With Victoria Rowell

Earlier this year, Victoria Rowell received a 2006 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series for her role as Drucilla Winters on The Young and the Restless. Although she is used to receiving accolades, Rowell is most proud of the work she does on behalf of children in the foster care system.

The award-winning actor’s passion for these children is rooted in personal experience. Born in Portland, Maine, Rowell, 46, was raised in foster care. Her foster mother enrolled her in a classical ballet school when she was 8 years old. She went on to attend the Cambridge School of Ballet in Massachusetts and became a dancer in the American Ballet Theatre, before launching her film and television acting career.

Rowell, who has a recurring role in the syndicated series Diagnosis Murder, is co-starring with Samuel L. Jackson and 50 Cent in Home of the Brave. In 1990, she founded the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, which offers services in fine arts, education, healthcare, financial literacy, internship opportunities, cultural enrichment, and family support to young people living in foster care. She is now writing a book, Women Who Raised Me, chronicling her experience growing up in foster care. BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Rowell about the current state of the foster care system.

In several high-profile cases children have been failed by the system, often with tragic results. How do we address this neglect?
Until we can find a mentor, foster parent, or adoptive family for each child, we’re going to see unfortunate circumstances. You can’t expect children to be warehoused and not have some level of catastrophe take place. And when I say “warehouse,” I mean we have 518,000 children in the foster care system today, and we only have about 130,000 foster care parents. So where are the rest of the children? They’re in group homes. They’re in various private- and state-funded facilities across the nation.

What are some misconceptions people have about the foster care system?
That foster parents cannot be gay or single. Or that you must have an inordinate amount of money or real estate. Or, that people have to be full-time foster parents. You can be a respite caregiver, which requires about nine weeks of training. Respite caregivers offer the primary foster care family a rest for a weekend, a week — whatever the social worker prescribes.

What should Americans know about the foster care system?
Let me tell you what you don’t know, and I’ll start with the good stuff. In Washington, D.C., the Congressional Foster Youth Internship Program gives foster children the opportunity to be interns on Capitol Hill. It’s unprecedented. You don’t read that in the newspaper. I know some of the children who have participated in this program, one of whom now works in the mayor’s office in Washington, D.C., and the program made an incredible impression on him: First, that he was worthy of the position, and second, that it could be a gateway to other possibilities for him. This program is just one