Children in foster care have been dealt a rough hand in life, often surviving circumstances that are unimaginable to many. This early introduction to trauma in their lives causes numerous issues later in life and they desperately need support and compassion in order to succeed as adults. One of the most important and influential supports in a foster child’s life is their foster parents and right now, Rhode Island has a foster parent problem.
In order for a foster parent to successfully help and nurture a child in their care, they also need the proper support and resources that are necessary to effectively care for the child.
In recognition of this fact, in 2016, the Foster Parents Bill of Rights was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law. The legislation serves as a formal statement of foster parents’ rights and requires that copies be given to all foster parents at each licensing interval. Among the rights listed are the right to be notified of and be given appropriate education, continuing education and training to develop and enhance foster parenting skills; the right to be notified of any costs or expenses which may be eligible for reimbursement by the department; the right to be notified of scheduled review meetings, permanency planning meetings, and special staffing concerning the foster child in order to actively participate in the case planning and decision-making process regarding the child; and the right to provide input concerning individual treatment and the services plan for the child and to have that input be given respect and consideration in the same manner as information presented by any other member of the treatment team.
The rights mentioned above are part of the 20 rights listed within the law and each is important to the healthy development and care of children in foster care. The problem is we are finding that the law is too often being ignored, often to the detriment of the children in foster care.
To address this unacceptable situation, we have introduced legislation to amend the Foster Parents Bill of Rights by adding in section that calls for a yearly report of all violations to the Foster Parents Bill of Rights that would be publicly available on the internet. Simply put, our foster parents cannot offer the level of support necessary if they don’t have access to the resources, knowledge or decision making that will have a positive impact on the lives of the children in their care.
Our state is already suffering from a shortage of foster parents and if we keep ignoring the law that helps them help our foster kids, we will see even fewer vital and necessary individuals take up the call to become much-needed foster parents. Foster parents are an integral component to helping our foster kids and it’s time that they also have a voice in our child care reform conversations and efforts.
Rep. Julie A. Casimiro, a Democrat, represents District 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter. Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, a Democrat, represents District 12 in Middletown, Little Compton, Newport and Tiverton.