In June, a bill passed the House and Senate. At the beginning of this month, that law was signed into effect by the Governor of Rhode Island. This bill? The Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights. This bill establishes a formal statement of the rights of foster parents in the state of Rhode Island, and requires that this bill of rights be given to every foster parent at the time they are licensed, and again at each licensing interval.
Foster parents all over the country are generally in the dark about what rights they have, and so legislation like this is not just a big win for my home state, but also for the possibilities of these bills being passed in more states across the country. The National Conference of State Legislature website says that 17 states have had a bill of this type enacted, and hopefully this most recent passing in R.I. will kickstart future states for a bill of the same kind.
Foster Parent Bill of Rights in all states are designed with the intention of making foster parents well-informed of all of the rights that they have within the child welfare system. This is important in all areas, but particularly here in R.I. because of how many foster children are in non-family settings. As of May of 2015, Rhode Island had 28% of the 1,800 children in foster care in a non family setting, which is twice the national average. We as a state are struggling to find enough foster families for all the children who need a home.
“Despite what current data show, 40 percent of young people who live in group placements … have no clinical need to be in such restrictive settings,” the study stated. “These placements have been shown to be harmful to a child’s opportunities to develop strong, nurturing attachments. Group placements can also cost 7 to 10 times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or in foster care.”
Lisa Guillette, executive director of Foster Forward, a statewide nonprofit organization that supports family-based care, said, “We, as a system, have not taken responsibility to make sure our investments are where we want to serve our kids.”
A bill like this is a big enticement to get new families involved in child welfare and provide homes for placement. Fostering is a very difficult road to navigate, and knowing exactly where you stand and what your rights as a foster parent are is a huge step forward in making the process less obtuse for the state and the parents alike.
The bill begins: “The Rhode Island general assembly recognizes the importance of foster parents in the care and nurturing of children who are in the care and custody of the department of children, youth and families hereinafter (“the department”). In an effort to ensure that foster parents’ are treated with dignity, respect and trust in their work for the department, a statement of foster parents’ rights shall be given to every foster parent at each licensing interval and shall include the following rights:” You can read more of the bill’s text at the LegiScan website.