Foster parents in Massachusetts are pushing to form a union, a move that would make the Bay State the first in the nation in which foster parents would have collective bargaining rights.
Foster parents have been pursuing a sweeping “foster parents bill of rights” since at least 2017, but that does not include unionization. The state Department of Children and Families has in the past favored the bill of rights but has not commented on the new unionization bill, according to Boston 25 News.
Backers say they’re not asking for the full slate of traditional union powers, such as the right to strike or to receive the same health insurance benefits and pensions as full-fledged state employees. They would be considered employees of the state Department of Children and Families, but only for limited purposes.
The union would be empowered to bargain, among other things, on the responsibilities of the foster parents; the responsibilities of the department to the foster parents; greater education and training opportunities; improving retention efforts; pay and rate structures; reimbursement for foster care, medical or other specialized care; attendance at court hearings and foster care review meetings; reimbursement for expenses associated with foster children’s extra-curricular and social activities, specialized educational services and mental and behavioral health; and a dispute resolution process.
Both bills are aimed at elevating the status of foster parents and address many of the same issues, but unionization would give them more leverage within the child welfare system.
Backers of the union movement are ready to start rolling the stone up the hill.
“Foster parents are just walking on eggshells all the time,” said former Massachusetts foster parent Elaine Cleaves.
“We don’t have any means to protect ourselves,” said former Massachusetts foster parent Barbara Papile.
Democratic state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who sponsored the union bill, told Boston 25 News that one of the reasons she filed it is that she has heard from foster parents who fear retaliation by the state if they fight for the things they need. Bouvier is also in favor of the bill of rights.