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Children First Plan for Foster Care

This Children First plan for foster care is personal. My grandmother, Victoria, who helped raise my brother and me, moved to the United States as a 7-year-old orphan. She was raised by relatives that took her in and loved her as their own daughter. My grandmother worked her entire life as a maid, a cook, a babysitter so that we could help others through public service.

There is no higher calling than doing everything we can to help the most vulnerable among us, which of course includes children and families in foster care.

As a young attorney, I practiced family law and saw firsthand the turmoil children endure and the inherent tensions within the foster care system. We can do better as a nation to serve each other and build a country where everyone counts. This Children First plan for foster care is an important part of that vision for the future.

Nearly 450,000 children are in foster care in America, separated from their parents for their own well-being and awaiting reunification with their family or placement with new adoptive parents. It’s the responsibility of all us to care for them in their time of most desperate need. An estimated 90 percent of children in foster care have experienced trauma. They need health care, support services, and the love only a family can provide. American families that volunteer to become foster families deserve not only our gratitude, but the full support of the American people.

Every child deserves a safe, caring family that enables them to pursue their highest potential. Yet too often, children in foster care have crisis level outcomes. Young people who age out of the foster care system are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, and poverty. While 58 percent of foster youth graduate high school, compared to 89 percent of the general population, only 30 percent of them pursue higher education and less than 3 percent will actually complete college. LGBTQ youth are more likely to enter foster care and confront discrimination within the system. The families and workers providing care are inundated by an increase in children entering foster care, in part due to the opioid crisis, and we need additional resources to fulfill their mission of quality care for every child.

That's why I'm proposing a new Children First plan for foster care to invest in our nation's most vulnerable children, keep families together by prioritizing prevention, and improve the system for foster children to have a better future.

As president, we will build off the Family First Prevention Services Act and prioritize the prevention of neglect and child abuse in the first place. We will invest an additional $10 billion a year and more than double the resources for primary prevention services such as well-trained and well-paid social workers to help children and their parents stay together. We will emphasize kinship care for children to remain with their relatives and move to a team model of evaluation so that children are only removed from their birth parents as a last resort. Overall, our goal should be to reduce the number of children entering the foster care system by addressing the root causes -- deprivation, substance abuse, and a lack of social services -- and keep families together. Throughout this presidential campaign, I have been intentional about how different issues intersect and done my best to connect the dots between different policies to lift up the most marginalized communities. In a Castro administration, we will proactively advance the welfare of children.

Children’s safety will always be my top concern, and in certain circumstances that means removing a child from a dangerous situation and placing them into the care of loving foster families. I want to make sure that all children have the best possible care in the foster system, free of fear and protected from harm. First, I will take executive action to eliminate the discriminatory rules that prevent LGBTQ families from fostering or adopting. This is state-sponsored discrimination that will not be enabled by federal funding. Not only are these policies bigoted, but they also exacerbate the shortage of foster families. Second, we will strategically recruit foster families to support all children, including older youth, siblings, people of color, children with disabilities, non-English speakers, and LGBTQ-youth, that have the hardest time matching with a foster family. By building out this additional capacity, we will reduce the use of group homes and congregate care, providing tailored care and greater stability. Throughout the entire foster care system, we will invest in training for workers and families to provide trauma-informed care. After a child is separated from their parents, we have a responsibility to provide the best care possible.

Children in foster care also deserve the same opportunities as anyone else to get an equitable education and prosper. This starts with the choice to stay with their foster families until age 21 and the federal investment to make this opportunity possible. Over 23,000 youth age out of the foster care system every year, too often without the support they need. Over 20 percent of youth who age out at the age of 18 instantly become homeless, with few options to pursue higher education and find meaningful work. These are not failings of the generous foster parents; it is a failure of a system that does not fully protect the most vulnerable. Twenty-two states have already extended the time that children may remain in foster care with positive results. Our Children First plan aims to boost graduation rates and college completion through fully funding transportation that maintains continuity in school attendance, targeted interventions such as life-coaches and expanding Family Unification Vouchers, and new investments in tuition-free universities and job training. I am also committed to ending the child-welfare to juvenile justice pipeline, the over-policing of youth, and the criminalization of poverty. We can ensure that every child and family has a chance to succeed.

The true measure of a nation is how we treat the most vulnerable.

Today in the United States, nearly one in five children lives in poverty. In rural communities and big cities, millions of Americans suffer in silence due to the lack of access to mental health care. On any given night, more than half a million people experience homelessness. At the southern border, thousands of asylum seekers are subjected to senseless cruelty and family separations. The moral challenge of our generation and the next president is to lead America into a new direction — and an important part of that future is improving life for children in foster care.


Keep Families Together by Prioritizing Prevention

The placement of children into foster care plays a vital role in the child welfare system. However, well-intentioned our foster care system may be, the overriding goal of our child welfare system must be keeping families together whenever safe to do so. Children thrive emotionally and academically when they live in a safe and loving home - and while every case is different, for most children that is most likely with their birth families. Placement into foster care, even when necessary, is a traumatic event. As president, I will prioritize prevention and, building on the progress of the recently enacted bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act, make unprecedented federal investment in primary prevention services. This platform will more than double the federal commitment to child welfare programs with an additional $10 billion a year investment, decreasing each year as preventative programs reduce the number of youth that require assistance. I will also increase the funding available in Titles I and II of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) by $1 billion each year, providing additional resources to prevent child abuse.


Ensure Best Possible Care for Vulnerable Children

There will be times when, after all prevention efforts have been exhausted, a child’s removal from their birth family is simply unavoidable. In those cases, we must ensure that children who experience the traumatic process of removal end up in a safe, supportive, and affirming home that will not further compound their trauma.


Extend Foster Care Support and Expand Educational Opportunity

The transition to adulthood is difficult for any young person. Young adults who age out of foster care face this daunting moment in their lives missing the support that so many other young Americans count on from their friends and family. Our duty to the young people in foster care cannot end when they turn 18. When youth age out of foster care, they often are not financially stable and lose access to many of the resources provided through child welfare programs. We must do everything possible to ensure that young adults in the foster care system have the care and support they need.