First Lady Melania Trump held a virtual roundtable Tuesday to discuss the foster care system and the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to support safe, stable, and permanent families for children and youth.
The roundtable highlighted the First Lady’s Be Best first pillar of her initiative that focuses on well-being, including social, emotional, and physical health. She emphasized the need to increase partnerships, resources, and transparency in the foster care system amid the coronavirus pandemic on foster children and families. Foster care system across the nation has been struggling with an array of problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic such as the closing of family courts that has led to a delay in a child’s exit from foster care to return home, a disruption in visitations for children placed in the system and a steady decrease of recruiting new prospective foster parents over fears of virus transmission.
Melania invited a group of foster care and adoption organizations who discussed the innovations in the child placement system, lessons advocates learned from the pandemic, and the importance of trauma-informed training. Representatives included Ruby Tucker from UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families; Founder & CEO of Adoption Share Thea Ramirez; Founder and Executive Director of Connection Homes Pam Parishes; Wendy’s Wonderful Kids CEO Rita Soronsen; and Christina Meredith, the founder of Christina Meredith Foundation.
Along with foster care organization, the First Lady heard from a young adult named Joshua Christian, who shared his own personal experience being in the foster care system for 18 years and now is a national advocate to help make the child welfare system better for other foster children. Lee Vasquez and Kaari Vasquez, a foster parent couple who spoke about the “intrinsic, lifelong need for each person to have the support of a loving family, both in childhood and beyond.”
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine(R) as well as his wife, First Lady Fran DeWine, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu(R), Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano(R), and Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards also joined in the virtual roundtable discussion as they spoke about their states work on primary prevention and permanent placement.
Participants from the Trump Administration included Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar; Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson of the Administration for Children and Families; Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway; and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy to the First Lady Emma Doyle.
Melania also discussed the administration’s ongoing efforts that included a new Executive order her husband, President Trump signed last Thursday that aims at strengthening the child welfare system nationwide, by seeking to improve the foster care and adoption programs amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Executive Order is pertinent to the mission and values of the First Lady’s Be Best initiative.
Titled ‘Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children,’ it outlines three areas of reform — improving outcomes, protecting vulnerable youth lives as well as their well-being, and uplifting children and families to thrive. It includes improving outcomes by creating a close partnerships between State agencies and public, private, faith-based, and community organizations” with the goal to develop a community-based, abuse-prevention and family support services. It also will drive transparency on key statutory child welfare requirements and guide States on how best to support high-quality legal representation for parents and children.
“With more than 400,000 children in foster care, there is a critical need for these children to have safe, stable homes,” Melania said in a statement last week following the signing of the executive order. “It is my hope that this Executive Order will provide reforms, which directly improve the child welfare system and further establish this administration’s commitment to the health and safety of children throughout the country.”
The First Lady also praised the order in a tweet, noting that the child welfare system “is responsible for creating safe & stable homes for more than 400,000 children.”
“#BeBest is committed to supporting & advocating for our nation’s child welfare system. Today, I joined @POTUS for the signing of an Executive Order that will provide critical improvements to help protect the well-being & outcomes for children in foster care,” Melania said in a tweet last week.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that around 430,000 children are currently in the foster care system, with nearly 124,000 who have a plan for adoption but haven’t found a “forever family.”
Melania concluded the discussion praising the strength and resilience of several of the participants and thanking everyone for their advocacy. She encouraged all the participants to continue to work with the Administration to ensure all children are able to thrive, noting that children in America are safer today because of their efforts.
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