Oregon Foster Youth to Testify Before Senate Committee, Demand Child Welfare Reforms

 March 15, 2013 – In one week, a group of current and former foster youth from across the state will testify before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to push for reforms in Oregon’s foster care system. They will be asking the State to guarantee their basic rights while in state care—rights to things like clothes that fit, proper nutrition, contact with their siblings, and their safety. While the law already protects these rights in theory, gaps in policies and protocols still keep many foster youth from ever knowing their rights in care and, worse, leave them without safe means to report violations.

“Even when youth in foster care know their rights are being violated, there is nowhere for them to turn,” says Oregon Foster Youth Connection Program Manager Lydia Bradley. “The lack of a clear and universal grievance process makes them susceptible to ongoing abuse.”

These issues were identified by the youth themselves last summer during a three-day policy-focused foster youth summit convened by the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, a program of the nonprofit child advocacy organization Children First for Oregon. Their solution? A Foster Youth Bill of Rights (now Senate Bill 123). The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Chip Shields and Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, will have its first public hearing on March 21st. Among other reforms, SB 123 will finally establish a clear requirement for informing kids in foster care about the rights they have under state law. Next week, these youth will share their stories of hardship and hope before senators in support of the bill drafted from their recommendations.

Royce Markley was one of the voices behind SB 123 and will testify in support of the bill on Thursday. Now 19, Royce spent eight years in the Oregon foster care system, where he says he experienced abuse--and fall out from attempting to complain--despite having a supportive team of advocates. "I still had many challenging experiences while in care that required me to have a better understanding of my rights than I had," he says. "Things such as knowing I had access to a lawyer if I needed one, that I was able to keep and spend my own money, that I could have scheduled visits and be transported to see my siblings in different homes and, maybe most importantly to my case, knowing that I had the right to make a private complaint. It’s a lot harder to get through the system, an already difficult system, if you don’t know your rights."

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