A state bill backed by a youth-led advocacy group to strengthen requirements on sibling visitation rights for foster youth will be introduced in California.
Senate Bill 1099 would toughen the reporting requirements related to the suspension of sibling visitation rights; create more consistent visitation of reasons behind suspension and stricter guidelines to maintain suspension; and provide a pathway to facilitate sibling visitation when one sibling is in the foster care system, and another isn’t.
“This bill looks to increase accountability and really define the rules on suspending visitation rights,” said Kyle Sporleder, statewide legislative coordinator at the California Youth Connection, “which was a big problem addressed by a number of people we talked to.”
Sporleder said the bill only patches a bigger problem in California’s foster care system: the separation of siblings in the first place.
“Technically, [sibling placement] is already something that is a federal law and state law,” he said. “Siblings are supposed to be placed together already.”
According to a report conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in August 2013, 54 percent of children in California foster care are placed with all of their siblings and 74 percent are placed with at least one.
This is after the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which instructs states to keep siblings placed together in foster care, kinship guardianship, or adoptive placement.
The law stops short of mandating this, requiring only that states make a “reasonable effort.”
Korah Loyd, former foster youth and a current advisory board co-chair for CYC, has three siblings who are currently in the foster care system or freshly out of it. Her younger brother was adopted, one of her younger sisters is currently living in transitional housing, and her other sister is currently residing in a group home.
Loyd said she never had a chance to live with her siblings after being placed into foster care, and hasn’t seen them in nearly three years.
“I really do hope that this bill will sooner or later expand into placement,” Loyd said. “Unless there’s some abuse going on between siblings, or an outward statement against it, then it should be completely mandatory to put siblings together, which would mean we wouldn’t have to even worry about visitation.”
Victor Valle is a journalism intern with Fostering Media Connections.