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Daniel Heimpel
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Daniel Heimpel is the project director of Fostering Media Connections. As a journalist, he has covered child welfare issues for LA Weekly, Newsweek and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. You can find some of his work at www.dheimpel.com.

Entries by Daniel Heimpel

Foster Mother's Day

(1) Comments | Posted May 13, 2013 | 7:16 PM

This article first appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change.

At 28 years old each, Eric and Mindy Shamp are already well on their way to building a big loving family. In the past year-and-a-half, they have welcomed 11 children into their home.

On this balmy Mother's Day...

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Congress Passes Key Foster Care Education Bill

(0) Comments | Posted January 2, 2013 | 6:03 PM

The year 2013 started with both houses of Congress passing a bill focused on improving the educational outcomes of foster youth.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA), submitted by the bi-partisan co-chairs of both the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Senate Foster Youth Caucus, was approved in...

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The Power of Foster Care Politics

(2) Comments | Posted August 8, 2012 | 2:51 PM

While the nation bemoans a "gridlocked" Congress and Comedy Central's Messrs. Stewart and Colbert aptly ridicule both presidential candidates for a disregard of specificity on one hand and hubris on the other, I have borne witness to a very different vision of our elected leadership.

Instead of obstruction and partisanship,...

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Foster Care Counts

(1) Comments | Posted May 18, 2012 | 6:01 PM

Eight-year-old Gabbi happily munches on candy, a butterfly painted across her smiling face. A line of little girls in their Sunday best fidget while waiting their turn to get their faces painted also.

It is "Foster Mother's Day" and Gabbi is one of 2,200 foster children and their families who...

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On the Outskirts of Skid Row

(1) Comments | Posted March 22, 2012 | 7:08 PM

California's much-maligned community college system stands an important but tenuous bulwark against homelessness for former foster youth.

On the outskirts of Skid Row, one of the densest concentrations of homelessness in the United States, lies Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATT). In its labyrinth of classrooms and among its...

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A National Foster Care Movement

(3) Comments | Posted March 7, 2012 | 9:42 PM

Congressional "Listening Tour" ignites a healthy, sustainable, youth-led foster care reform movement.


In the years that I have spent chronicling the national movement to improve foster care, I have borne witness to the quiet, consistent progress achieved by a constellation of policy makers, foster youth, practitioners, academics, and advocates fully dedicated to bettering the lives of vulnerable children.

This Child First movement has been punctuated by surges in activity and has scored consistent legislative victories. However, over the span of the past two weeks, from my unique vantage point, I have seen two telling signs that this broad effort is growing and, more importantly, developing the infrastructure for a sustained, youth-driven political movement.

The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth

It is 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning in Los Angeles, not exactly prime time to pack a large auditorium with 350 or more politically charged people. But today, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth is holding the first town hall of its national "Listening Tour."

Caucus co-chairs Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) sit alongside Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and the top staff of caucus co-chairs Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), along with a representative from the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Speakers, many of whom are current or former foster youth, cram the aisles, itching to get their chance at the microphone. Kevin Clark, a well-dressed alumnus of care in his early 20s, steps up. "Three years ago I was trying to decide what substances to put in my body," Clark says. "Three days ago I learned I got a full-ride to San Francisco State University."

The crowd erupts in applause as Clark walks to the back of the hall, fighting back tears of pride. A score or more young people rise to the occasion, sharing their stories, successes, and needs.

Rep. Bass, long a stalwart ally of foster youth through her tenure in the California State Assembly, is unabashed in her ambitions for the Listening Tour.

"I believe that in order to really bring about change, we have to get hundreds of thousands of people involved," she says. "The 435 of us in the House and the 100 Senators, we can't bring about the change without all of your involvement. So we really want to create a national movement to help us move along policy on a national level."

The Infrastructure of a Sustained Movement

It is noon on a recent Saturday in Oakland, Calif., not exactly prime time to pack a social service agency drop-in center with current and former foster youth laying out the framework for sustained social change. But today, the advisory board of the California Youth Connection (CYC) is in the final stages of an exhaustive, nine-month strategic planning process, which will increase the impact of the nation's oldest and most powerful foster-youth-led advocacy organization.

A few dozen current and former foster youth from across California are intensely debating CYC's vision and the six pillars of the organization's long-term strategy. They don't argue, but they are passionate. Most are assiduously taking notes, and everyone is comfortable speaking their mind. It is democracy in action, and from my perspective, as someone who didn't wake up to civil action until my late 20s, I am awed by the youth's engagement.

But CYC is not alone. A recent scan conducted by staff at the Annie E. Casey Foundation identified 106 foster-youth-driven advocacy groups across the country, representing thousands of current and former foster youth.

The National Foster Youth Action Network, which was founded in 2008 by former CYC executive director Janet Knipe, is taking the CYC model across the country. Thus far it has signed up six youth-led advocacy organizations from Oregon to Mississippi.

With an estimated 12 million alumni of care and an additional 424,000 children in foster care today, the bodies of the movement that Rep. Bass described are there.

