Senators work to improve Foster care

Children in Nebraska’s foster care system are some of the most vulnerable in the State. They can’t always live like other kids and that can lead to some risky behavior.

When kids feel different. They might reach out for some type of connection. Sometimes that puts children in the path of dangers like sex trafficking. Nebraska’s working to fix that in the big picture.

Kayla Bailey was a foster child.

“I fought every day in school. Just to be treated like everybody else,” she said.

“I had foster families [on the border in Western Nebraska] that would go out of town for shopping trips or take their family out to eat, but I couldn’t cross state borders without prior permission, so the foster kids had to stay home and eat sandwiches,” explained Amy Peters, also a former foster child.

It’s differences like that testifiers at the Capitol Thursday said makes foster children feel different.

Parents want their kids to live like any other.

“My son wasn’t able to go to a friend’s funeral because it wasn’t allowed in the system. It caused him to feel even worse,” said Andrea Evans, whose children were in foster homes.

Many testifiers want the principles in the federal Strengthening Families Act to reflect in Nebraska law to protect kids like Andrea Evans’ son.

“He got a knife and was crying, breaking down and he wanted to harm himself. Took off running out of the house,” said Evans.

Some in the hearing said risky behavior like that could be minimized by allowing families freedom to help foster youth participate in normal activities.

If they don’t, Evans said the children may seek out other connections.

“They’ll go on the internet and reach out for something that may seem normal to them,” said Evans “which can put them at risk.”

Foster parents want to give their children normal lives, but the rules make activities like birthday parties and sleepovers more difficult.

“If I only get a week’s notice, I can’t get everyone in the house background checked,” explained Jude Dean, a foster parent. “And to tell a little girl she can’t stay overnight is frustrating. In fact, one time I almost had a mother convinced to move her party to my house so we wouldn’t have to go through all that.”

The DHHS has eased background check standards based on the federal law that went into effect in September.

Parents and former foster children said updates in the foster system could ease that pressure.

Now the legislature will take what it heard today along with other pieces and figure out what needs to go into state law.

“You’re seeing the Attorney General’s work on sex trafficking, Sen. Morfeld has an LR on sex trafficking. I honed in pretty much on the normalcy part of foster care. So, really, I think we’ll all sit down and take a look at what’s needed for the legislative session,” said Lincoln Senator Kathy Campbell.