Children in foster care sometimes don’t know what they’re entitled to in the foster care system. A new bill will require that kids be informed of their rights as they enter the system.
By Holly West
In a General Assembly session filled with controversial topics and partisan votes, at least one piece of legislation passed unanimously in both houses.
The Foster Care Bill of Rights (HB510) was created to empower kids in foster care and provide them with a more stable environment. It passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 113-0, and the Senate, 49-0.
The law lists several rights of children in the foster care system. Among them are having first priority for being placed with siblings and having access to permanent documents by the age of 16.
The bill also says foster kids have the right to a safe foster home “free of violence, abuse, neglect and danger.”
Tom Vitaglione, a lobbyist for Action for Children North Carolina, said the rights listed in this bill are already standard policy.
“It is not a groundbreaking kind of bill,” he said. “It codifies policies that basically were already in place.”
Vitaglione said putting these rights into legislation raises awareness that they exist.
Nancy Carter, contact administrator of Strong Able Youth Speaking Out (SAY SO), said this legislation will let foster children know what their rights are and what decisions they should be able to make for themselves.
She said a lot of them don’t even know they have rights.
“They’re so used to being told what to do and how to do it,” she said.
The foster care bill of rights says all children in foster care have the right to:
— A safe foster home free of violence, abuse, neglect and danger
— First priority for being placed in a home with siblings
— Regular communication with siblings not in the same home
— Regular communication with their social worker
— Stay in the same school as before they entered foster care, if possible
— Participate in extracurricular activities, community events and religious practices
— Establish and access a bank or savings account
— Obtain identifying and permanent documents by the age of 16
— A transition plan for phasing out of foster care
Fred Waddle, chief compliance and policy officer at Easter Seals UCP, said foster kids don’t have much power in their situations, so they need to be protected.
“There are certain rights that children do have,” he said. “That bill kind of lays that out in a very supportive way.”
Carter said she hopes this will prompt more kids to speak out when they feel their rights have been violated.
It’s not just kids who lack knowledge; Carter said many adults don’t understand that kids in foster care have rights that need to be respected.
Though the legislation sets forth guidelines for what rights foster children should be granted, it does not carry the force of law. Some legislators have questioned the need for codifying the rights since they can’t be enforced.
But many say that raising awareness of those rights will better the lives of foster children.
“The state Division of Social Services has committed to putting this list of rights into a readable format and sending it out to every foster family,” Vitaglione said. “I feel like that’s got to make a positive difference.”
Carter said everyone should be concerned about the treatment of foster children.
“These kids belong to the state; they’re everybody’s children,” she said. “You want to have quality care for your own child.”
The bill also stipulates that parents of foster children should be notified of any immunizations their child gets or needs and requires that social workers find and notify relatives of the child’s situation.