Last week the Governor of Florida signed into law HB 215: “Normalcy Bill”, otherwise known as the “Let Kids Be Kids” bill. This bill deserves a HUGE shout-out for demonstrating insight into the everyday challenges children and youth face growing up in foster care. My hope is that the rest of the country will get on-board with this legislation. Better yet, I’d like to see federal legislation to ensure all states and jurisdictions move forward with similar policies and state legislation.
In case you are wondering why HB 215 is important, a brief description is in order. The actual legislation reads in part: ‘provides for participation in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, & social activities by children in out-of-home care; provides for use of reasonable & prudent parent standard for decision-making about such activities; provides for use of reasonable & prudent parent standard in certain decision-making’. For kids in foster care, this means they no longer will have to jump through hoops of having caseworkers, judges, or attorneys approve routine activities such as participation in school field trips, enjoying sleep-overs, or playing on the soccer team. Nearly every foster parent knows the challenges of having kids participate in routine activities that other children take for granted. Attending ‘normal’ childhood events and taking part in school or community activities can become an ordeal for kids in foster care. Depending on their state or jurisdiction, they may have to get the approval of a caseworker, a judge, an attorney, or other professional while other kids simply have their parent or guardian sign a simple form or give consent to participate. Because kids in foster care are under the jurisdiction of the state, these routine activities generally require the approval of at least one professional. Foster parents are rarely allowed to give consent, even though they provide 24/7 care to the child and are trained that they need to love and nurture foster children as they do their biological children.
As a former caseworker, having to give approval or get the approval of courts, attorneys, or other professionals was not only annoying, it could be time-consuming and make the job more difficult. It was even more challenging when the required paperwork was needed within a day or two, as was often the case. A child might be invited to a birthday party at the last minute or the school may send the consent form home with the child for a field trip just days before the scheduled event. Some of the kids on my caseload were 30 to 40 or more miles away so it was not a matter of taking 15 minutes out of the day to deliver the necessary consents to a foster parent or school. And for the child, it could be embarrassing to have to tell a school official they couldn’t get a form signed because their caseworker was out of town or the judge was unavailable. For many kids, it is easier to say they don’t want to participate just to avoid the potential humiliation of having to explain why they can’t have their parent sign the form or give permission. Most of us know that children are not to blame for being in foster care but not everyone in the world is as enlightened. Hence, something as simple as joining a ‘Y’ swimming event could be yet another traumatic experience for a vulnerable child.
Props to Florida state for providing leadership in this regard. Hopefully many states and jurisdictions will follow your wise example.