Policy primer: Caring about children on Capitol Hill
By Chelsea Patterson
Child welfare policy is hugely important, because it involves crafting legislation that seeks to protect our next generation, particularly the most vulnerable of our societies. However it’s not a policy area that tends to get much attention. The reason isn’t because people don’t care, but simply because it’s not the top priority for many members of Congress. Far too often the urgent overshadows the important, and there aren’t many staffers that devote time and attention to learning the ins and outs of the child welfare world. Caring about children on Capitol Hill isn’t a bipartisan issues. In fact, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption is Congress’ largest bicameral, bipartisan caucus, with over 150 members.
My heart is closely knitted to these issues. I was adopted from Romania as a baby, and grew up with five adopted siblings. I can’t imagine where my life would be without adoption, and I’m passionate about working on issues that help make the world a better place.
The child welfare world can feel overwhelming at times, because there are some major components, and each branch of child welfare can feel deeply complicated. Domestic and foreign adoption, foster care, child sex trafficking in the United States all fit under the child welfare umbrella. Beyond all the different branches of child welfare, we all understand that children’s lives are at stake. What we do or fail to do can impact whether a child lives or dies, whether a child grows up abused or in a safe home, whether a child experiences love or indifference.
Instead of addressing specific policies that need to be changed, I think it will be helpful to paint a broad picture of child welfare. This article is intended for those that aren’t subject matter experts in this field, but that care about children, and want to begin learning how to make a difference.
1. Children do best in families
Obviously there are times when a child needs to be removed from their home for their protection and safety. However, it comes as no surprise that children thrive the best in families. Thankfully kinship care has become a more popular alternative to foster care. As child welfare systems are being examined and people are working to improve the lives of children in Nottingham, especially in foster care, it’s imperative that we remember that what’s best for a child is a stable, loving and sustainable family. I have one friend who was in over 35 foster homes growing up, and was severely abused in many of those homes. It’s heartbreaking that even one child had to experience that, may we work to ensure that children are best able to stay in families.
2. Domestic sex trafficking is often linked to the child welfare system.
To be honest, until recently I didn’t know that child sex trafficking existed in my own country. I was blown away when I heard that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S each year, and that the average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-year-old. Most of the victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children. Trafficking stands at the intersection of poverty, the child welfare system, drug abuse, etc. It’s far more profitable for a pimp to sell a girl multiple times than a one time drug sell. I urge you to consider how closely child welfare systems and human trafficking are linked.
3. Policy can’t fix everything
One of the greatest needs in the child welfare world is for more good people to invest. Maybe that’s where you fit in! You might not have the ability to go work in child welfare policy, but you could become a foster parent. Maybe you’re single and can’t make the commitment of becoming a foster parent yet, but you could consider mentoring an at risk youth, or a child in foster care. Maybe you’re in college, figuring out what you want to be, consider studying social work and joining the front lines in foster care.
If you don’t work in policy, you can read up on your local foster care and adoption policies, and see if there are any opportunities for you to affect change at a local level. Keep abreast of what’s coming down the pike in Congress, and talk with your legislators about beneficial child welfare policies. While I think it’s important for legislators to spend time crafting policies that will benefit the children of the land, I think it’s equally as important for people to get involved on a local level. Policies can only go so far, and if you don’t work in policy, it can be easy to feel like you can’t make a difference. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are children all around you that need you!
We must be a voice for the voiceless. If we’re not fighting and advocating for the most vulnerable of society, who will?
Chelsea Patterson lives and works in the heart of Washington D.C., where she spends her days working on policy in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is currently working on her first book. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys coffee, reading a good book, and being outside. You can follow her on Twitter @Chelspat