Youth in foster care need to be better educated on the law | Opinion
The Florida Legislature has passed several laws intended to protect and benefit children in foster care, including extending foster care to age 21, promoting “normalcy,” providing college tuition, helping youth obtain driver’s licenses, and reducing sibling separation. However, up until now, our state did not have educational standards in place to ensure that the children who can benefit from these laws are made aware of their existence.
And it’s not just the kids. Caregivers and individuals working with youth often don’t know about existing laws or how to educate kids about the laws that impact their future.
The child welfare system is complex and can be confusing to children. For example, children who aren’t aware of the law may think they can’t be on a sports team, go to college, or have a job, simply because they are in foster care.
State and national data estimate that only 35% of Florida’s foster youth received any Chafee transition services they were eligible for between ages 14 and 21, which is 12% less than the national estimate according to a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation “Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy.”
We applaud the Florida Legislature and bill sponsors, Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, and Sen. Ileana Garcia (R-Miami), for passing Senate Bill 272, also known as the “Nancy C. Detert Champion for Children Act.” The new law creates a clear process to educate youth in foster care, in a developmentally appropriate, consistent way, about important laws that the legislature has passed to help them succeed. These include safety, education, contact with siblings, normalcy, and access to food, shelter, and healthcare.
It also establishes the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to receive complaints from children and youth in foster care about placement, care, and services, and to work to mediate such complaints. The ombudsman will serve as a resource to identify and explain relevant policies to children, young adults, and their caregivers and provide recommendations to the Department of Children and Families to improve policies and services.
It is the result of five years of relentless advocacy by Florida Youth SHINE (FYS), a statewide advocacy organization run by and for youth who are or were in Florida’s child welfare system. Florida’s Children First, the organization that supports Florida Youth SHINE, has been fighting alongside Florida Youth SHINE members for this legislation that can drastically change the outcomes for foster youth.