The Listening Tour rolls into Florida next, offering a prime opportunity for folks like me -- on the outside of foster care -- to join those on the inside in this powerful movement to set the system -- and just maybe the country -- right.

Daniel Heimpel is an award-winning journalist and the director of Fostering Media Connections, and he serves on CYC's Board of...

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No Foster Child Left Behind

(1) Comments | Posted October 19, 2011 | 12:12 PM

Momentous developments for a national movement bent on improving educational outcomes for all students, starting with those in foster care.

This week the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will commence the long-awaited overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child...

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The Child First Movement

(25) Comments | Posted June 14, 2011 | 1:59 PM

The education of children in Foster Care is one step in a long, needed march towards a future where we put all Children First.

We stand as a nation weakened by our ailing public education system. In comparison to other developed countries, our children are consistently out-educated and outperformed. If...

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On the Road to Educational Equality: Addressing the Educational Needs of Foster Care Youth (VIDEO)

(5) Comments | Posted May 24, 2011 | 1:27 PM

In the far northwest corner of Massachusetts, you will find Orange -- a small community in the heart of a region best described as the "Appalachia of New England," due to rampant poverty and rural isolation.

When Paul Burnim took over as Orange's Superintendent of Public Schools in 2003,...

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America's Investment in Foster Children: A Fiscal Imperative

(0) Comments | Posted May 2, 2011 | 6:28 PM


Former foster youth Sokhom Mao is sworn in as a commissioner of Alameda County's Juvenile Courts, illustrating the power of the public's investment in children.

These are formidable days for the future...

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Fighting for Scraps: Foster Children Denied the Funding They Need

(3) Comments | Posted March 23, 2011 | 3:21 PM

A Bay Area Congressman tackles the controversial confiscation of foster children's Social Security survivor and disability benefits.

Child welfare administrations across the country systematically confiscate Social Security survivor and disability benefits from foster children, according to a report released by the Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI)...

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The Future of Foster Care: Are We Too Cheap to Keep Children Safe?

(38) Comments | Posted February 11, 2011 | 12:34 PM

The safety of America's foster children is a window into the dramatic change this country needs.

In late January, a critical mass of the nation's top child welfare researchers and professionals assembled at Harvard Law School's Austin Hall to discuss the question of racial disproportionality in this nation's...

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Staring at Superman

(1) Comments | Posted January 24, 2011 | 10:14 AM

President Obama's State of the Union, and the educational implications for children in foster care.

Today President Obama will address the nation, with a heavy focus the economy and future job creation. Any discussion of long-term job growth must include a plan for turning our ailing educational system into...

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Responsibility Lost

(28) Comments | Posted November 16, 2010 | 12:33 PM

Los Angeles Times' reckless coverage of child deaths threatens the very children we trust it intends to protect.

Publishing the details of a child's death must only serve one purpose - to save the next child. That righteous goal requires a newspaper's ability to stare the human evil that...

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Finding Common Ground on the Education of Children in Foster Care

(1) Comments | Posted October 26, 2010 | 1:14 AM

Baltimore City Public Schools and the Baltimore City Department of Social Services find common ground on the education of children in foster care.

Few moments in the life of a child and family can rival the trauma that comes the day the state knocks on the door and places...

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Better Foster Care: A Child-Powered Movement

(12) Comments | Posted August 4, 2010 | 5:23 PM

August 13 will mark a turning point in the battle to set the foster care system right in California and the rest of the nation. What will be your role?

Over the past decade, through ceaseless political reform and human effort, the foster care system in California, and the...

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A Lesson to Be Learned

(0) Comments | Posted May 10, 2010 | 2:29 PM

How conventional Child Welfare starts looking more and more like what native tribes did for their vulnerable children all along.

Jolene Sullivan walks down to the water on the S'Klallam side of Port Gamble Bay. The shoreline is littered with oyster and clam shells cultivated over time...

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Protecting Foster Care Children: The Power Of The Powerless

(5) Comments | Posted February 22, 2010 | 11:00 AM

Trafficked, raped and alone, one former foster youth stands for thousands.

The story of 19-year-old Suahmirs Rivera is one of extended powerlessness turned diamond-hard inner strength. A strength he is now using to defend 1,400 former foster youth who like himself fear being cast into the street because of...

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Revolutionizing Sleep Science

(0) Comments | Posted January 26, 2010 | 8:51 AM

For a man sitting on a rocket ship, 30-year-old neuroscientist Dr. Philip Low maintains a steady hand. In it, as he sits in his ethereal La Jolla, CA offices of his startup NeuroVigil, Low holds his miniature iBrain device. The size of two pennies, the miniature iBrain marks...

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Invest In Child Care, Invest In The Future

(2) Comments | Posted December 23, 2009 | 11:14 AM

Public budgets from Sacramento to Washington DC are largely driven by the fast turnover of electoral politics. Politicians, fearful of being seen as fiscally irresponsible and accordingly voted out of office, are often compelled to turn their backs on long term investments that would bring huge returns.

Luckily most of...

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