One young man from Mesa who grew up in the foster care system is in Washington, D.C., learning about the political process and help change the way the Capitol makes policy regarding foster kids. Craig Stuart is interning in the office of Rep. Trent Franks with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Foster Youth Internship (FYI) program.
“Craig’s arrival in Washington this summer has meaning far beyond his participation in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program; he 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 a statement.
Stuart overcame a childhood filled with hardship to attend Arizona State University, majoring in communications and minoring in business, and hopes to go into business for himself one day. He said education is the driving factor on his path to success, thus far. After bouncing around the system, Stuart was finally placed with a local woman, Mary Corrigan, who emphasized the importance of education and gave him the tools he needed to get ahead.
“I definitely credit a lot of my success to her as she built up my confidence and self-worth and hammered in education as a way to actively change many of the hardships which I was born into,” said Stuart. “She was able to help me most by welcoming me and offering me a loving home. If I did not have the opportunity to meet and learn from her, I am not sure where my life would be today.”
But Stuart said many who share his background are not as fortunate as he was. Education is not always first and foremost in the lives of children who lack a stable home environment.
“I see one of the biggest road blocks to success of youths in the foster care system is lack of a quality education,” said Stuart. “Often times, foster kids bounce from home to home, changing schools and have so many life issues to deal with on a daily basis that often homework and preparing for class is the last thing they have time to think about.”
This is something that he hopes to address during his time in Washington. Interns in the program spend time researching issues related to the foster care system and submit a report of their research, which is presented at a Congressional briefing.
When asked what he would change about the foster care system in Arizona, Stuart said, “I would change the incentives many states have to keep children in foster care, rather than encouraging reunification and permanency. I would also add support systems for children in care to learn about bank accounts, driver licenses and trade skills.”
There are many opportunities for those who would like to help foster children. Stuart recommends visiting orphanages and group homes to see the living conditions there, saying that knowledge is the first step to taking action. Local advocacy groups like Arizona Children’s Association are valuable resources for would-be volunteers.
To kids in the foster care system currently, Stuart advised them to “… make education a priority and to work hard at everything you do in life because someone is always watching, and you never know what opportunity may arise through that hard work.”
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