Crowley, Landrieu Introduce Foster Care Mentoring Act

May 6, 2009
Press Release

(Washington, D.C.) – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), United States Representative Joseph Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx) and television/movie star Rosie O’Donnell today highlighted the goals of National Foster Care Month by introducing the Foster Care Mentoring Act of 2009. Sen. Landrieu, Rep. Crowley and O’Donnell, joined by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute (CCAI) and Lifetime Television, unveiled the legislation at a Capitol Hill press conference this morning.

Sponsored in the House by Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., this legislation would connect children in foster care with responsible, caring adults by authorizing $15 million to establish statewide foster care mentoring programs. The bill would also provide $4 million to begin a national public awareness campaign for mentor recruitment programs and allow up to $20,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for volunteers who mentor a child in care.

“In addition to a loving family, all children deserve responsible, positive role models in their lives,” Sen. Landrieu said. “Youths in foster care have tremendous promise, and a responsible mentor can make all the difference. Mentoring programs provide these children with an immediate and much-needed anchor, while ultimately recruiting a generation of future foster care parents. Building upon the President’s call to national service, we have strived to incentivize responsible young people to connect with at-risk youth and support the creation of robust state mentoring programs. We can work together to help states establish high-quality mentoring programs for the 500,000-plus children in foster care. It is a win for the mentor, mentee and our nation as a whole.”

“Too many foster children in the U.S. are growing up without the support and guidance of a close adult,” Congressman Crowley said. “This is unacceptable – children need consistent and stable adult support to navigate through difficult times. Foster children with mentors have better academic performance, fewer behavioral issues, and are less likely to commit crime.  The Foster Care Mentoring Act we have introduced today will build a national program to recruit and sustain mentors for foster children across the U.S., including my home state of New York, and raise public awareness on the issue.  Mentoring is an enriching experience for both mentor and mentee, and I am proud to work with my friend Senator Landrieu to raise awareness of this critical need.”

“The state doesn’t do a wonderful job of raising foster kids, so we need to set up systems and opportunities like those mentoring programs proposed by Senator Landrieu,” said Rosie O’Donnell. “Part of the issue with getting people to volunteer with foster care youth is that you want to entice the right kind of people with the right kind of motives. Attracting college-educated people to help mentor kids who are in need and at the same time forgive some of their student loans is a wonderful, unique and very clever way to introduce a whole new segment of the population to this at-risk group of kids here in our country.”

There are 550,000 children in foster care, and 100,000 of them are waiting to find a home with a permanent, loving family. Mentoring programs can make a significant difference in the lives of children in foster care. Studies show that children who are mentored are 45 percent less likely to use illicit drugs, 59 percent more likely to succeed in school and 73 percent more likely to attain higher life achievement goals.

However, many programs that support mentorship are simply not sufficient and almost non-existent at the state level. Mentor programs that serve foster children are unique and require additional considerations, including specialized training and support necessary to provide for consistent, long term relationships for children in care. Mentor programs are cost effective approaches to decreasing the occurrence of many social ills such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration and violence.

The Foster Care Mentoring Act addresses the need for more robust mentoring programs that are tailored specifically for foster care youth. The bill proposes to connect children in foster care with responsible, caring adults by:
·    Authorizing $15 million to establish statewide foster care mentoring programs.  States would be eligible to receive up to $600,000 to establish or expand a foster care mentoring program.  These programs would be specially designed to serve the needs of foster youth and would have a strong emphasis on improving academic achievement.
·    Providing $4 million to begin a national public awareness campaign and mentor recruitment program. The bill authorizes the Secretary to establish a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of the need for foster care mentors and opportunities to get involved.
·    Allowing loans up to $20,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for those who volunteer to mentor a child in care. Mentors who participate in a foster care mentor program would be eligible to receive up to $2,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for every 200 hours they serve.  A total of $20,000 in student loans incurred by participating college or graduate students would qualify for forgiveness.

“All young people deserve a stable, loving home,” said Sen. Bayh, a member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. “For foster children, in particular, having a caring adult in their lives can mean the difference between becoming a healthy adult and going down the wrong path. Mentors for foster youth wield an enormously positive influence on children under their care, helping them stay in school and on the right track during the most formative years of their lives.”

“Foster children are faced with a number of challenges, and often times one of the best resources for guidance are former foster youth who have walked in their shoes and made it through a similar situation,” Sen. Lincoln said.  “These mentors can play a crucial role in the lives of these children and provide a much-needed support system for both kids and foster families alike.”

“Sen. Landrieu’s legislation reminds us that there is perhaps no better way to improve the future of this country than to be a mentor to a young person in foster care,” said Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. “These youth have the potential to be our future leaders -- they just need someone to help guide and support them along the way."