Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=134333
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 5:53:18 AM CST
WASHINGTON -- This week, Washington welcomed Hollywood.
Entrepreneur Russell Simmons, actress Gabrielle Union and other celebrities joined policy makers on Capitol Hill to push for more federal support of youth programs.
Simmons' Hip Hop Action Network and the California-based nonprofit, Children Uniting Nations, co-sponsored the event.
The conference addressed several issues affecting youth such as drug trafficking, physical fitness and the need for mentors to help foster youth.
Union pays close attention to the plight of foster children. Two years ago, her mother became a foster parent to two young girls.
"(The girls) became a part of my family," Union said. "But I quickly realized how the foster care system is lacking terribly."
There are an estimated 500,000 children in foster care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Advocates say there is not enough national attention on foster children, who often lack consistent guidance.
Dr. Victoria Stevens is a Los Angeles psychologist and consultant for Children Uniting Nations, which matches foster children with mentors. Stevens said mentors play a different role than teachers or therapists and are less restricted.
"There is an intimate attachment between a mentor and a child in foster care," Stevens said. "It has to be a consistent, ongoing relationship. And that is what foster children need."
The conference was not to solely raise awareness.
CUN has lobbied this year for the Foster Care Mentoring Act of 2009, which was introduced by Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La, last month. The act would authorize $15 million in statewide spending for foster care programs. It also allows for up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness for volunteers who serve as role models to foster youth.
"If there's anything us common folk can do, it is to make sure we reach out to children," said Dr. David Sanders, who works for a foundation committed to improving foster care. "Whether that's being a mentor -- and not just to children in foster care -- just children in communities. Any child has the potential of being abused or neglected."