Legislation would add bill of rights for foster children

By Queenie Wong

February 12, 2013 / statesmanjournal.com

Gloria Phillips bounced around among about 20 foster care homes in the span of nine years, and during that time she had no sense of what rights she had as a foster care youth.

Now 18, Phillips said she’s in a home where her foster parents treat her like family, but that wasn’t always the case.

In some of the homes, the parents would discipline her by locking her in her room without supper. She wouldn’t be allowed to open her own mail, know her attorney’s number or make phone calls without someone monitoring what she was saying.

“If I had known I had rights, I would guarantee you I wouldn’t have been in as many homes as I have,” said Phillips, a Eugene resident. “Some of the places I was at I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t treated right, so I would have had my case worker put me somewhere else.”

On Monday, about two dozen foster youth and parents from throughout the state met with lawmakers in the state Capitol to advocate for a bill that would require the Oregon Department of Human Services to adopt rules to establish the Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, made an appearance to thank participants of Foster Youth Bill of Rights Advocacy Day, which was hosted by the nonprofit Children First.

Under Senate Bill 123, a foster child would have the ability to make oral or written complaints about their care, placement or services and be notified and provided travel for court hearings.

Foster youth also would be provided with written information about how to create a bank account, acquire a driver’s license, get health care and other necessities.

The bill also establishes a hotline that foster youth would be able to call to file a complaint.

“There are a lot of youths in the state that went into foster care from oppressive homes, so they don’t know that you can speak out and they don’t know what their rights are, who to go to when they know something is not right,” said Zachary Miller, a former foster youth who lives in Salem.

Patrick Kindred, a former foster care youth from Eugene, said the bill would improve the state’s foster care system by educating those in the system about their rights.

“Being able to educate kids and giving them to the tools to hold those conversations with their foster parents and their case workers is a step up,” he said.

In 2011, the number of children entering foster care was 4,398, the lowest number in the past five years, according to data from DHS released in October 2012.

SB 123 has been referred to the Senate Health Care and Human Services Committee.

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