Each year, more than 20,000 youth transition out of foster care systems without ever having found a permanent family.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., is Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
. Bass discusses bipartisan efforts to advocate on behalf of America’s foster youth.
Hyland: In 2008, Representative Karen Bass of California became the first black woman to become speaker of any state legislature in the United States. She has been serving in the U.S. Congress since 2011, and during her tenure, she´s become an outspoken advocate for foster children. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me is Representative Bass, who is also the new chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us.
Bass: Thanks for having me on.
Hyland: So, there are 9 new caucus members, 55 altogether. That´s the most in your history. How does this allow the caucus to grow its voice on Capitol Hill?
Bass: Well, in a major way. And as a matter of fact, as you mention, 55 members, we have five of our members who chair full committees, and we have 20 of our members who chair subcommittees. So, if you look at that -- and some of the most important committees. So, for example, Elijah Cummings chairing Government Reform. That´s the committee where there´s gonna be a lot of oversight of the administration. If you look at Bobby Scott, Education, Homeland Security. So, chairing significant committees and subcommittees and having so many members means that we should have a very strong voice.
Hyland: And as the chairwoman of this very powerful caucus, you have a powerful voice. What is your vision for the caucus in the next couple of years?
Bass: Well, my vision for the caucus is really to go around the country, listen to people in communities, and make sure that the communities understand legislation and resources that we are delivering for them. So, for example, it´s frustrating for a lot of people in the community, because when they turn on the TV, they think the only thing we do is fight and talk about Russia, and they don´t realize that we actually are legislating, we actually are moving resources. And so, we want the communities to feel connected with the work that´s actually going on on the Hill.
Hyland: And you´re also trying to make a difference. I know that foster care is near and dear to your heart. You´re passionate about it. Why are you so passionate about foster care, and what are you doing to continue the conversation across the country about foster care?
Bass: Well, if you think about it for a minute, I consider myself as extremely fortunate. I had two wonderful parents, a very stable family. And I think about those children who don´t have that. And that´s the most basic thing in life, is to have a family. And here we are, the richest country in the history of the world. For those children that don´t have families, we should take better care of them than we do. And so, the good news is is that it´s a very bipartisan issue. The good news is also that we really know what we need to do. There just hasn´t been the political will. There hasn´t been the push to make it happen. So my job is to be that outspoken voice, but more important than that is to make sure that foster youth have that voice on the Hill. So, once a year, we bring 100 foster youth from 100 different congressional districts to shadow their member of Congress so they have that voice.
Hyland: What can we do on the legislative side, though, to help the overburdened foster system?
Bass: Well, first of all, we can stop bringing people into the foster care system unnecessarily. So, if you think about the children at the border, where do you think they´re going? They´re going to foster care. And, frankly, it´s for a political reason. The foster care system is to take care of children who are abused or neglected. We´re mad at these parents for bringing their children across the border, so to deter other people from coming, we´re literally taking the children away. And one of the things that we´ve learned in child welfare or foster care is that even when the child needs to be removed because the parent is unable to take care of the child, that child goes through trauma from being separated from their parent. Now, you can imagine the children at the border who the parent hasn´t abused or neglected them, and we take them away for months. They don´t speak the language, we send them far away. They´re entering the foster care system. So, that´s already an overburdened system. The other thing that´s burdening the system is the opioid crisis. So, the number-one reason why children are put in foster care is really secondary to substance abuse, mental illness, and abject poverty. So, now that we have a new drug crisis on our hands -- 20 years ago, it was crack, today it´s opioids. So, we have a system that is being overburdened unnecessarily.
Hyland: And we also have foster kids who are aging out of the system and dealing with problems as a result of that later on in life.
Bass: Well, if you think about it, an 18-year-old that grew up in the best of circumstances, in a middle-class household that had everything they needed, they can´t be put on the street at 18 and expected to survive. The reason why they do well is because they have parents and families they can rely on. All of us transition our children into adulthood. For a foster youth, it´s called a transitional living home or apartment or whatever. For our kids, it´s called college. When you send your kid away to college for four years, you are doing -- you´re getting them an education, but you´re also transitioning them into independence and adulthood. So, if you just picked up your child or any child -- this literally happens -- put all of their belongings in a Hefty trash bag, and turn them out on the street, what do you think happens to them? They wind up incarcerated, the girls wind up pregnant or trafficked. So, if you look at our prison system today, a large percentage of people who are incarcerated started in foster care. So, if we can improve that system, we also help the other system.
Hyland: And we know that you are working on solving that problem, which is a huge one, of course.
Bass: I´m gonna stay here until I solve it.
Hyland: All right. Democratic Representative Karen Bass, thank you so much for joining us today.
Bass: Thanks for having me on.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