Speaking on the House floor last week in recognition of National Foster Care Month, which was May, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) highlighted the challenges facing youth in state care and praised a young Rhode Islander who joined him in Washington for the work she is doing to improve the lives of foster youth after growing up in the system.
Langevin’s guest in the U.S. Capitol, Dee Saint-Franc, spent a portion of the day with him as part of Foster Youth Shadow Day, organized by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. As a member of the Caucus, Langevin gave Saint-Franc insight into his routine and spoke with her about her aspirations and interest in foster care policy.
In his recent work on the topic, Langevin learned that Saint-Franc came under the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families at the age of seven years old. She lived in group homes and with foster families and sadly became a victim of identity theft.
“This issue of identity theft had come to my attention a few years ago, and Dee’s personal story, as well as the stories of numerous other foster youth brave to step forward, was crucial in passing legislation to deal with this problem,” he said to the assembly.
During his remarks in the House Chamber, Langevin said Saint-Franc has demonstrated tremendous passion and skill through her role as board co-chair of The Voice and as Rhode Island's delegate to the New England Youth Coalition. Further, she has attained an associate’s degree in business management from Johnson & Wales University and works for the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association.
He described her as “a young woman who shows us all what determination and perseverance truly look like. Coming from a family that took in foster children, one of my priorities in Congress has been to ensure that this population has every opportunity to access and achieve success. Drawing on her personal experiences and leadership abilities, Dee has emerged as a strong advocate on this issue.”
After outlining Saint-Franc’s accomplishments, Langevin urged his colleagues to address inadequacies in the foster care system. Building on legislation he authored that was signed into law last year to addresses the disproportionate impact of identity theft on foster youth, he advocated additional proposals in his Foster Youth Financial Security Act to help foster youth apply for the state benefits and financial aid they need when they age out of the system.
Langevin also joined other members of the caucus in announcing the introduction of legislation, the A Plus Act, which would remove legal obstacles that hinder child welfare agencies in their efforts to meet foster children's educational needs. Current law creates confusion for education agencies regarding who is entitled to education records, making it difficult to ensure that children are immediately and appropriately enrolled in school and receive the supports and interventions they need to succeed.
Last year, President Obama signed into law the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, which contained a provision Langevin authored to address identity theft in the foster care system. The measure requires states to provide foster youth ages 16 and older with a free copy of any consumer credit report pertaining to them while under state care and to fix any problems if they are found so that when the child leaves state care they do so with their identity and their credit intact.
While this law certainly would have protected Saint-Franc and others like her, she has nevertheless persevered and has done remarkable work with her peers in Rhode Island.
At the age of 22, Saint-Franc is now attending Rhode Island College, Langevin’s alma mater, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“I’m proud that Dee is working to give something back to her community and wants to focus her academic career in an area for which she is uniquely qualified,” Langevin said. “She is a role model for her daughter and for all of us here today and, perhaps, one day she will be down speaking on the House Floor herself in the not-too-distant future.”
Moving forward, Langevin is hopeful Congress will further support Saint-Franc’s efforts to level the playing field for foster youth.
“I’m proud to support bipartisan legislation being introduced by Caucus members today to remove obstacles to ensuring that foster youth get the education that they deserve,” he said. “We can all take simple steps to help them to apply for state benefits and financial aid they need when they age out of the system, and I’ve introduced legislation for that very purpose.”