May is National Foster Care Month. We invited members of the CASA community to author articles on issues that affect the well-being of children and youth in foster care.
In this guest blog post, Alan Abramowitz, the executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program*, describes two pieces of legislation that are improving the lives of young people in care.
It all started with a vision to treat foster children the same as any other child. The guardian ad litem (GAL) program recognized the importance of foster children being able to participate in activities just as any other child might. Participation in these types of activities is important to the child’s well-being, not only emotionally, but in developing valuable life-coping skills.
On July 1, 2013, Florida legislation fondly known as the “Let Kids be Kids” law became effective. The final version of this law gave foster parents and identified caregivers in group homes the legal authority to allow children and youth in their care to participate in normal, age-appropriate activities using the “reasonable and prudent parent” standard of decision-making, without fear of civil liability. When we asked children in foster care, foster parents and people who worked at the Department of Children and Families they said the law:
- Substantially improved the lives of the children and youth as a result of their increased involvement in a wider variety of age-appropriate experiences; and
- Provided foster parents with the decision-making authority to create a normal home life for children in their care.
Now, the 2014 “Keys to Independence” bill has passed. It establishes a pilot program to promote safe driving, driver education and insurance reimbursement for foster youth. The Keys to Independence law is another step in building normalcy for Florida’s foster youth. A survey from the Department of Children and Families found that only 9 percent of the eligible foster children had a learner’s permit and 3 percent had a driver’s license. Having a driver’s license is critical to ensuring foster children can live independently and gain employment when they age out of the foster care system.
Being a part of the GAL program and representing dependent children means not only providing a voice in court, it is providing a voice for them in the legislature, in their foster homes and helping to ensure their lives can be as fulfilling and childlike as any other of Florida’s children. In Florida, thanks to the hard work and forward thinking of child welfare advocates and the Florida legislature, we are building a normalcy bridge to adulthood for Florida’s dependent youth.
*In Florida and a few other states, CASA programs are referred to as volunteer guardian ad litem programs.