GW student lobbies society, government for foster-care reform

Amy Clay is not your typical college student.

The sophomore has spoken on the subject of foster-child welfare reform in front of the American Bar Association, the Center for Children and the Law and the United States Senate, among other places. She also has met President Clinton.

A product of the foster system herself, Clay, an Illinois native, has advocated for improved foster-child care legislation since her junior year in high school, when she began pitching herself and her cause to several different organizations.

As a senior in high school, she worked for the legal division of the Department of Child and Family Services, where she advocated better foster-child care legislation regarding child neglect, juvenile justice and health care.

Then a ward of the state of Illinois, Amy continued to speak on behalf of foster children during the summer between her senior year in high school and her freshman year in college, as well as between her freshman and sophomore years in college, when she held a paid position at DCFS.

Having received a scholarship from the Youth College Program and encouraged by the success of her child welfare efforts, Clay said she was determined to continue her work in college.

“I think that, contrary to most kids who come from foster homes, I have been able to latch onto an education as a security device,” Clay said.

Contacted by Veronica Hemrich, an assistant at the American Bar Association, Clay was offered and took an internship at the ABA, where she was a strong proponent of passing the Adoption Safe Families Act. The act cuts down the time a child remains in foster care.

Intent on protecting the health of children, Clay supported several pieces of juvenile justice legislation designed to prevent juvenile crime before it occurs. She also spoke at the ABA’s annual national convention.

“I know what it’s like to be in the situation these foster kids are in, know what it’s like to feel as if you have nobody on your side,” Clay said. “One of the most rewarding parts of what I do is letting these kids, who feel as if they’re all alone, know that there really are people trying to help them.”

During her tenure at the ABA, one of her multitude of speeches on how to improve child welfare laws was published by the American Bar Association Child Law Practice. Since then, Clay has been published numerous times, including in the Pacific News Organization and most recently last Tuesday in the San Francisco Examiner.

Clay is in contract negotiations for the publishing of her resource handbook. The handbook, designed for foster children between the ages of 11 and 21, illustrates the rights available to foster children.

“If children know what kind of support systems they have, then they’ll be more inclined to use them,” Clay said. “Under the current system, foster kids don’t know what’s available to them and most are afraid to ask questions.”

Most foster teenagers do not know they can be adopted, Clay said.

Clay is working with the Child Welfare League of America, an organization through which she testified in front of the U.S. Senate, campaigning for improved federal foster-child care reform.

In addition to speaking publicly once every two weeks to audiences full of child-welfare advocates, Clay also met President Clinton Friday.

“(Amy) is just so great,” Clay’s good friend Suzie Coggins said. “I didn’t know about her activism until recently. See, she is very low-key about the whole thing and only speaks about it when asked.”

Clay’s long-term goals include becoming a lawyer and a politician, drafting legislation, and causing “major social reform” within the foster-child field.

“I was a scared kid once,” Clay said. “I’ve had the opportunity to live on both sides of the train tracks.”

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