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Q: What’s your message for Iowans during Foster Care Month?

A: The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it across our state. Schools closed, forcing teachers, parents and students to adapt and adopt distance learning. Tens of thousands of Iowans lost their jobs when entire sectors of the economy shut down to stop the spread of the virus. Although farmers have enjoyed the best planting season in decades, catastrophic disruptions in the food supply chain are creating tremendous emotional and financial burdens to producers. With all of the upheaval and disruption stemming from the pandemic, imagine the uncertainty for kids who already were living with instability in their lives. The coronavirus put vulnerable families at greater risk, especially when unemployment and isolation compounded instability in the home. Prior to the pandemic, more than 400,000 kids were in America’s foster care system. These vulnerable youth have no permanent place to call home. And during the pandemic, children in temporary foster care placements were in an even more precarious position than before. Cancelled or delayed court proceedings and in-home visits by their case managers put many kids in greater limbo. Many foster parents, birth parents and kids in foster care lost access to peer networks and vital support services. When colleges closed campuses, older youth who aged out of foster care may have lost housing and employment, adding greater uncertainty about their future. Congress included help for foster families and kids in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Trump. For example, those who have aged out of foster care and are enrolled in higher education may be eligible for direct financial assistance that Congress appropriated for colleges to distribute to students in need. The CARES Act also added funding to boost family services programs for domestic violence and runaway youth. As co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I will continue leading bipartisan efforts to ensure the voices of foster families and kids in care are heard at the policymaking table during the pandemic and beyond.

Q: What does your Senate resolution call Americans to do during National Foster Care month?

A: Every child in America deserves a safe, permanent and loving home. President Ronald Reagan first designated May as National Foster Care month in 1988 to celebrate those who open their hearts and homes as foster parents and to recognize the community of advocates, case managers and legal professionals who work tirelessly to reunite families and serve vulnerable kids in our communities. Most of all, Foster Care Month helps raise public awareness about kids and teens who urgently need assistance and a safe place to stay during a time of crisis in their young lives. Although the pandemic has made dramatic changes in society, it hasn’t changed what every child in America wants and deserves: a forever family. President Trump last year signed my bipartisan bill to expedite the states’ ability to use federal funds for community-based treatment and intervention services, such as skills-based parenting classes, family counseling, mental health services and treatment for substance abuse and addiction. Implementing these child welfare reforms more quickly will help curb traumatic separation from a child’s biological parents. If separation becomes necessary, the law encourages placements with families, rather than in group homes. I salute all Iowans who have served as a foster family or who may consider becoming one. Providing at-risk kids with stability, compassion and guidance in their young lives is a noble calling.

Foster Care Month provides an opportunity to recommit ourselves as a society to take measure of connections within our communities and lean in on our ability to help those in need. In Iowa, we have about 10,000 children in foster care at any given time. If you are in a position to become a foster parent, or volunteer to provide respite care or donate clothes, meals, or tutoring services to a foster family in your community, check with the Iowa Department of Human Services. It works with Four Oaks Family Connections and Lutheran Services in Iowa to recruit, license, train and support foster and adoptive families in Iowa.  The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association is a non-profit organization serving foster, adoptive and kinship families for nearly 45 years.

May is National Foster Care Month. Senator Grassley co-founded the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth in 2009. Today, he co-chairs the 32-member caucus with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.