MIAMI (AP) - Three former foster children will be in Washington on Monday to witness President Barack Obama's ceremonial inauguration for a second term.
They were invited by California Congresswoman Karen Bass, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and an ardent advocate for the more than 400,000 kids in foster care. She said witnessing the historic occasion will inspire them to reach their own goals.
"What I hope they walk away with is, 'Wow, maybe I can do something great in my lifetime'," Bass said. "I like for young people not to see a limitation on what they can do with their lives.
She'll also introduce the youths to fellow lawmakers, hoping that meeting them in person and hearing their stories will encourage her colleagues to join. The caucus, which formed in 2011 and has focused on improving education outcomes and reducing the disproportionate amount of psychotropic medications prescribed to foster kids, has been slowly growing in strength.
Representatives Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Tom Marino, R-Pa.; and Jim McDermott , D-Wash, also co-chair the group of nearly 75 members. Obama recently signed into law The Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which the caucus pushed through to improve education outcomes by giving social workers access to education records.
Social workers had been required to get a court order to access a foster child's school, so children often didn't have a way to bring those documents to new schools because foster parents may not be legal guardians entitled to access those records. Some students end up taking the same classes over because credits are lost or don't transfer.
Bass traveled the country on a listening tour last year, meeting with child welfare officials to draft policy with help from foster kids, caseworkers and others on the front lines. In June, she brought several foster youths to Washington to shadow lawmakers.
Sixto Cancel entered Connecticut's foster system before his first birthday and moved through dozens of foster homes over the years along with his ten brothers and sisters.
The 20-year-old, now a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, said attending the inauguration and meeting lawmakers is bigger than just his personal experience.
"It's important for all our foster brothers and sisters that we feel like we're at the table now, that our voices are being heard," Cancel said.
He started the pilot program Stellar Works to prepare foster kids for post-secondary education.
That's been one of the main focuses of the caucus. While pushing its most recent bill, Bass noted that 50 percent of the nation's more than 400,000 foster kids won't graduate from high school. Nearly 94 percent of those who do make it through high school do not finish college, according to a 2010 study from Chapin Hall, the University of Chicago's research arm.
"A lot of people in Congress aren't used to seeing foster youth be able to stand up and represent themselves in an articulate manner," said 19-year-old Daniesha Tobey-Richards, who will also attend the inauguration.
She spent five years in foster care in Massachusetts and is now majoring in psychology at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
"When I was first in foster care, I didn't know there was an entire outside world of foster youth being represented in any shape or form," she said.