Normalcy is the right move here

By Steve Estes

Despite the best efforts of child advocates, child welfare workers, law enforcement agencies and judges, the issues surrounding our youth in the care of the state continue to mount.

The red tape involved in the bureaucratic morass that passes for child welfare these days makes it near impossible for children in the system, a system that is supposed to put their well-being first, to emerge unscathed.

For starters, the cases drag on far too long. Florida has long had a policy of family reunification for families that get themselves embroiled in the child welfare system.

That’s a laudable goal. It’s an achievable goal.

But enough becomes enough. If the parents haven’t done what they need to do to prove themselves fit to raise our next generation within two years, allow caring adults to take over through adoption or long-term foster care in some cases.

But we have cases locally that drag out for five or six years. And that hurts no one but the kids caught in the crossfire between parents who can’t fly straight and a system that refuses to hold those same parents accountable.

That is a long-term issue deserving of considerable dialogue.

But of more immediate concern to the kids in the foster care system is the need for some kind of normalcy—a routine way of life that makes them like every other kid on the block—with the ability to act like a kid.

The Florida Legislature has approved a bill that now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature that mandates normalcy for youth in foster care.

Normalcy is something these kids desperately need. Until this bill takes effect, a child who wanted to do something as simple as have a sleepover at the home of a friend needed to seek three layers of approval. The friend’s parents had to have background checks. It could take months just to allow two kids to get together and act like kids.

The normalcy bill eliminates much of that red tape. Instead, the bill puts the onus on the individual foster parents to act like—well—-like parents.

Foster parents, and we realize there are some bad apples in the basket, are put through a level of scrutiny even most national politicians don’t endure.

They are fingerprinted. They are background checked. They are interviewed. They are trained by professional child care workers. They are surveyed. Their homes are inspected. Their cars are inspected. They have to file financial disclosures.

And yet, until this bill worked its way through the Legislature, the foster parents weren’t allowed to make a simple decision about allowing a child to go on a school field trip without authorization from a child care worker or a judge in some cases.

Foster parents weren’t trusted to pick a baby sitter, even though many of them have children of their own and make those same decisions on a routine basis. They had to use an approved list of respite care workers who may or may not be available.

Foster children weren’t allowed to babysit outside the home.

These are normal parts of being a child, growing up, learning independence and responsibility.

And now, these kids have a chance to experience normalcy in all its aspects.

Foster care parents are told to make the youth in their care as much a part of the family as possible, to provide a normal life-like routine. And yet the red tape from the state stymied such simple attempts at normalcy.

And because that may be no more, it will be the kids who will benefit. Kids who have for a major portion of their lives in many cases experienced nothing resembling normalcy will have a chance to act just like other kids.

And that can only help them in becoming productive members of the next generation.

We applaud the Legislature for realizing that the people who are interrogated and checked more thoroughly than security personnel at the Capitol Building can actually make normal grown-up decisions about providing a youthful experience for children of the foster care system.

Now, we simply need to get the child care workers and judges to begin using criminal charges as a way to hold errant parent’s feet to the fire and make them accountable for the ways in which they treat the precious youth of our land.

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