2020 PFIG Recipient Sophie Mariam

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer I’m excited to be working as a Federal Policy intern with Family Equality, an organization which advocates for legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families and foster youth, by building support networks and driving policy change. My work centers around the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign, which works to promote the best interests of all children in the foster care and adoption system by advocating for federal legislation that would eliminate discriminatory state laws, policies, and practices that exclude potential adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. One of the aspects of the internship that attracted me initially was the opportunity to research, analyze, and advocate for substantive policies relating to LGBTQ equality and other intersectional social justice issues. As I begin the internship, my hope is that by advocating for policies that address economic, racial, and social injustices in the child welfare system, I can both learn more about my interest in federal lobbying and advocacy work, and work to provide opportunity for children by dramatically increasing access to permanent, loving homes. 

I am working with one other Federal Policy intern who is also a college student, and because it is a small nonprofit, the policy team consists of me and my fellow intern, our supervisor (the director of Federal Policy) and the Chief Policy Officer of Family Equality. We also work with the State Policy team, which is made up of lawyers who are working on non-discrimination cases at the state level. This collaboration has been interesting because it has broadened my understanding of how state and federal policy relate and legal issues throughout the appeals process. Due to COVID, the internship is virtual and all my meetings have been over zoom, which was a bit difficult to adjust to considering how much interpersonal-collaboration and communication is required for policy work, and particularly for onboarding with all the programs we use. However, this taught me to be adaptable and quick on my feet, as I had to adjust to a new work environment on the fly through virtual onboarding. I have learned a great deal already about best practices to analyze our key databases, like tracking current cosponsors of the Bill in Congress, tracking new federal rules and policies, as well as understanding our internal systems for tasks like sending blast emails to key legislators. 

So far, the “office” has a very positive and inclusive culture; we support each other on our projects, share exciting news updates and encouragement on slack, and while we do work hard, we also have fun. I have also enjoyed getting to know my co-workers over zoom and a few virtual brown bag lunch events. Additionally, outside of my official tasks as an intern, I am helping launch a mutual-aid fund for LGBTQ youth who are being financially affected by the COVID pandemic, particularly those with experience with foster care, the criminal justice system, and homelessness. This work has allowed me to get involved with critical, on the ground work to support the communities we serve who are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, and it has allowed me to meet a broader range of coworkers both within Family quality and other LGBTQ advocacy nonprofits in this policy space. The “office” has been a very inclusive environment both for its employees and the populations we serve, particularly due to the fact that we serve a community that has been historically marginalized. However, in staff meetings we have discussed that there is still clear need for growth; in light of the recent Black Lives Matter, Family Equality plans to work to align its mission with anti-racist advocacy goals and ensure that people of color are represented and their voices are amplified both within the organization and in the communities we work with. One of my recent projects has been to research how other nonprofits are working to be more effective racial justice advocates and allies to the black lives matter movement. 

Journal Entry #2

My internship has been extremely dynamic and engaging these past few weeks, centering around the continuing drive for congressional cosponsorship of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. We have also recently focused on connecting the legislative advocacy effort to urging members of Congress to sign onto Family Equality’s amicus brief for an upcoming Supreme Court case, Fulton vs. The City of Philadelphia, which will be extremely consequential regarding anti-disrcimination protections for LGBTQ and religious minority parents and children in the child welfare system. At the same time, given Family Equality’s dedication to supporting policy’s that uplift LGBTQ+ parents and foster youth and addressing key intersectional issues of racial justice and equity, we have focused on how we can support youth in the child welfare system through the COVID pandemic, and integrate anti-racist framework to be better advocates for LGBTQ+ parents and youth of color.

The most exciting part of my last few weeks has been writing, editing, and getting to click the big “send” button on an email to over 400 legislative directors and key staff for members of Congress who we are lobbying to sign onto the Amicus brief for the Fulton Case. Through working on this eblast, I learned the importance of specifically targeting advocacy on the Hill based on what politicians have supported in the past, so I drafted two emails; one for members of Congress who have already cosponsored and we were asking for their continued support of non-discrimination protections through signing onto amicus brief, and one for those who we hoped to both gain as a cosponsor and a signatory on the Fulton amicus brief. Pushing send on this critical email was nerve racking, but I felt proud of the finished product and all that I had learned about effective advocacy and policy in the process of writing the eblast. I have deepened my understanding of how intertwined and connected the issues we lobby for are across the various branches and levels of government; while the upcoming supreme court case is a judicial issue, the outcome is closely related and will likely impact the prospects and exigency of the ECDF Act. Similarly, I have written multiple press releases and attended meetings with the Office of Management and Budget on a recent Health and Human Services “license to discriminate” rule that the administration has passed. The rule makes substantial and dangerous revisions to HHS regulations that implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Cares Act, the first federal civil rights law to prohibit discrimination in healthcare based on sex. These revisions directly allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ and people, women, people of different faiths, and non-religious people in a huge range of federally funded human service programs, including adoption and foster care, and child welfare services. This rule could further limit the already insufficient pool of affirming, loving foster parents ready to care for America’s foster children, particularly the 123,000 waiting for adoption. With almost 20% of the over 440,000 youth in foster care identifying as LGBTQ+ and/or Two Spirit, the new rule poses a threat to their survival, especially during the national crisis of COVID-19.

