Long-term connections are rare for many children in the foster care system. Caseworkers change and foster parents are often temporary, but for foster youth with brothers or sisters, siblings can feel like their only permanent relationships. Unfortunately, many siblings struggle to keep in contact over the course of their time in foster care.
Maintaining and strengthening sibling bonds was the goal of 31 current and former foster youth who gathered earlier this month at the Advocacy Convening organized by Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC). A program of Children first for Oregon, OFYC empowers and trains youth to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of kids in foster care. OFYC members gathered for the weekend to gain support from each other while learning how to advocate for their policy priority aimed at keeping siblings in foster care connected: the Foster Children Sibling Bill of Rights (HB 2216). In addition to discussing the importance of sibling connections and their experiences losing contact with siblings, OFYC members learned how to talk to legislators about the bill and effectively tell their stories. The weekend of preparation culminated on Monday when OFYC youth attended a total of 43 meetings with Oregon legislators to discuss their experience in foster care and advocate for their bill.
The Sibling Bill of Rights was one of seven policy suggestions OFYC members developed at their annual Policy Conference in July 2016. Many OFYC youth were separated from their siblings and struggled to maintain those relationships during their time in foster care. Right now, most siblings separated in foster care have difficulty keeping in contact with one another. The Sibling Bill of Rights would grant foster youth the right to maintain contact and visits with siblings, including their right to transportation so visits can take place. OFYC youth have led legislative wins for foster children within each of the past four longer sessions. Because of OFYC, foster youth in Oregon now have: Assistance Obtaining Driving Privileges (2009); A Tuition Waiver for former foster youth entering community college or state university (2011); A Foster Child Bill of Rights & Foster Child’s Ombudsman (2013); and access to savings accounts at the age of 12 (2015).
The Oregon House will vote on the Sibling Bill of Rights soon. For many OFYC members, this is their first experience advocating for themselves and their needs — let alone statewide policies to improve foster care in Oregon. To keep track of the progress of the Sibling Bill of Rights and other legislation aimed at making Oregon the best place to be a kid, join United for Kids.