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Legislators are considering a bill that will allow foster caregivers to determine if their foster children can participate in extracurricular or social activities.

By Rachel Herzog

North Carolina’s foster kids are one step closer to participating in sleepovers, field trips and extracurricular activities.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tamara Barringer (R-Raleigh) presented Senate Bill 423, the Foster Care Family Act, to the House Health Committee.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, who is a former foster parent, has been pushing several bills in the Senate to improve the lives of kids in the foster care system. Here she is pictured with country/western star Jimmy Wayne, who came to the NC General Assembly in April to lend his support to the foster care initiatives. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

“What we have done in this foster care system up until now is bring them into a family and make them sit on the sidelines of life,” she said.

Currently, foster care laws don’t allow North Carolina’s estimated 14,000 foster care children to participate in normal extracurricular school and social activities or get driver’s licenses.

“So imagine being aged out at age 18, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, and you can’t even drive an automobile,” Barringer said, referring to the fact that foster kids “age out” of the foster system when they turn 18. “How do you get to work? How do you get to be a successful person in life?”

Barringer choked up as she told the story of a young woman she met who had been fully embraced by the foster care family she was living with at age 12. But because there was no legislation allowing foster parents to make decisions about what activities their foster children could participate in, the family had to cancel a planned trip to Walt Disney World.

“Making that more normal and having them be able to take that child as they take their other children and their family is what we’re really trying to [do],” said Karen McLeod, CEO of Benchmarks, a child and family advocacy organization.

McLeod said that while North Carolina is one of the first states to consider legislation like this, the federal government passed a law last November requiring states to pass what is called normalcy legislation.

The state bill also allows foster children to get driver’s licenses and apply for a car insurance policy. In addition, it allows foster parents to do things like pay to register a foster child’s car or put him or her on their insurance.

The bill was first introduced in March.

[pullquote_right]Get notifications of new NC Health News stories to your newsfeed – “like” us on Facebook today![/pullquote_right]Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Spring Lake) said the bill will help improve conditions for the state’s foster children.

“They deserve to have as much of a normal life as they can, and I believe this bill goes toward doing that.”

The bill passed the House Health Committee and will go to a Judiciary Committee and then to an Insurance Committee before it goes to the House floor for a full vote.

Aging out of foster care is addressed in a companion bill also heard this week. Senate Bill 424 would raise the age at which children age out of foster care from 18 to 21, if the person wishes. After sitting for months without action, the bill passed a Senate judiciary committee Tuesday.

Because increasing the age for foster children would cost the state money, that bill has been sent to the Senate Appropriations committee for possible inclusion in the budget.

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