Kellie Henderson shares her personal story to help shape child welfare law
Phillipsburg, Kansas, native and KU School of Social Welfare alumna Kellie Henderson is one of 12 current and former foster youth from across the nation who will spend the summer on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. as a part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Foster Youth Internship (FYI) program. This summer-long assignment provides individuals who have spent time in the United States foster care system with an opportunity to intern in a Congressional office, and share their experiences, opinions and unique perspectives with policymakers in Congress. Henderson will be interning in Senator Orrin Hatch’s office.
“Kellie’s arrival in Washington this summer has meaning far beyond her participation in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program; she also comes to Capitol Hill as a voice for every child in U.S. foster care,” said Becky Weichhand, Interim Executive Director of CCAI.
In her entrance essay, Henderson wrote, “After a difficult start, the foster care system liberated me from an unstable and dysfunctional home to a caring family environment. It enabled me to start anew and allowed me to focus on graduating high school. Through the resources available to me for tuition, housing, insurance, and educational materials, as well as a devoted social worker, I was able to pursue my academic aspirations.”
While Henderson is thankful for the assistance that foster care has provided, she is not blind to its flaws. “While I feel blessed for all the support the foster care system has provided me with, I also acknowledge its shortcomings and limitations,” Henderson writes. “I hope this experience allows me to utilize my education and personal experiences to help strengthen and expand the system throughout my career; and make it a dynamic entity that promotes success for children.”
Since 1999, more than 230,000 young people have transitioned from foster care without permanent family connections. Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds). Henderson did graduate from high school, and went on to achieve her BA in Social Work from Fort Hays State University in 2013. She completed her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Kansas this past May. As an FYI, she hopes to improve her understanding of the legislative process, inherent difficulties, and unique challenges surrounding the foster care system.
“During my time in Washington with the FYI Program, I hope to gain insight and improve my understanding of legislative process, its inherent difficulties, and the unique challenges with respect to the foster care system. Coming from the Midwest, I look forward to an extended exposure to the governing heartbeat of this nation.”
As part of their assignment, FYIs research issues impacting children in foster care across the country and compile their findings and recommendations into a policy report. This document is presented at a Congressional briefing and shared with child welfare advocates across the country. In past years, these reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing over 400,000 children currently in the United States foster care system.
“Foster care alumni are the true experts on foster care, and so CCAI attempts to listen to them as much as possible in the midst of discussions about child welfare law and policy reform here in Washington,” CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand said. “Their voices are powerful and their stories compelling. The Foster Youth Interns bring their creativity and passion to make a difference in the lives of other foster children to their work each summer, and as a result, federal policymakers are inspired to make the changes necessary to improve the system so that future children will be spared the difficulties these alumni have struggled to overcome.”