Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PA Legislature Passes Two Children’s Rights Bills

The rights of children and young adults in foster care were protected with the passage of two bills by the Pennsylvania legislature. The Children in Foster Care Act and Senate Bill 1360 address obstacles in current foster care and adoption legislation that can keep children and families from enjoying the full benefit of their rights.

The Children in Foster Care Act was passed by unanimous vote and if signed into law by Governor Rendell as expected, will ensure that foster children, parents, and caseworkers are presented with a comprehensive and easy-to-understand document outlining the rights and freedoms afforded to foster children under state laws and regulations. The Act mandates that the document will be explained by caseworkers to foster children when they are placed with a foster family. The majority of children in foster care are not aware of their rights, and therefore do not know when their rights are violated. The hope is that this act will increase foster children’s awareness of the protections afforded to them, such as:
  • the right to contact their attorney or guardian when needed;
  • the right to receive notice of their court hearings;
  • knowledge that they may not have to move to a different school;
  • the right to have access to health services and consent to mental health treatment;
  • permission to follow their religious observances; and
  • the ability to visit with their family, including siblings.

The other bill that is due to be signed by Governor Rendell, Senate Bill 1360, is meant to streamline the procedures for retrieving adoption records. With the help of intermediaries, the legislation creates a system in which adoptees can find and contact their birth parents and establish a medical and social history registry, if needed. Having this information readily available to adoptees can be vitally important in aiding medical diagnoses. The legislation would also recognize continuing contact agreements - voluntary, legally binding agreements made upon adoption between members of the adopted child’s birth and adoptive families to keep communication and contact between an adoptee and their birth relatives.

The passage of these bills is a success story for child advocates. The bills recognize and attempt to remedy some of the obstacles that adoptive and foster children encounter in the foster care system, and they do so at no additional cost to the state. The differences they can make in a child’s life cannot be over-emphasized, as the legislation is likely to encourage more adoptions where they are so vitally needed.

Please contact your members of the General Assembly and thank them for passing two very important bills.

-- Leslie Frey

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