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The transitions and adjustments that children in foster care face can be challenging, both emotionally and mentally. From feelings of abandonment to fear of attachment, these children may not be able to cope with these life changes while also monitoring that their rights are enforced. This is where foster care advocates come in -- they "make sure that foster children are treated well, like members of the family," says Suzanne Strisower, social worker with 10 years of experience working with foster care in Oroville, California. The key is making sure advocates and foster children are aware of the rights of kids in foster care as stipulated in the Constitution and under federal and state laws.
Protection from Abuse and Neglect
The number-one concern for any child is safety. Foster children, under federal and state law, have the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect and abuse when placed in group or foster homes childrensrights.org's "Know Your Rights" explains. Although laws and rights vary from one state to the next, each foster child, in any state, has the right of protection by court-appointed representatives. These advocates ensure that foster families are screened and monitored and, most importantly, that the child is free from harm.
The needs of foster children vary significantly. Many may be facing emotional challenges associated with separations from siblings and parents. “The biggest challenges children in foster care have is historical damage due to the loss of their biological parents,” says Strisower. “This leads to their inability to connect with new parents, learn properly in school and a host of other emotional and behavioral problems.” When foster children experience mental or physical setbacks, as outlined in the Constitution and federal law, they have the right to regular medical, dental and mental health care.
Developmental and Educational Services
Although foster children are transitioning into a new home, by federal law they have the right to continue schooling and developmental services immediately. Foster parents and advocates are required to work with school districts to place the child in appropriate courses and programs to further develop the child’s skills. In addition, foster children have the right to case-planning services and assistance of an advocate. “In terms of advocating for the rights of children, that can happen at several levels: with the placing social worker in the county; in the courts during their hearings, with a court-appointed special representative who interacts with the child; and also the licensing body or a foster care ombudsman in some states,” says Strisower.
Often times, foster children have been exposed to a dangerous or neglectful living environment. Federal law protects foster children from entering these surroundings by advocating for the right to adequate food, clothing and shelter. The rights also stipulate that foster children should not deteriorate while in state custody. State funding and child welfare systems provide funds so foster children can receive lunch services while in school, clothing and appropriate, stable placement. According to Strisower, most states require that the foster family, foster child and agency worker sign and agree to a foster child’s rights to ensure they're enforced.