On July 1, Florida’s “Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act” went into effect. The new law aims to increase opportunities for foster youth to have the same everyday experiences that most children and youth take for granted.
The law was written to allow caregivers and foster parents more oversight of the children in their care. It recognizes that existing law, while intended to safeguard the safety of the children in the hands of foster parents, often worked to interrupt and prohibit children in care from participating in extracurricular activities.
Prior to the law, foster children living in Florida were not allowed to participate in such activities without the approval of the department, caseworker, or the court. This severely restricted the development and integration of foster children into extracurricular activities, particularly when compared to their non-foster peers, who are not subject to such restrictions and are merely limited by the restrictions set by their parents.
Principal Investigator and Director of Florida’s Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice Don Policella says that one of the key things that the “Normalcy Bill” does is that it “reduces the stigma of being in foster care and that Florida foster youth are no longer subject to the same restrictions as their predecessors. The bill reduces trauma and feelings of differentness that are just not necessary for foster children to possess in the first place.”
Mr. Policella stated that the second key part to this normalcy bill is in regards to the impact that it has on parents.
Senate Bill 164 is a step towards establishing normalcy among foster youth, essentially giving foster parents and caregivers rights over their children equal to the rights held by biological parents over their children. Rather than having to go through outside authorities in regards to the participation of their children in extracurricular activities, foster parents in Florida are now given primary authority over their children’s participation in normal childhood activities such as sports, clubs, field trips, and camps.
Mr. Policella stated that the bill “allows foster parents to treat their children as their own. It provides a more natural parenting environment for foster parents, empowering them and allowing them to treat their foster children as their own. The bill provides parents with a more natural and a more comfortable environment”
The caregivers are expected to operate with the best interest of their children as their primary concern, and in order to help ensure this, the act removes previously held liability from the caregiver. The potential legal liability that caregivers are exposed to over their children’s activities has previously been another major restraint, preventing foster children from being entered into activities, especially in sports.
Prior to the act being passed, foster children were often not allowed to participate in sports or go on school field trips because of the significant liability that caregivers were subject to. The fear of having a foster child hurt during a sport and having to face the legal liability for having given them permission to participate has deterred many foster homes and caregivers across the country from allowing their children to participate in sports.
On the other side of the country, two key pieces of state legislation passed in the last decade have helped ensure access to normal youth activities for California foster youths.
California’s Assembly Bill 490, which became effective Jan. 1, 2004, attempts to provide foster kids with normalcy by providing foster youth with “the same academic resources, services and extracurricular and enrichment activities as all other children.” The bill also made clear that the “education and school placement decisions are to be dictated by the best interest of the child”.
This bill prevented foster children from being uprooted midway through the school year and established that they are “ensured access to the same opportunities to meet academic achievement standards to which all students are held” in the state of California.
In 2008, a court case involving a high-school football player’s ability to play the sport further advanced normalcy for foster youth.
Dalton Dyer was a 16-year-old foster youth who moved to live with his aunt and began attending Placer High School, in Placer County, where he joined the football team. After competing for an entire season, the California Interscholastic Federation ruled that Dalton was ineligible to compete and should not have been allowed to compete for the entirety of the season. As a result of having played when he was supposedly ineligible, the CIF made his team forfeit three of their wins, causing them to miss the playoffs.
The ineligibility was a result of incomplete paperwork; paperwork that a student moving to a new school does not have to complete unless they are a foster child. The situation was taken to court and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford quickly ruled that the CIF bylaws requiring this extra paperwork to be completed by foster youths was in direct contrast with California state law (specifically AB 490) which offers equal opportunities to foster youth transferring schools. Placer High School was thus allowed to compete in their section’s playoffs and went on to lose in the championship game.
After the ruling, the CIF constitution was altered, removing the bylaw that required the extra paperwork for foster children and added that “A student under the court ordered supervision of the California foster care system who has changed residences pursuant to a court order and as a result, has transferred schools shall be determined to be residentially eligible for unlimited participation in interscholastic athletics”.
The court case subsequently sparked the creation of California Assembly Bill 81, which was passed in 2009. The bill provides foster youth with further rights with regard to participating in sports in California, stating more explicitly:
“A foster child who changes residences pursuant to a court order or decision of a child welfare worker shall be immediately deemed to meet all residency requirements for participation in interscholastic sports or other extracurricular activities.”
Florida and California represent two states that have made significant progress in helping foster youth acquire equal rights to other children that haven’t been a part of the foster care system, by promoting equality and normalcy through legislation.
Foster youth still face barriers growing up that other children are not subject to, but the legislation outlined above ensures that foster youth in these two states can grow up under more normal circumstances.
Evan Molineux is a summer intern at Fostering Media Connections.