Bill seeking to normalize life for foster youth advances

A bill that would implement provisions of a federal law designed to promote normalcy for foster care youth was advanced to select file Feb. 22.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, sponsor of LB746, said normalcy in the context of the foster system means age and developmentally appropriate activities and experiences essential to the healthy development of children and youth.

“Normalcy is defined best by letting kids be kids,” she said.

Campbell said it is important for foster children to participate in extracurricular and social activities such as field trips, sports, clubs, religious groups, and family vacations and photos. Current regulations regarding children in out-of-home care have been interpreted to prohibit such participation, she said.

“Over the past few years the Legislature has taken significant steps to strengthen our foster care system,” Campbell said. “For me, LB746 is the next step.”

Under the bill, a prudent parent standard would be developed for caregivers—whether in-home or in an institutional setting—that would allow caregivers to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions about activities for youth in their care. To the extent possible, birth parents also would be involved in such decisions.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford supported the bill. Many former foster youth have cited the importance of involvement in school activities in their success, she said, including an advocate who is now an attorney.

“It had been a school event where someone had really given her the opportunity to show what she was able to do,” Crawford said.

The bill also would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that foster children age 14 and older are made aware of their rights and responsibilities before aging out of the system, as well as have access to certain documents.

Required documents would include a copy of the individual’s birth certificate, Social Security card, medical, financial and educational records, family contact information and a list of local community resources.

The bill would require juvenile courts to ensure that children in foster care are able to engage in normal activities and make certain findings part of a child’s record. LB746 also would establish the Normalcy Task Force, with members appointed by the Nebraska Children’s Commission.

A Health and Human Services Committee amendment, adopted 33-0, would ensure that provisions related to credit reports comply with federal law and make the bill operative on July 1, 2016. Campbell said the date would allow the department time to make necessary changes to their data systems.

Lawmakers advanced the bill to select file on a 37-0 vote.

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