Oregon's New Foster Children’s Bill of Rights includes Dedicated Advocate, Access to Hotline and Posters in Foster Homes, Licensed Agencies
The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) state has completed the work to establish the Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights. The 2013 Legislature passed SB 123 requiring the Oregon DHS to adopt formal rules to create an Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, hire a state foster youth ombudsman, and inform children and youth in foster care about the rights they have under state law.
"The Foster Children’s Bill of Rights is an important set of tools and support for children and youth in foster care, and we remain committed to ensuring that children’s rights and safety are protected at all times while they are in the foster care system," said DHS Child Welfare Director Lois Ann Day.
DHS has maintained rules on the rights of the foster children for a number of years, but the passage of the law required the state to further refine these rights into concrete things a child or youth would better understand and make them more readily available. Governor Kitzhaber said at the time he signed the bill: "Foster youth deserve to know their rights and should be empowered to assert those rights. While we need to reduce the need for foster care, we also have a responsibility to do everything possible to make foster care safe and supportive. The Foster Children’s Bill of Rights ensures Oregon's foster youth have access to tools and supports they deserve while helping them reach their full potential."
One important part of the bill is the addition of a Foster Care Ombudsman, a new program intended to ensure that youth in DHS care have information about their rights and an avenue for addressing issues and concerns they may have during their stay in foster care. DHS recently hired Darin Mancuso as the first Foster Care Ombudsman for the State of Oregon. He joins the Governor’s Advocacy Office and will manage the Foster Care Hotline and grievance process for children and youth in foster care.
The Foster Care Hotline went "live" on May 12, and information is went out to all children and youth in foster care about the new program at that time, both in writing and through face-to-face contact with DHS case workers. The new Foster Care Hotline number is 1-855-840-6036 and will be staffed Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with voicemail for after-hour calls). It’s for confidential contact regarding complaints, concerns or alleged violations of their rights in foster care.
The most visible part of the new law will be posted on walls and bulletin boards across the state. The Agency has finalized the language listing the specific provisions of the Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is now being printed and will be posted in residences, foster homes, and licensed agencies. The text of the Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights is shown below:
As a child or youth in foster care, I have the right –
To have what every child needs:
- A permanent family
- A home where I am part of the family and am treated as such
- Nutritious food that meets my dietary needs
- Clean and appropriate clothes that fit me and correspond to a gender identity of my choice
- Safe housing
- Free access to soap, shampoo, toothpaste and other hygiene needs that are necessary for my gender, age, individual health and ethnic needs
- A safe and appropriate sleeping arrangement and adequate space for my personal belongings
- To keep my belongings, including things I buy and gifts I receive if I have to move
- Access to a working telephone
To be safe:
- To be treated with respect
- To be appropriately disciplined
- To be protected from physical, mental, sexual or emotional abuse
- To have my physical boundaries respected and honored within safe, appropriate standards (i.e.: no forcing of hugs, hand holding)
- To tell my caseworker, judge or the Foster Care Ombudsman when contact with someone is hurtful to me or inappropriate so that I can be protected without fear of retaliation.
- To be free from group punishment
To see and talk to people I care about:
- To visit and communicate with a parent or guardian, siblings, members of my, and other significant people in my life, knowing that reasonable limits may be set by DHS and the court.
- To visit and communicate with friends and other significant people except when DHS or the court determines that contact may be unsafe or emotionally harmful.
- To participate in age appropriate activities with my peers, so long as it is not restricted by DHS and the court
To be healthy:
- To have routine check-ups to keep me healthy
- To see a nurse or a doctor if I am sick and request medical attention
- To have the medical, dental, mental health care I need with a qualified appropriate provider
- To be included in discussions and make decisions about my own body and my physical or mental health.
- To have or receive comprehendible information about me and my family’s medical history as appropriate and authorized by law.
- To be provided with age-appropriate educational opportunities and schooling to prepare me for adult life.
- To be allowed the opportunity to participate in activities that interest me; including sports, art, music or others.
- To receive extra help and tutoring if I am struggling in my school or educational placement.
- To make choices about my classes (electives, advanced placement, or college prep) and schools when the law allows me to.
- To receive age-appropriate information and assistance with enrolling in college or vocational education.
To have my rights protected:
- Have an attorney if I want one, and to request the judge appoint a CASA advocate to my case.
- Talk to my attorney and/or CASA advocate in private.
- To be notified of court hearings, reviews by the Citizen Review Board, and what being decided about me and my family in an age appropriate manner.
- To be invited to attend court and talk to the judge in court about what I want and need.
- To decide whether or not I want my attorney and/or CASA advocate to speak for me.
- To call the Foster Care Ombudsman Office (free from retaliation from my foster parents or anyone else) if my rights are violated or my needs are not being met.
To be in a place that meets my needs:
- If it’s safe and in my best interest, as deemed by my case plan, visitation plan, or the court to be in a foster care placement close to my family so that I can visit and maintain relationships important to me.
- Have reasonable access to my bedroom, house or residence of where I am living.
- Have a curfew and house rules that are clear and fair and to have them explained to me from the beginning.
To make decisions for myself:
- To tell the court where I want to live and whether or not I want to be adopted.
- To receive respect, be nurtured, and attend activities in accordance with my background, religious heritage, race, and culture within reasonable guidelines. To be allowed to dress and groom myself according to my culture, identity and within good hygiene standards for my health.
- To determine and express my gender and sexual identity for myself
- To make major decisions that affects my life, in accordance with the law, my age and ability.
To be informed:
- About financial support available to me, including allowance, obtaining a bank account and getting a job
- About services and programs within or outside of the Department of Human Services that can provide me with support.
- About where I can go for help.
- About how the child welfare system works.
- About how to access my case records at no charge.
I understand that the adults in my life make rules and set limits to protect me and help me make good decisions. When I need to, I can contact my attorney or CASA advocate to help me and talk to them privately. If I ever need to do so, I can contact the Foster Care Ombudsman at 1-855-840-6036 and talk to them about my problem.