What Children in Foster Care Need Is Parenting
We thank guest blogger Alan Abramowitz for sharing this news about the “normalcy bill” currently being debated in his state of Florida. Abramowitz is the executive director of the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program. In Florida and a few other states, CASA programs are referred to as guardian ad litem programs.
Florida Senate Bill 164 is the “Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act,” also known as the “normalcy bill” or “permission to parent bill.” It is an important law that needs to be passed so children in foster care can be like every other kid. Children in a group called Youth Shine and the volunteer guardian ad litems around the state have led the way in pursuing this new law. Many of the children have turned 18 in foster care and want to make sure that those children still in foster care don’t have to experience what they went through. Many of the volunteer guardian ad litems are fed up with their kids being treated differently from other kids.
As the executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, I talk to many children and teenagers who live in foster and group homes. It is not unusual for these conversations to center around their complaints about a lack of a normal life. Moving from school to school, not being allowed to play school sports, not being able to use the phone or participate in school trips are just of the few comments I regularly hear. For years, Florida child advocates have fought to correct these problems by promoting the concept of “normalcy.” It is something we have all been striving to provide for children who, through no fault of their own, end up in foster care.
The legal standard in Florida is for decision makers to balance “safety” and “normalcy.” The problem with this requirement is that many providers equate “safety” with “liability.” Talk about the issue with any lawyer who represents an organization providing residential care, and the word liability will be the central theme. It’s not difficult to see why something as “normal” as a teenager going to the beach would become a bureaucratic nightmare.
Recently, many of these youth met with the sponsors of the bill. Representative Ben Albritton and Senator Nancy Detert listened as each youth told their story of how they experienced not having a normal childhood because their foster parent or their group home had rules contrary to normalcy. One young adult described not being allowed to join the high school band travel team because they couldn’t background check everyone they might encounter on a trip. Another talked about being pulled out of a picture with the legislature last year because she was under 18 and “couldn’t be associated with foster care” on Facebook. Another story was from a youth who was not allowed to go out on a boat with the foster family because of the fear of drowning.
One important lesson from these youth was that each of them remembered a situation in which foster parents and group homes broke the rules and exposed themselves to losing their license so these kids could be like all the other kids. These were courageous foster parents and group homes, and hearing of their bravery was inspiring.
There is no reason foster parents and group homes should have to break the rules in order to give youth a normal life in foster care. This is really a call to action for all of us to state unequivocally that caregivers of children in foster care must have “permission to parent” so that children can participate in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment and social activities.
I don’t know if the bill will be passed, but I anticipate that many children in foster care — as well as children previously in foster care, guardians ad litem, parents and caregivers — will understand why this legislative proposal is critical.