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Mr. Anderson Goes to Washington!

Raif Walter (left) and Matt Anderson at Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Montana social worker and documentary producer Matt Anderson stood in the back of a cavernous hearing room in the Senate Dirksen Building on Monday afternoon, beaming with pride.

“What happened here today was amazing,” said Anderson, who is a National Association of Social Workers member.

A roomful of Congressional aides, officials from child welfare organizations and reporters had watched a 12-minute clip from his unfinished documentary, “From Place to Place.” The film follows the plight of six young adults who must learn to fend for themselves after “aging out” of Montana’s foster care system.

Two former foster children featured in his film — Raif Walter, 20, and Mandy Baldwin, 21 — also participated in a roundtable discussion after the film viewing. The heart-rending stories from Walter, Baldwin, and former Georgia foster children Sherena Johnson-Wilson and Tarkiyah Melton made Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) voice choke with emotion as she spoke to the audience.

“I think the system is pretty much broken,” she said.

Anderson hopes screening his film in Congress during National Foster Care Month will help generate more funding to complete his documentary and prompt foster care reform. He and colleague director/producer Paige Williams also plan to use footage from Monday’s roundtable and later meetings with lawmakers and  Congressional staff in the final version of “From Place to Place.”

Many former foster children have little or no contact with their birth family and are at higher risk of becoming single parents or suffering from depression. Sixty percent of men will be convicted of a crime, according to a recent study from the University of Washington School of Social Work. Forty percent of women who were formerly foster children will be on public assistance, the study said. And only six out of 100 former foster children will be attending community college, it said.

Walter and Baldwin said they were happy to be able to tell their stories through the documentary and in person on Capitol Hill. Social workers often go beyond the call of duty to help foster children. However, social workers and other professionals can ignore the wishes of foster children, they said.

Mandy Baldwin and Raif Walter.

“There are a lot of kids in foster care — they are living, dwelling, thinking human beings,” said Walters.

“Being in this film is kind of a big deal for all of us,” said Baldwin, who was placed in 14 different foster homes over seven years. “A lot of the youth don’t have very much of a voice or say in what goes on in their lives.”

Landrieu and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who are co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, hosted the Monday roundtable and viewing of Anderson’s film. The event was moderated by Gary Stangler, executive director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

 It also attracted officials from influential organizations that help children, including Casey Family Programs and Annie E. Casey Foundation, Child Trends, the Child Welfare League of America, Voice for Adoption, the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, the American Public Human Services Association, the National Foster Care Coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness.

Landrieu said she and Grassley will introduce “radical” legislation to fix problems in the foster care system.

“I’d like to see her in the White House,” Walter quipped.

The audience burst out in laughter.

For more information on how social workers help foster children, visit the National Association of Social Worker’s “Help Starts Here” Adoptions and Foster Care Web page by clicking here. And to find out more about National Foster Care Month click here.

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1 Comment

  1. This is a great article. My hope is that these articles will continue and place the spotlight on the misdirected intent to help our young people. No one should have to live as our foster children who are forced to move from place to place. We as individuals must stand up and demand the necessary changes-.
    The film From Place to Place is an excellent tool to make people aware of the great need.

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