Mitchell Chapman: State Senate, Gov. Baker must pass 'bill of rights' for foster parents

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PITTSFIELD — Foster parents saw a major legislative victory on July 9, as the state House passed a foster parents "bill of rights," a measure authored by Pittsfield's own state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier that was years in the making ("House passes foster care 'bill of rights' measure backed by Tricia Farley-Bouvier" Eagle, July 13). It now approaches the state Senate, and if it passes there, it'll be on the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker for approval.

This bill addresses on a state level a patchwork system of misinformation and uncertainty brought about by many states lacking bill of rights for foster parents and children, issues I commented on at the beginning of the year. I highlighted the state's existing foster child bill of rights, and the current effort by Rep. Farley-Bouvier and others to craft a foster parents bill of rights to match it.

Bills of rights put into statute crystal-clear language outlining the treatment guaranteed to a foster child or parent while in the system, including what information and supportive services they access to.

It specifically mitigates situations where a foster child is dumped on a foster parent's doorstep with nothing but a bag of clothes and a name, guaranteeing foster parents know any and all allergies, behavioral issues and other medical conditions a child has, as well as their age, their court dates and other basic but very relevant information needed for them to provide a high standard of care.

It also sets the standard of respect foster care workers have to give to foster parents, who are the most important part of the foster care system. When you don't know even the most basic information about the kid you're taking care of, it's easy to feel unimportant and disposable, which is completely unacceptable for a system that routinely doesn't have enough foster parents.

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"The foster parents basically are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to communication and support," Rep. Farley-Bouvier told MassLive in 2019, talking about her proposed bill of rights. "In order for us to continue to recruit and retain foster parents, we have to treat them well."

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That MassLive article included a telling account from Marianna Litovich, a foster parent whose foster son was picked up from day care for four hours by a social worker. The social worker refused to tell her where they had taken the boy.

"I was told I had no right to know. I was immediately demoted from parent to babysitter," said Litovich. This incident apparently came after three prior instances where social workers told her to prepare the boy to move to a relative's house, but each time, no one came, which is abhorrent, as incidents like this can sabotage the relationship a foster parent has with their foster child.

"I felt constantly lied to and disrespected," she said.

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Foster parents have enough to deal with, especially during a global pandemic, without dealing with blatant disrespect and misinformation from those above them in the foster care system. Foster parents have the most important and direct role in a foster child's success while in the system, and the culture of the Department of Children and Families should reflect that.

Massachusetts has an opportunity to set an excellent example for the rest of the country by passing Rep. Farley-Bouvier's foster parent bill of rights, which would not only change a toxic culture that often sees them as the least important rung in the ladder, but also would give them critical information they need to succeed.

This is not a partisan issue; it's about doing the right thing for those that take care of the state's most vulnerable.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and freelance writer. He is a foster care alumnus.


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