Normal. For Florida kids in foster care — and the foster parents, guardians and attorneys who advocate for their lives and futures — the word “normal” was not in their vocabulary.
They have little access to normal healthcare channels, like other kids do. They often get shuttled from one school to the next when they change foster homes. School field trips, play dates and sleepovers require approval from case managers at best or, at worst, fingerprints and background checks.
There are 19,000 kids in Florida foster care who cannot live the life of a normal child and participate in normal childhood activities.
However, both the Florida House and Senate have passed bills that will help eliminate some restrictions and reporting requirements that prevent foster children from enjoying activities like other kids do. It now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature to become law.
This change had huge community support. More than two dozen members of Florida Youth SHINE, an advocacy group of current and former foster kids, spoke in support of the proposal. They were backed, as they often are, by members of the Florida Guardian ad Litem program and Florida’s Children First. The intention was clear: We needed to educate legislators about the need to help foster children lead more normal lives.
I believe the message got through. When Gov. Scott signs the bill, foster parents will be free to act like actual parents. Gone will be requests for approval from agencies and the courts to allow kids in their care to do what any other kid can. Scheduling doctor’s visits, attending or changing schools, even having sleepovers or birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese’s — without fingerprints of host parents — all will become part of their lives.
Another bill under review will raise the age limit of foster care from 18 to 21. “Aging out” has long been a problem for young adults facing uncertain, scary futures after foster care. A child leaving foster care often does not have a birth certificate, Social Security card or immunization records. While some children are more than capable of leaving home at 18, armed with survival skills and information to survive in the world, most foster children are not ready for this step.
Foster kids are not just files to review or cases to be shuttled about. And they’re not China dolls to be bubble-wrapped.
They are kids — all they want are normal lives. Is that too much to ask?
Gloria Fletcher, vice president, Florida’s Children First, Gainesville