On Tuesday, June 9, First Focus’s State Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. The goal of the meeting was to provide a forum for state advocates to come together and discuss the various provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, P.L. 113-183 (signed into law last September) and strategize on how to effectively implement the new law in their respective states.

The highlights of the event included remarks from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center. Senator Wyden, as former Chairman of the Finance Committee, was instrumental in the passage of the Strengthening Families Act. He spoke about the common sense provisions of the law including utilizing the Reasonable and Prudent Parent standard for foster parents, and ensuring youth in care can participate in normal activities their peers enjoy such as attending sleepovers and participating in extra-curricular activities. He also discussed his new proposal that would open Title IV-E dollars, the main source of foster care funding, for time-limited preventative services so youth and families can receive the help they need before it becomes necessary to remove a child from the family.

Jennifer Rodriguez, the keynote speaker,also gave a compelling and inspiring speech about her time in foster care and how she managed transform her life to become a successful advocate for foster youth. She discussed her troubled childhood, which involved several run-ins with the juvenile justice system. Inaddition, she described her anti-establishment mindset, and how she couldn’t wait to turn 18 so she could escape the foster home. It wasn’t until young adulthood, Rodriguez explained, that shediscovered a love for advocacy, and eventually decided to pursue a career in law and advocate on behalf of kids like her. In her current position, Rodriguez works with system-involved youth to ensure they receive the best care possible and that efforts are made to ensue that they have a normal childhood.

The hallmark of the event was a series of roundtable discussions focused on specific provisions of the law. These topics were: Trafficking: Runaway and Homeless Youth, Trafficking: Best Practices and Collaboration, Normalcy: Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard, Normalcy: Case Planning, Permanency: Case Planning and Permanency: APPLA. Each roundtable featured a resource expert who shared their knowledge and facilitated a conversation with state advocates on how their states address these issues. These discussions provided a great forum for advocates, experts, young individuals formerly in care and state agency employees to share ideas and learn about methods and policies in use in other states.

The event was a success, with attendees learning from one another about implementation efforts across state borders, and how best practices can be utilized in their states. We hope to keep these conversations going and see measurable impacts in the lives of the youth, as was the intent of the Strengthening Families Act.