Written by Washington Foster Team
“Two proposed bills are the result of a generation of foster youth who are louder than any before them.” — Former Colorado foster youth make themselves heard for “sibling bill of rights,” driver’s license bill, The Colorado Sun
The foster care system is far from perfect. It’s filled with rules and regulations, often set by those who have no personal experience with foster care. At times, this detachment can leave foster children at the mercy of a system that doesn’t always have their best interest in mind.
In Colorado, a group of former foster youth who have aged out of the system are leading a charge to enact two new pieces of legislation that would give foster children more rights.
An article in The Colorado Sun outlines these new bills, which are directed at two key issues important to foster children — specifically, the right to stay connected with siblings placed in different foster homes, and the right to obtain a driver’s license without heavy-handed oversight (we’ll discuss the latter in a future article).
“The power of youth advocating for system change is powerful. While professionals do their best to improve the system, the voice of youth, parents, and foster parents is the most effective,” says Jill May, Executive Director at WACF.
The Right To Stay Connected
When siblings are separated in foster care, they endure emotional trauma that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. The Foster Youth Sibling Bill of Rights, proposed by a Colorado foster youth advocacy group, aims to protect siblings’ right to stay connected — even when they’re separated — through phone calls, email, and social media.
Experts estimate that approximately half of all foster children have siblings that are also in foster care. Because of the emotional support that siblings provide for each other, foster care agencies have prioritized keeping siblings together.
Unfortunately, keeping siblings together isn’t always possible. Not all foster parents are ready to take on the responsibility of caring for multiple kids. That’s why it's critical for them to have the opportunity to still see, talk to, and stay connected to each other.
May advises, “At a bare minimum, when siblings shouldn’t be or can’t be placed together, foster families should not create barriers to siblings contacting each other. They should support contact through visits, phone calls, or social media.”
How Foster Parents Can Help
“It is important that when we are recruiting families they understand the importance of siblings being placed together so we have more families getting licensed to foster a sibling group,” says May.
Foster parents need to understand the special and unique bond that foster siblings share. By understanding that bond, more foster families might be willing to take in larger sibling groups.
In the case of children who are separated from their siblings, foster parents can act as advocates by providing ample opportunities for those siblings to connect through other means.
Colorado has shown us what it means to listen to our foster youth and act in their best interests. When we listen, we can learn a lot.
Are you ready to learn more about what you can do to support foster children in Washington State? Find out if this selfless gift of your love and your time is a good match. Check out our free resource: Is Foster Parenting Right For You?