Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Rep. Bass, and actor Jason Lee support youth advocates and bring foster youth voices to the House floor at the annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day event.

Washington, DC – Current and former foster youth from across the U.S. and New Zealand brought their personal stories about the impact of the child welfare system to Capitol Hill June 20-23. Attendees spent time with Members of Congress and their staffers, getting a behind-the-scenes look at how legislation is made while also educating their representatives on foster youth issues by sharing their first-hand experiences in the child welfare system.

This is the 10th year that the National Foster Youth Institute has hosted the Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day experience, bringing together Members of Congress and foster youth in an event that highlights the importance of centering the voices and lived experiences of people who have been in the child welfare system.

Thirty-eight current and former foster youth from across the country attended the event. They were joined by a contingent of foster youth from New Zealand on a tour of the United States. A series of trainings helped attendees understand: advocacy and legislation; grassroots organizing; and current and proposed policies around higher education, juvenile justice, and congregate care — issues the delegates agreed in advance were vital to their policy discussions.

On June 21, NFYI hosted a Foster Youth Town Hall, where representatives — including Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), and Rep. Mary Scanlon (PA-05) — answered questions directly from foster youth delegates.

On June 22, conference attendees met with Members of Congress one-on-one, shadowing them through the halls of Congress and presenting them with data about foster youth in their communities, as well as their own personal stories. A highlight of the Shadow Day experience was a luncheon where they heard from guests like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth founder Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (PA-181), and actor and former foster youth Jason Lee.

Junely Merwin entered the foster care system in California at the age of 15, a month after becoming a mother herself. She participated in the Congressional Shadow Day experience to draw attention to the challenges that teen parents in foster care face. She spoke with Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41) about how having access to affordable childcare allowed her to attend and graduate from college.

“The fact that I am here today is telling that I could do anything. And I, as many of our other youth that are here, are changemakers, we’re making a difference.” – Junely Merwin, NFYI Delegate

Rep. Karen Bass, who founded NFYI in 2012, brought several youth delegates to the House floor, where she shared with her colleagues the importance of fulfilling the government’s responsibility to caring for those in the child welfare system, and highlighting the ongoing impact of listening to foster youth voices.

“Each year, our participants have a real hand in making change, from the grant extentions to the passage of Families First Prevention Services Act, to securing COVID relief for foster youth. This group’s voices have changed our child welfare system forever.” – Rep. Karen Bass

With more than 400,000 children in the foster care system and tens-of-thousands aging out each year with no support systems in place, NFYI and its nationwide group of youth leaders and organizers are mobilizing for improvements to federal and local child welfare policies.

To learn more about this program, view photos, or to speak with a program delegate or participating legislator, please contact Mariah Craven at [email protected] or (404)975-7084.