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RI Committed to Improve Opportunities for Foster Youth

Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline joined by Caucus Co-Chair to explore state's innovative child welfare practices

Highlighting Rhode Island's leadership in working to improve opportunities for foster youth, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and Rhode Island Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline met with state officials, advocates, parents and youth today to discuss using successful efforts in the Ocean State to improve national policy. Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) Director Janice DeFrances took part in the events, helping to guide the policy conversations.

"Having come from a family that took in more than a dozen foster youth, I am so proud that Rhode Island has been a leader in caring for and protecting this vulnerable population," said Langevin, a member of the Caucus. "Our state's innovative, balanced, child-focused approach is a model for others to follow and an inspiration for those of us at the federal level. We have a responsibility to provide those youth entrusted to the state's care a fair shot to reach their potential, and today's events will help give us a chance to ensure our efforts are appropriately addressing many of the challenges they face, from getting on a path to college to preventing identity theft."

A series of site visits and discussions, part of the Caucus' Nationwide Listening Tour, examined innovative child welfare practices and public-private partnerships, beginning with a stop at Nina's House in Providence. The single family home on Fairfield Avenue offers a homelike setting where clinicians from Providence Children's Museum's Families Together program provide therapeutic visitation and permanency planning for children in foster care and their families. Bass and Langevin toured the house and took part in a discussion with the staff, advocates and a Families Together client.

"I first began working on foster care issues over twenty years ago when the crack cocaine epidemic left thousands of children and young adults without parents and a support system to help them lead long, healthy and productive lives," said Bass, founder and co-chair of the caucus. "The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth was founded to galvanize our nation's attention around the challenges faced by foster youth, so that together we can work in a bipartisan way to recognize best practices and deliver real reforms for the far too many children and young adults who still need our support. I look forward to taking back to Washington the input we have been so fortunate to receive here in Rhode Island."

Bass has spearheaded the Caucus' tour, which has also traveled to Los Angeles, Miami and Saginaw, Michigan, and is designed to study the best practices and greatest challenges facing child welfare systems throughout the United States.

State leaders, including Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and Secretary Steven Costantino of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services, then gathered with the three Representatives for a roundtable policy discussion sponsored by Foster Forward at Eleven Forty Nine Restaurant in East Greenwich.

"It is an honor to welcome the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to Rhode Island to highlight the hard work being done to ensure that children, families, and agencies work together to provide effective, high-quality care," said Cicilline, a member of the Caucus. "As we acknowledge the leadership role that Rhode Island has played in providing services to our youth in the foster care system, we must continue to create new and innovative methods of providing young people with the resources they need to achieve their full potential."

"We are excited to be a stop on the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus' Nationwide Listening Tour," said Director DeFrances. "Rhode Island has made great strides in shifting from a system built on out of home care to one which emphasizes the importance of the role of the family and the need to ensure that families and youth have access to community-based services that are evidence based and meet their individualized needs.

"Through our various public-private partnerships, we are improving outcomes for families and children, strengthening our post-permanency supports, improving our ability to keep siblings together and strengthening our ability to reduce the number of youth aging out of care and improve our supports to older youth and young adults. We appreciate the opportunity to share our successes and inform the Caucus of ways we think they can help us and other states in our efforts to improve the lives of at-risk children and families."

Later in the afternoon, a consumer protection and financial services forum at DCYF's Providence offices highlighted a law authored by Langevin to protect foster youth against identity theft and addressed further steps that would increase their financial security. Langevin's provisions, requiring foster youth to receive free credit checks and to have inaccuracies expunged from their records, were approved as part of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act last year.

To discuss the next steps in helping states implement the law, participants in the forum included IDentity Theft 911 CEO Matt Cullina, who is also a foster parent and advocate, and a representative of the federal Children's Bureau.

"The passing of the law to protect foster youth from identity theft is the start of an expansive effort to provide foster kids with the tools they need to succeed," said Cullina. "As a foster parent and chief executive officer of Identity Theft 911, I'm committed to helping make sure the law is implemented effectively across the nation, and that foster kids are educated about their risks."

Lisa Guillette, Executive Director of the Rhode Island nonprofit Foster Forward, spoke about successful programs they have worked on in the state to improve financial literacy. Langevin asked for feedback on his Foster Youth Financial Security Act that he introduced, which includes provisions to ensure access to financial literacy classes and provide seed money for youth to set up Individual Development Accounts that help pay for key expenses like housing, education and job training.

The day will conclude at Rhode Island College this evening with a dialogue with foster youth that included participants from The Voice Youth Advisory Board, the New England Youth Coalition and the First Star Academy at the University of Rhode Island, a four-week program sponsored primarily by Hasbro Inc., with additional support from IDentity Theft 911, Adoption Rhode Island and DCYF. The First Star URI Ram Academy began last summer, offering twenty Rhode Island foster children a setting to improve their academic and social skills and embark on a path to pursue a college education.

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