In June, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver III (D-MO-05) and Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE-02) introduced a bipartisan resolution on rights for foster youth. The resolution outlines 10 key areas of foster youth rights:
- Right to receive an education and remain in their original school, if desired;
- Right to participate in extracurricular, cultural, and social activities;
- Right to receive needed health services, including but not limited to medical, dental, vision, and mental health services;
- Right to freedom from abuse, neglect, or corporal punishment;
- Right to be represented by, and speak to, a guardian or attorney ad litem;
- Right to adequate and healthy food, adequate clothing, and a safe and comfortable living environment;
- Right to freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or disability;
- Right to have continued contact with siblings, if desired;
- Right to regular or at least reasonable contact with their assigned case worker or an employee of the agency responsible for their child welfare services; and the
- Right to be informed of their rights.
More than a decade ago, policymakers received valuable insights from both current and former foster youth regarding the significance of understanding their rights and having a secure mechanism to report any violations. They emphasized that such knowledge and reporting avenues would effectively safeguard vulnerable youth from the challenges they face while in foster care. In 2012, the National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council Members further emphasized the urgent necessity of addressing these concerns.
“Every state should have a youth bill of rights, and this document should include information on reporting resources. Youth must have easy access to their bill of rights.” (Reducing Vulnerability of Foster Youth to Predators and Sex Trafficking, October 2012)
Congress listened and took bipartisan action as part of the Preventing Sex Trafficking & Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) by including a federal requirement that all foster youth (age 14+) receive a copy of their rights as a part of their case plan. Specifically, rights enumerated in the law include rights with respect to education, health, visitation and court participation, right to identity-related documents and right to stay safe and avoid exploitation. Federal law also requires “a signed acknowledgement by the child that the child has been provided with a copy of the document and that the rights contained in the document have been explained to the child in an age-appropriate way.” The Council provided further guidance to federal officials on implementing this requirement, including:
· Encourage states to include our input in the development of foster youth rights.
· Provide specific guidance about how – and how often- rights must be provided.
· Provide requirements for what must be included in a list of rights.
· Encourage states to educate stakeholders about our rights.
· Require states to include a youth-friendly grievance process with every list that is distributed to us.
Lived Experience Leaders at FosterClub have dedicated themselves to formulating bills of rights specific to their states or jurisdictions. Additionally, they actively educate their peers about their fundamental rights.
Even with these efforts, we have discovered that a large majority of foster youth still lack awareness around their rights.
In a recent roundtable conversation FosterClub held with 11 Lived Experience Leaders, 10 of the 11 leaders reported not knowing their rights while in foster care. One young person had received a copy of their rights in a large binder they were given by their worker; they didn’t realize their rights were included until we held this conversation.
Many of these young people are experiencing or previously experienced foster care in states that have a foster youth bill of rights.
One young person reported that in their 18 years in foster care, they thought a bulletin board in a group home may have included a list of rights, and that their attorney helped them report challenges they experienced to the judge; however, they did not recall ever receiving a copy of their rights.
Another former foster youth reported that immediately before leaving foster care, he was asked by his caseworker to sign a document stating he had received those rights even though he had never received them during his time in care.
We have a clear path forward, building from past recommendations from former foster youth and what we are hearing from youth currently in the system. We are proud to support the bipartisan resolution on foster youth rights. We will continue our work in this space by:
- leading peer education sessions to increase the number of foster youth aware of their rights,
- advocating for states and jurisdictions to adopt formal foster youth bill of rights, and
- supporting Lived Experience Leaders in engaging in the implementation and evaluation process.
FosterClub will continue to make sure those rights exist, youth know their rights and can act upon them.