Five foster youth are set to testify tomorrow at a public hearing to convince Oregon lawmakers of the need for the creation of a statewide bill of rights for youth in foster care.
Members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) have been rallying for Senate Bill 123, co-sponsored by Senator Chip Shields and Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, which will establish a clear requirement for informing kids in foster care about the rights they have under state law.
“A lot of times foster youth have no idea what our rights are. This is a pretty big deal to us,” said Royce Markley, 19, one of the OFYC youth testifying during the hearing.
Markley and other youth want the bill to include guarantee of a grievance process for youths, the right for youth to receive transition documents (birth certificate, health records), and instruction on how to get a driver’s license and bank account.
Creating a formal grievance process is what Markley says is most important to him. When he was in care, he lived with a family that was very connected to official staff of the city. So when he reported experiencing verbal and emotional abuse, word got back to his foster parents quickly.
The foster care bill of rights would create a telephone hotline for youth to report issues in their home to an unbiased party without feeling concern of repercussions from foster parents or other adults.
The hotline will be modeled on a similar effort in California, which encourages direct calls by foster youth to its Foster Care Ombudsman office in an
“I would like to make sure youth below me who are having a harder experience than me [in foster care], to empower them so they can have an easier experience,” said Markley.
The hotline would allow youth to either leave a message for a state official to return, or create a position for someone to answer calls daily.
Advocates of the foster youth bill of rights say they hope this legislation will empower youth in care to speak up and receive what they deserve.
“Growing up in foster care is a very complicated system,” said Lydia Bradley, program manager at Children First for Oregon. “There are so many adults who may work on your case and they work with busy adults and it’s important for [youth] to know what to ask for.”
Bradley, who has helped OFYC participants push for this bill, says lawmakers agree that such a bill is necessary for youth. The difficulty, however, has been agreeing on the price.
The proposed creation and staffing of the hotline are estimated to cost almost $138,000. Because the bill of rights would have to be given to each youth while in care and displayed prominently in each foster home, printing costs will add up as well.
To minimize costs, advocates have suggested that youth be given a bill of rights only after he or she has been in care more than 60 days. But they have more work to do to convince state legislators that the price tag is worth the overall value of the bill.
“This is a tough one where on paper this sounds like a great idea, but it will take a bit of work to take care of this grievance effort and making sure youth know their rights,” Bradley said.
–Ryann Blackshere is a reporter for The Imprint