9/21/2014

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Foster kids press lawmakers for 'Bill of Rights'

Foster kids press lawmakers for 'Bill of Rights'

SALEM, Ore. – Foster children told Oregon lawmakers Thursday they need more protection and pushed for a foster children’s Bill of Rights.

A KATU On Your Side Investigation exposed problems with the system in January when the state removed two children from their foster home of several years.

Before an afternoon legislative committee, foster children testified how they came from homes where they’ve never been taught to speak their minds or were punished for speaking out.

“Their foster parents telling them that they cannot do certain things and to tell you the truth, it gets really annoying,” said 16-year-old Cain Stellings, who is a foster child.

He told lawmakers about what life is like in foster care.

“Youth often ask themselves, ‘Why can’t I?’ Is it because they do not know that it’s their right, do they not know that it’s legally enforced? Well, guess what, they (foster children) can do these things,” Stellings said.

Pamela Butler sat next to Stellings while he testified. Her group, Children First for Oregon, is behind the proposed foster children’s Bill of Rights embodied in Senate Bill 123. It would give children the ability to file complaints about their care. It would allow foster children more protection from things like retaliation and more voice in their fate.

It is intended to help children like Patrick Kindred who spent 17 years in foster care.

"Being able to stand on my own two feet and being able to survive in the world and being able to advocate for myself,” he said.

Budget cuts mean the state Department of Human Services, which runs the foster program, is working with only two-thirds the staffing it should have.

Critics also say DHS caseworkers are often inexperienced and ill-trained.
 
In January, Gov. John Kitzhaber announced a new way of doing business and pledged millions to a program where child welfare workers try to keep children with their families by helping parents improve their parenting skills. The state hopes to avoid charging them with neglect and keep children out of foster care.

"The children who do the best are the children who never have to leave their homes,” Kitzhaber said at the time.

There's also a move to allow foster parents to unionize in Oregon. Foster parents in Washington state became the first in the nation to join a labor union five years ago. It allows them to negotiate with the state for better training and support.

If you have a story for one of our On Your Side investigators send them an email at investigators@katu.com.

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