President Ronald Reagan established May as National Foster Care Month 34 years ago, and our Nation has an ongoing obligation to invest in our future by supporting foster children.
Foster care protects children, strengthens families, and builds a better future for our Nation’s youth. We must work together to build a framework for long-term economic stability and success—including for older foster youth and those aging out of the foster care system.
First lady Melania Trump announces the launch of her "Be Best" initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 7, 2018.
Our support must include preparing children to succeed as adults. We must equip these young Americans with the skills they need to reach their full potential through economic empowerment, and especially through expanded access to resources in the fields of science, technology, and the trades. The 20,000 youth who age out of foster care each year must have the tools to develop professional skills to thrive as adults.
We’ve made great strides by moving toward prevention-focused services, but it’s crucial to ensure we do a better job of preparing foster youth for a successful transition to adulthood. In fact, across the country, thousands of children entrusted to the foster care system are searching for direction, answers, and hope—and America must deliver.
Over the course of the pandemic, we partnered to advance meaningful policies that improve the lives of children. We led solutions, including the bipartisan Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act, to provide timely, commonsense relief that is making a real difference in young people’s lives—especially older foster youth who would have aged out of care without our support.
First lady Melania Trump is hugged by Joy Barnard as she visits an exhibit of artwork in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, at the White House, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
This year, several child welfare programs that serve the 407,000 youth in care are set to expire. Congress must examine these programs and implement improvements to make them work better for our Nation’s youth and families. Accordingly, in addition to supporting older foster youth, one major priority must be kinship care. As millions of families can attest, relative caregiving is the next best alternative to maintaining the core family unit. Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, a seven percent increase since 2009. Of these grandparents, about one-fifth have incomes that fall below the poverty line.
We must do better in supporting these relative caregivers. We know, both from intuition and evidence, that keeping children with relative caregivers is generally the best possible situation. To support these selfless caregivers, Congress must take a serious look at the licensing standards to make it easier to keep children with family members.
In 1988, President Reagan encouraged Americans to make efforts to ensure all children have the opportunity to live in healthy, loving homes. The same is true today. Every child across the country should have the opportunity to thrive and achieve the American Dream. And, we should continue to work with foster care providers to ensure there is a safe and supportive place for every child.
Given the nationwide shortage of loving, safe families for children, we must build on public-private partnerships that work—including religious child welfare providers. Our goal is always to provide certainty and support for all children.
This May, we ask Americans to join us in marking National Foster Care Month by helping children and youth in foster care and by celebrating all—from foster parents and caregivers, coaches to community volunteers—who stand by them.
Together, we can uplift children in the foster care community and foster a brighter future.
Republican Jackie Walorski represents Indiana’s Second District.
Melania Trump is the former First Lady of the United States.