LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers advanced a bill Monday aimed at letting foster kids be kids.
Legislative Bill 746 would make it easier for a foster youth to attend church, get a driver’s license, have a sleepover with friends, go to prom and do other activities that are part of a normal childhood.
The bill cleared the first of three rounds of debate on a 37-0 vote.
State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, the Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman, introduced the bill. She said it is part of implementing a 2014 federal law, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.
The federal law requires, among other things, that foster youths be able to have the same age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate experiences as other children and be able to participate in decisions about their cases.
Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue said those kinds of experiences can make a life-changing difference for children in state care.
She told about meeting one former foster youth who said participating in school activities gave her the confidence to make something of her life. Other youths, she said, talked about the isolation they felt when they could not join in ordinary activities.
Such isolation can tempt youths to run away from foster and group homes, which puts them at risk of being pulled into sex trafficking, Crawford said.
Campbell also pointed out connections between sex trafficking and foster care. She said 60 percent of the sex trafficking victims picked up in a 70-city federal raid had lived in foster care or group homes.
Under LB 746, Nebraska would adopt a “reasonable and prudent parent standard” for making decisions about children and youths who have been placed in foster care through the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems.
Under that standard, foster parents and service providers would be allowed to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions about youth activities.
Currently, bureaucratic barriers, such as requiring background checks for a child to have a sleepover with a friend, can stand in the way of ordinary activities. Other concerns can include costs and transportation.
LB 746 also aims to help youths who are aging out of the foster system. It would require state officials to make sure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities as adults and have copies of important documents, such as their birth certificates.
Campbell said more than 200 youths, parents, foster parents, providers, caseworkers, attorneys, judges and others collaborated on recommendations for carrying out the federal law last summer.
The Department of Health and Human Services also has been working on implementing the federal law.
The agency has been working on regulations that would bar action against foster parents’ licenses based solely on incidents that occur because they followed the “reasonable and prudent parent” standard.
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