The Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) has fought for the rights of foster children, but now the organization wants to pass a bill that would let the kids know what their rights are. Currently on the table, with an upcoming hearing in March, is a bill of rights that helps youth understand what they can do in any situation. Lydia Bradley, the OFYC program manager, says this is a long time coming.
“This is something that has come up for several years, the idea of a foster youth bill of rights,” she says. “And so it is something that really started as an idea several years ago, and this is finally the time to have this bill come to session. The bill is really about giving youth information about what their rights are. We are not creating new rights for foster youth; we are just referencing rights that already exist in pre-existing law.”
The bill was drafted from the input of more than 100 young people based on their experiences in the child welfare system, and it is sponsored by Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland and Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland.
According to Communications Coordinator Martha Calhoon, the OFYC’s main objective is to bring the voice of the youth to the policy table. In past years, they passed bills relating to foster youth health care coverage and foster youth’s driver’s licenses.
There is currently no one whose occupation is to address grievances from foster youth. The only option for foster youths to express complaints is a consumer hotline number, and even that has its drawbacks.
“A youth calling about, for example, a foster parent withholding food could end up talking to the same person who handles complaints about cracks in the sidewalk,” Calhoon says. “This person likely does not have the sensitivity to foster youth issues to address that complaint and, even if they do, there is no protocol or procedure about where to go from there.”
Foster youth can discuss their grievances with their foster parents and caseworkers, but in some instances that isn’t an option if they are the ones troubling the children.