Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.)
Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.)

“All of our nation, and frankly, the entire world is concerned about the Coronavirus and many institutions are taking steps to protect people in a preventive manner,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.

“And I think in some cases, when we’re taking those drastic steps, we’re not thinking about the consequences—the collateral consequences of schools closing.”

On Thursday, March 12, Rep. Bass along with Representative Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support and Shay Marche House, graduate student and foster youth advocate, hosted a press conference at the House Triangle on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to encourage colleges and universities to include vulnerable students and foster youth when making provisions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

“The bipartisan caucus has 128 members and we’ve been around for nine years,” said Bass. “Currently, nationally, there is over 400,000 young people, who are living in the child welfare system.

“So, as we prepare to address this virus from a prevention stand point, an intervention and a treatment stand point, we need to think about any measures that we take and the consequences of those measures.”

“I am deeply concerned that many decisions to decrease community spread of the virus could unintentionally cause substantial hardships for our vulnerable and foster youth,” said Davis. “Cancelling classes for weeks, closing school dorms, shutting cafeterias, requiring online course work all could create substantial barriers for these young people, who have fought so hard to make it to college.”

Davis continued, “I am pleased to join with Congresswoman Bass to encourage institutions of higher education, government and communities to focus on the needs of foster and homeless youth as they implement their responses to the Coronavirus.”

The press conference was called with the intent to help institutions take into consideration youth who don’t have a place to go and those who may not have the technological resources to succeed under the new format of classes. House hopes the needs of vulnerable youth and students will be considered as the federal government continues to pass legislation regarding the Coronavirus.

“Although I am not personally impacted by this issue right now, if this were to happen merely a couple of months ago, I would’ve been greatly impacted,” said House. “As an individual who has grown up in the foster care system, I relied heavily on the dorms for housing, I relied heavily on the institutions for a meal plan as well as I worked off and on campus to make a way for myself.”

House continued, “I can’t imagine what my fellow brothers and sisters are going through who are currently undergrads. As far as … other institutions, who gave students deadlines to move out of their dorms by next week, without necessarily considering how this was going to really impact them, [we want] to make sure that we keep all student’s voices—all students who are struggling in account as far as what we’re going to do if we’re closing schools.”

“How are kids in the primary and secondary schools going to get their breakfast and lunch, for those students that need that?” said Bass. “And in the colleges, the same. If colleges are dismissed, then what’s going to happen to the students?”

“These amazing youth have endured so much and need our collective help to weather this storm so that they too can remain healthy, housed and stable,” said Davis. “We ask everybody to help spread the word, so that we consider these most vulnerable students as we prepare our response to the Coronavirus.”

House also shared how switching to online classes may prove to be a difficult situation for many students. She stated that low-income and international students will be greatly affected by the changes being implemented to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have to consider a lot of students who aren’t able to automatically switch to the online program due to other problems or the emotional stuff we experience as a result of the child welfare system,” said House. “I know I personally struggle with focusing with ADHD and other forms of trauma that makes it immensely difficult to focus on online classes.”

She continued, “I think it’s really crucial that we provide housing for international students, as well as foster youth, who may be homeless during this time, who are unable to return home due to traveling bans.

“Some students are excited that they are able to go home—that’s not the case for everybody.”

Bass added they would be voting on an emergency package to address the Coronavirus and its effects on vulnerable youth. She also relayed to the audience that Congress would be on recess for a week.