Kent State Student Helps Congress Change Child Welfare Laws
The pain of moving from one home to the next, time and time again, for four years straight is helping Keri Richmond speak out for other foster children without a voice.
Richmond, a Kent State University junior majoring in public relations in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, shared her story with members of Congress and child welfare advocates during a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill in late July.
“I’m still in shock that two months of preparation is finally done,” Richmond said. “It was honestly so surreal presenting to White House staff and members of Congress. I was so emotional because this is an area I’m incredibly passionate about.”
Speaking on Capitol Hill
Richmond was one of 12 individuals from across the nation who spent 10 weeks this summer in Washington, D.C., as part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program™.
The assignment provides young adults, who have been in the U.S. foster care system, with an opportunity to intern in a Congressional office and research issues affecting children in foster care across the country.
Hearing from the Experts
Richmond compiled her findings and recommendations into a policy report, which she presented and distributed at the event.
“When I was presenting, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest,” Richmond said. “But it was worth it because these people have the power to do something and they need to hear from the experts. And the experts are the foster youth interns. We’ve been through the system, we know the cracks better than anyone and can speak from our experiences about what works and what doesn’t.”
Richmond focused on the importance of foster children participating in extracurricular activities.
She credited the mentors she met through those activities for helping to encourage her to become the first in her family to go to college, an achievement that only three percent of foster youth nationwide accomplish.
“Foster alumni are the true experts on foster care,” said Becky Weichhand, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. “Their voices are vital and their stories compelling. These interns bring their individual passion to make a difference in the lives of other foster children and, as a result, federal policymakers are influenced to make changes necessary to improve the system so future children will be spared the challenges these individuals have struggled to overcome.”
Providing a Voice for the Voiceless
Richmond spent part of the summer interning on Capitol Hill for Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio.
“All of the interns knew we had to use our voice for the voiceless and had to embrace our past to change other foster youth’s futures,” Richmond said. “I am so grateful I had this opportunity and even more thankful to have had Sen. Portman and members of his team there to support me."
Richmond’s fight to improve the lives of children in foster care first caught the attention of WJW-FOX 8 News in February when she started collecting donations for Together We Rise, a nonprofit organization that fills special duffle bags, called Sweet Cases, with personal belongings including hygiene products, coloring books and blankets. The Sweet Cases replace the plastic trash bags that foster children are often given when they move to a new home.
Richmond exceeded her goal raising $4,200 and assembling 160 Sweet Cases.
Richmond says helping foster children and speaking out for them is shaping her future career, after she graduates from Kent State in May 2017.
“I’m not sure what will come after school,” she said. “But I know I will be in a job where I can advocate for others and I know I want to get back to Capitol Hill one day.”