I have been spending a lot of time lately researching the issue of “Bill of Rights” for foster youth/parents.
I have previously addressed the need for biological parents rights when faced with allegations which may result in removal of a child from their home. This was done when I addressed reform of Child Protective Services.
I believe that when a youth is removed from their home and placed in foster care they as well as their foster parents should be guarenteed certain rights for each of their protection and best interest.
I have found this is not the case today for foster youth and is quite limited when it comes to foster parents.
Let me address each below:
FOSTER YOUTH BILL of RIGHTS
My research has unfortunately discovered that neither the federal government nor any of the states have passed into law a bill of rights for youth placed in foster care. The Feds and states have general guidelines which does not have the backing of law, many are not enforced, no consequences result for failure.
A few states have in recent years attempted to pass such laws but have not been successful The most recent state was Texas this year but it died in their House after the Senate had passed it.
This puts the youth at the mercy of a system that is broken and severely damages the youth in many cases.
Below is a Foster Child Bill of Rights that was suggested in 1973 and reaffirmed in 1983 though never adopted by the states or federal government:
Foster Child Bill of Rights
Ratified in Congress Hall, Philadelphia
Saturday, the Twenty-eighth of April, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Three
Reaffirmed during the National Focus on Foster Care Conference, Norfolk, Virginia Wednesday, the Fourth of May, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Three
Even more than for other children, society has a responsibility, along with parents, for the well-being of children in foster care. Citizens are responsible for acting to insure their welfare.
Every child in foster care is endowed with the rights inherently belonging to all children. In addition, because of the temporary or permanent separation from, and loss of, parents and other family members, the child requires special safeguards, resources, and care.
EVERY CHILD IN FOSTER CARE HAS THE INHERENT RIGHT:
Article the first
….to be cherished by a family of his own, either his family helped by readily available services and supports to resume his care, or an adoptive family or, by plan, a continuing foster family.
Article the second
….to be nurtured by foster parents who have been selected to meet his individual needs, and who are provided services and supports, including specialized education, so that they can grow in their ability to enable the child to reach his potentiality.
Article the third
….to receive sensitive, continuing help in understanding and accepting the reasons for his own family’s inability to take care of him, and in developing confidence in his own self worth.
Article the fourth
….to receive continuing loving care and respect as a unique human being…a child growing in trust in himself and others.
Article the fifth
….to grow up in freedom and dignity in a neighborhood of people who accept him with understanding, respect and friendship.
Article the sixth
….to receive help in overcoming deprivation or whatever distortion in his emotional, physical, intellectual, social and spiritual growth may have resulted from his early experiences.
Article the seventh
….to receive education, training, and career guidance to prepare for a useful and satisfying life.
Article the eighth
….to receive preparation for citizenship and parenthood through interaction with foster parents and other adults who are consistent role models.
Article the ninth
….to be represented by an attorney-at-law in administrative or judicial proceedings with access to fair hearings and court review of decisions, so that his best interests are safeguarded.
Article the tenth
….to receive a high quality of child welfare services, including involvement of the natural parents and his own involvement in major decisions that affect his life.
Foster youth in recent years have themselves suggested a bill of rights as well:
As a youth in foster care, you have the right:*
To know your rights in foster care, to receive a list of those rights in written form and to know how to file a complaint if your rights are being violated.
To be told why you came into foster care and why you are still in foster care.
To live in a safe and healthy home where treated with respect, with your own place to store your things and where you receive healthy food, adequate clothing, and appropriate personal hygiene products.
To have personal belongings secure and transported with you in a humane, dignified fashion.
To have caring foster parents or caretakers who are properly trained, have received background checks and screenings, and who receive adequate support form the Agency to help ensure stability in the placement.
To be placed in a home with your brothers and sisters when possible, and to maintain regular and unrestricted contact with siblings when separated (including help with transportation), unless ordered by the court.
To attend school and participate in extracurricular, cultural, and personal enrichment activities.
To have your privacy protected. You can expect confidentiality from the adults involved in your case.
To be protected from physical, sexual, emotional or other abuse, including corporal punishment (hitting or spanking as a punishment) and being locked in a room (unless you are in a treatment facility).
To receive medical, dental, vision and mental health services.
To refuse to take medications, vitamins or herbs, unless prescribed by a doctor.
To have an immediate visit after placement and have regular visits ongoing with biological parents and other relatives unless prohibited by court or unless you don’t want to.
To make and receive confidential telephone calls and send and receive unopened mail, unless prohibited by court order.
To have regular contact from and unrestricted access to social workers, attorneys, and advocates and to be allowed to have confidential conversations with such individuals.
To be told by your social worker and your attorney about any changes in your case plan or placement and receive honest information about the decisions the Agency is making that affect your life.
To attend religious services and activities of your choice and to preserve your cultural heritage. If possible your placement should be with a family member or someone from your community with similar religion, culture and/or heritage.
To be represented by an attorney at law in administrative or judicial proceedings with access to fair hearing and court review of decisions, so that your best interest are safeguarded.
To be involved, where appropriate, in the development of your case plan and to object to any of the provisions of the case plan during case reviews, court hearings and case planning conferences.
To Attend court and speak to a judge (at a certain age, usually 12) about what you want to have happen in your case.
To have a plan for your future, including an emancipation plan if appropriate (for leaving foster care when you become an adult), and to be provided services to help you prepare to become a successful adult.
To not be discriminated against based on gender, religion, physical-mental or emotional disability, age, race or sexual orientation.
* Unless restricted by law,restricted by the court or not age appropriate.
I would strongly suggest that the suggested bill of rights be combined in some fashion and legislation be passed in Congress mandating a Foster Youth Bills of rights to be followed in every state and county in the US and that an enforcement clause to be added along with penalties for failure to follow. I also suggest that foster youth be given the right to sue in federal court when these rights are not adhered to.
FOSTER PARENTS BILL of RIGHTS:
Things are a bit different with foster parents, that is some states have passed a bill of rights law for foster parents. Unfortunately only 18 states have done so thus far.
The following are the states which have enacted a Foster Parent Bill of Rights:
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia,
Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington
This leaves 32 states and the District of Columbia without any such law.
Since each of these laws are lengthy I will not attempt to put them on this blog entry. However, here is the link you may go to in order to review each state’s law, except Iowa.
I have read and reviewed each of the laws and have noticed each lacks an enforcement clause and their is no penalty for failure to follow the law. This then allows the counties in each state to interput the law as they please without penalty.
Just as with a Bill of Rights for Foster Youth I feel legislation must be introduced and passed in Congress to mandate a bill of rights to be followed uniformly in each state and counties within the states. This law also must contain an enforcement clause, penalties for failure to follow and the right for foster parents to sue in federal court if necessary.
In my series of entries regarding reform of the system I also suggested federal laws be passed. Today there is no uniformity of definition for abuse, neglect, etc. which has allowed states to defined it as they please. This has caused major confusion in the system throughout the country.
We must have uniformity of rights for biological parents facing allegations, youth placed in foster care, for foster parents as well as definitions of terms. What applies in one state should apply in every state.
What do you the reader think?