It has been critical that I look at these issues in the Child Welfare system and frame the harmful consequences of allowing discriminatory laws around the context of the COVID pandemic, and the socio-economic crisis that is disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ and minority communities. Recent research shows that in times of great social stress such as COVID-19, there is likely to be an upswing in instances of child neglect and abuse. LGBTQ children are more likely to experience parental abuse, and are currently overrepresented in the foster care system, and therefore they will be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I have had the opportunity to attend multiple webinars related to issues such as Trump's Recent Executive order on Child Welfare and the consequences for the system as the upcoming Presidential election approaches, and working to ensure racial equity in the child welfare system. These seminars are often hosted by Family Equality’s partner organizations, mainly other NGOs and think tanks like the Children’s Defense Fund, Foster Club, The Center for American Progress, and the Center for Study of Social Policy. These informative seminars have been a highlight because they have opened my eyes to how critical it is that the policies that organizations like Family Equality push for are well thought out not just in regards to one specific goal; legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ populations, but that we also be a champion for people of color in the child welfare system and parents of color. One statistic that has stuck with me is that 40% of black women identifying as LGBTQ have their children removed from them, and black children are vastly overrepresented in foster care, despite the fact that their families are often denied services that could prevent removal and stereotypes like the “welfare queen” and “angry black woman” still lead to the over targeting of black communities on the punitive end of the welfare system. Understanding that our child welfare system is not only one that discriminates against LGBTQ parents, but also an institution that surveils, investigates, and separates families of color based on a system with a history rooted in racism, has deepened my understanding of how critical it is to rethink and restructure the status quo in American child welfare policy.  In the remaining weeks of my internship, I will aid Family Equality in becoming a champion of actively anti-racist policies and practices that confront these systemic problems, and focus on family reunification and prevention, instead of removing children of color from their families of origin.

Journal Entry #3

I will be wrapping up my internship this Friday, and I am happy to share that I have learned a great deal about advocacy in this policy arena and got a glimpse into the intricacies of conducting outreach on the Hill. I learned a great deal about the importance of attention to evidence based practices and use of an intersectional framework across policy issues, through working with other NGOs that are conducting policy research and analysis in the child welfare/LGBTQ rights policy space and then transfer that work to advocacy on the Hill or grassroots campaigns. Through working with my boss, and having the opportunity to send emails, set up meetings, and brief staffers or advocate for policy change over zoom video chat, I have gained a strong understanding of what makes an effective lobbyist. My communications skills have been refined as I adjusted to the succinct, “policy-memo” style of writing and abbreviated speech that policy advocates use in this space.

One experience that challenged me was having to multitask, and keep up with a lot of different tasks and news at once. While we primarily worked with a bill in the House, we also needed to follow all current events on the Hill as they related to LGBTQ families, youth in the child welfare system, and other marginalized communities that we work to uplift as allies and an organization working to advance an anti-racist agenda. I was keeping up with the upcoming Supreme Court case (Fulton vs the City of Philadelphia) which we are creating an amicus brief and conducting advocacy for, as well as multiple administrative rules in the Department of Health and Human Services and executive orders by Trump that directly affected the prospects for the Bill. As I described in previous posts, the interconnectedness of all areas of policy was very interesting to experience, and it helped me understand the importance of taking a birds eye view to ensure all advocacy related actions the organization takes are strategic and impactful.

This internship has supported and advanced my ideas of what I might like my career to look like after graduating from Batten in 2 years. I would love to go into this policy area, and work at the intersection of child welfare, education policy, and poverty; I am passionate about ensuring an equitable education for all children, that all children have the support and love of a family, and that all families have access to economic opportunity and social supports so that all families and children can prosper. This internship has increased my awareness of just how flawed our nation's child welfare system is, and as someone who feels strongly that ant-racist and social justice work must be central to effective policy making, this is an area in which this is more essential than ever. Combatting the systemic racism of the child welfare system and the discrimination that all LGBTQ foster youth face, and reforming the system so it ensures affirmation and opportunity for all youth, is now something I feel I will always seek to be a strong advocate for, regardless of which policy area I end up in.