Birmelin committee reviews Foster Children Rights Act

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

    HARRISBURG - The House Committee on Children and Youth, chaired by Rep. Jerry Birmelin (R-Wayne/Pike/Monroe), held a public hearing recently on the proposed Foster Children Rights Act. “The legislation spells out several rights all foster children should receive while in the system,” Birmelin said. Foster children are in the legal guardianship or custody of a state, county, or private adoption or foster care agency, yet are cared for by foster parents in their own homes. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) and would require any county or private agency with responsibility for foster children to provide them and their foster parents with a copy of the rights. California, Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island are among the states with similar measures. The protections in the bill include: • The right to live in a safe, healthy home, receive proper routine medical treatment and receive an appropriate education. • The right to be free from unreasonable searches of personal belongings. • The right to maintain and reflect his or her culture. • The right to be free from harassment, corporal punishment, unreasonable restraint and physical, sexual, emotional and other abuse. Charles Tyrrell, director of the Bureau of County Children and Youth Programs in the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, said the department is committed to working with others to ensure that rights of children in foster care are maintained, and that the system promotes their positive involvement. The Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services is a statewide organization that represents more than 125 private providers of child welfare and juvenile services. “As private providers we share the goals of House Bill 511’s sponsors,” said Bernadette Bianchi, executive director of the council. “We are concerned that the enactment of delineated ‘rights’ for children coming to [foster] homes could create legal entitlements for them that may add additional challenges to the recruitment and retention of families in the system.” Garry Krentz from the Pennsylvania State Foster Parent Association explained that his organization supports this legislation, but proposes a number of changes. “As resource families, we prefer language that goes to the heart of the matter and is more balanced,” Krentz said. Vincent Herman, a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, told the panel that the legislation should contain an expectation of permanency, an attempt to place siblings together, and a need for age appropriate freedoms to teach children independence. “While there are parts of the bill that can be agreed to, I am concerned that some provisions of House Bill 511 would make it more difficult to find foster homes,” Birmelin said. “Potentially good foster parents may not want to follow every provision of the Bill of Rights.”