Rights of Children in Foster Care

foster rightsIf you were to research “the rights of children in foster care” the information provided to you would be limited. This is due in part because as of December 2021, in the United States of America, only fifteen states and Puerto Rico have enacted an official bill of rights for children in foster care[1]. While these rights vary from state to state, they include the right to: be treated with respect, adequate living conditions, adequate voluntary medical, dental, and psychiatric care, fair treatment in administering rewards and punishments, contact family members, county case workers, attorneys, court appointed special advocates (CASA), and other designated adult supporters, education and community involvement, work and development of job skills, social contacts, adequate clothing, and to a reasonable allowance[2].

In my experience providing intake sessions to a residential facility for foster care children, many children would be learning of their new placement the same day (if not the same moment they arrived on campus) that they would be staying somewhere new that night. Instability, inconsistency, and the ever-lingering feeling of what was to come would keep these children in a constant state of hyper/hypo-arousal.  For these children, feeling safe would seem impossible. A bill of rights in all states would provide an outline of formal, documented duties that the children involved could come to expect and rely on.

What Are The Rights of Foster Care Children?

Right to be treated with respect.

The right to be treated with respect should be an obvious and given entitlement to all people, animals, property, etc. yet it is so commonly overlooked across various settings. Treating foster children with respect includes being mindful and aware of their feelings and emotions related to being involved in foster care, keeping them informed of their case, notifying them of changes in placement, treating every child with dignity and care regardless of behavior.

Right to adequate living conditions.

The right to adequate living conditions includes each child having access to water, electricity, gas, and other basic utilities. Each child should be provided with their own bed and suitable bedding. Homes should be well maintained, held to a standard of cleanliness, and safe.

Right to adequate voluntary medical, dental, and psychiatric care.

Children in foster care should be taken to all necessary sick and well child checks by a pediatrician/primary care doctor, necessary and preventative dental appointments, and available outpatient mental health services or inpatient psychiatric services, as needed. Most children are eligible for state-funded Medicaid to assist with the costs of services, many of which are covered 100 percent by insurance.

Right to fair treatment in administering rewards and punishment.

Corporal punishment is not allowed or condoned for children in foster care. Children should be provided with opportunities to be rewarded for accomplishments and receive age-appropriate punishment when necessary. Be mindful of how the child in care may experience triggers to a trauma-related experience in each circumstance (reward and punishment).

Right to contact family members, county case workers, attorneys, court appointed special advocates, and other designated adult supporters.

While in a placement, children have the right to maintain consistent contact with approved contacts. Family members who have been designated by the County Case Worker as appropriate.  Safe contacts should be encouraged. All children will be appointed a Guardian At Litem to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Children are required to maintain contact with their attorney and in some circumstances are provided a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer.

Right to education and community involvement.

Due to the turbulent lifestyle many of children in foster care face, it is necessary to provide adequate resources to education and involvement in community activities. Many children in care may be experiencing community involvement for the first time and this can help restore and create positive childhood experiences. Educational resources can assist with credit recovery or tutoring due to change in placement across different school systems.

Right to work and develop job skills.

When teens enter an appropriate age to begin employment, they acquire the right to work which increases their ability to successfully transition to adulthood in the future. Many Departments of Human Resources, offer a transitional living program (TLP) and independent living program (ILP) that provides job training skills and incentives to children in foster care to participate.

Right to social contacts.

Creating and fostering friendships, engagement in social activities, and appropriate demonstration of social involvement aides in promoting development in children in teens. It is important to provide connection-building opportunities that are appropriate to age and development.

Right to adequate clothing.

In the removal process, many children only leave home with the clothing items they were wearing at the time or clothing that could be quickly put in a bag. Children should be provided with clean, weather appropriate, and age-appropriate clothing items. Children need adequate undergarments, pants, shirts, pajamas, shoes, and other necessary items. Reimbursement is provided by many state departments up to an identified dollar amount.

Right to a reasonable allowance.

Children should be provided with a reasonable allowance for age-appropriate chores. This develops an ability to learn money management skills and demonstration of responsibility.

 

~ Haley Roberts has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Auburn University and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of New England. She has worked in the field of foster care as a Moderate Care Residential Program Therapist.  Haley is a Licensed Master Social Worker by the Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners.

 

[1] National Conference of State Legislatures www.ncsl.org

[2] Department of Children and Family Services LA County www.dcfs.lacounty.gov

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