Politics

Foster Youth Come to Capitol Hill, Share Experiences in the System

Foster Youth Shadow Day is in its seventh year in Washington

Megan Simon, 26, of Los Angeles, talks with Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., in the Rayburn subway on Foster Youth Shadow Day on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Karen Bass had a busy day ahead of her in the House on Wednesday: a morning meeting with House Democrats, pressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a few points during his Foreign Affairs hearing, and introducing a speaker on the House floor.

While the day wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for the California Democrat, it was for Megan Simon, a 26-year-old former foster child shadowing the lawmaker for the day.

Simon was one of more than 100 young people on the Hill on Wednesday doing the same thing — trailing members of Congress as part of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth’s seventh annual shadow day. The caucus works with the National Foster Youth Institute to bring young people who recently left foster care to Washington to share their experiences with lawmakers.

Simon has been in Washington the past few days learning about the nation’s capital and talking to other former foster youth and legislators about changes they want to see in the foster care system.

“It was also my first time on a plane,” she said.

Simon was placed in foster care as a 1-year-old. She spent the next 17 years, along with her siblings, bouncing between the system and their grandparents’ care until they aged out of the program. At the Capitol, she wanted to talk with Bass and others about the biggest issues for foster youth: homelessness and education.

“I used to be very under the radar and insecure about talking about the effects foster care had on me,” Simon said. “But it’s a lot easier to use the power of your voice when you know it’ll be heard by people who can create changes to the system.”

Bass agreed. The congresswoman has participated in Foster Youth Shadow Day since entering the House in 2011. She’s been involved with the foster care system for 28 years, first as a community organizer, advocating on behalf of victims of the crack epidemic, and then as a politician.

“There’s always so much to learn talking to you,” Bass told Simon. “It’s so important that people making decisions get to hear the first-hand perspectives of [those] who have lived through this system.”

LilCrystal Dernier, who shadowed Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch on Wednesday, said the day helped her bring attention to issues she’s been working for years on as a foster youth advocate. Currently in graduate school at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, she wants to start a nonprofit helping foster youth in her community.

Dernier, who interned for Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, is writing a policy report on the importance of building healthy relationships for foster youth to increase social mobility.

“I love working in my community and advocating for the people I’m around, but it’s a really big deal having this close interaction with people making political decisions,” she said. “Getting to talk about what’s important to me and being heard here makes a difference.”

Simon said her main goal for her trip to the Hill was to let legislators know what life is like in foster care, and take active steps toward fixing related problems.

“I still have a niece that’s in the system right now,” she said. “I want to do what I can here to make sure she never has to go through what I did.”

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