mental health care services.

I invite my fellow Americans to join me in speaking up and advocating for policy changes that make it possible for foster children to graduate from high school and pursue some level of post-secondary credential, whether that be college or vocational training; our future depends on the success of these children and youth. We need them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Danny K. Davis became the Representative of the 7th Congressional District of Illinois November 5, 1996. He has been re-elected by large majorities to succeeding Congresses. In the 115th Congress, Congressman Davis serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources. Congressman Davis is a member of several Congressional Caucuses including the Congressional Black Caucus and the foster youth caucus. He has developed a unique and energetic style of communication and interaction with his constituents, setting up dozens of advisory task forces to consider significant questions of public policy. He hosts several weekly television and radio shows which feature audience call in and produces regular written reports that are distributed to every household in his district. In the 115th Congress Representative Davis is resolutely committed to preserving our democracy, protecting social security, including IV-E which supports children in foster care, maintaining our nation’s gains in civil and human rights, reducing inequality, and retains a focus on issues of job creation, poverty, health care, education, youth and criminal justice reform. Before seeking public office Congressman Davis had productive careers as an educator, community organizer, health planner/administrator and civil rights advocate. He has received hundreds of awards and citations for outstanding work in the areas of health, education, human relations, politics and advocacy including six honorary Doctorate Degrees from well-known Colleges and Universities.