By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In the course of my personal, legal and legislative career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many difficult cases or situations involving families, to include my own. Often you see people when they are at their worst, struggling to make sense of their situation or circumstances. Children, who frequently have little say in what happens to them, are often the most impacted. If the youth are lucky, they have parents that are protecting them and working to secure the best possible outcomes for their child(ren). While it sounds trite to say “lucky,” that representation is not far off. Other than through adoptions of older aged youth, children don’t get to pick their parents and don’t control to whom they are born.
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), “the most recent report from 2021 shows that an estimated 606,031 children passed through the US foster care system over the course of one year. This number represents both the children who were already in the system at the beginning of the federal fiscal year (October 1, 2020) and the children who entered into the system over the next 12 months. On the last day of the fiscal year, September 30, 2021, approximately 391,098 kids were in foster care.”
Data from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families demonstrate how easy it is to hit those staggering numbers. Per the agency’s website, there are approximately 7,000 children in the Wisconsin foster care system. Ages of the youth range from 0 to 21 years of age. These youths are often “adolescents, sibling groups, or have special needs,” the site goes on to say. Many of us are versed in the types of issues that can lead to a foster care placement. And if we are honest, there are far too many adults who look back over their life and say of their own childhood, “but for the grace God.”
Grace also comes in the form of responsible policies and elected officials willing to prioritize our nation’s children. The Biden-Harris Administration has built a track record of strengthening services for children and families in the child welfare system. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in community-based child abuse and neglect prevention programs, proposed a $5 billion expansion of evidence-based foster care prevention services to allow more children to remain safely in their own homes with their own families, and $9 billion to help with housing for youth aging out of foster care.
Most recently, they initiated landmark regulations to support kinship caregivers, by making it easier for them to access resources and financial assistance, protect LGBTQI+ youth in foster care from abuse, ensure they have the needed services, and expand access to legal services for children and families at risk of entering or in the child welfare system.
These measures should have a major impact on the safety and wellbeing of families across the country. It’s not luck but sound and thoughtful polices that will change the lives of children in need.