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June 25, 2014 Published in From Congress, Other News

Alexandria Native Samuel Leiva Shares His Personal Story To Help Shape Child Welfare Law

Samuel Leiva (Courtesy photo)

Samuel Leiva (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria native Samuel Leiva is one of 12 current and former foster youth from across the nation who will spend the summer on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. as a part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship program.  This summer-long assignment provides individuals who have spent time in the United States foster care system with an opportunity to intern in a Congressional office, and share their experiences, opinions and unique perspectives with policymakers in Congress. Leiva will be interning in Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office.

“Sam’s arrival in Washington this summer has meaning far beyond his participation in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program; he also comes to Capitol Hill as a voice for every child in U.S. foster care,” said Becky Weichhand, Interim Executive Director of CCAI.

As a part of the foster care system, Leiva testifies that he has witnessed its successes and failures. In his entrance essay, Leiva wrote, “The foster care system gave me the opportunity to control what direction my life was headed. It gave me a system of support and stability that enabled me to succeed. At the same time, I've experienced the system's failures and its need for reform.”

Since 1999, more than 230,000 young people have transitioned from foster care without permanent family connections. Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds). Leiva did graduate from high school, and is currently a rising junior at Wesleyan University. He is studying American Studies and English. He seeks to further study the impacts of immigration policy on child welfare. As an FYI, he hopes to do his part to improve the system and to advocate for those who have had, or will have, similar experiences.

“I hope that my time on Capitol Hill serves to demonstrate the possibilities all foster and adoptive youth can achieve, where the experience of adversity need not subdue one's dreams,” Leiva says.

As part of their assignment, FYIs research issues impacting children in foster care across the country and compile their findings and recommendations into a policy report. This document is presented at a Congressional briefing and shared with child welfare advocates across the country. In past years, these reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing over 400,000 children currently in the United States foster care system.

“Foster care alumni are the true experts on foster care, and so CCAI attempts to listen to them as much as possible in the midst of discussions about child welfare law and policy reform here in Washington,” CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand said. “Their voices are powerful and their stories compelling. The Foster Youth Interns bring their creativity and passion to make a difference in the lives of other foster children to their work each summer, and as a result, federal policymakers are inspired to make the changes necessary to improve the system so that future children will be spared the difficulties these alumni have struggled to overcome.”

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