- Associated Press - Monday, February 22, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Foster children in Nebraska could have more chances to play sports, join a sleepover with friends and attend school dances under a bill advanced by lawmakers Monday.

Senators on a 37-0 vote gave first-round approval to the measure that would make it easier for foster youths to enjoy normal childhood experiences.

Nebraska has faced criticism for imposing too many restrictions on foster youths in the name of safety. The group Nebraska Appleseed released a report in October that highlighted several of the requirements, such as mandatory background checks for everyone at a home where a foster child wants to attend a sleepover.

The cost of activities and a lack of transportation also prevented many of the youths from having normal adolescent experiences. In some cases, foster youths who were surveyed for the report said they were prohibited from having senior pictures taken, trying out for cheerleading and going on field trips. The bill would let the child pick an advocate who could argue for more flexibility.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure makes clear that the youths have rights and should be allowed to express their wishes. It also allows foster parents “to make decisions without everything having to go through a background check,” Campbell said.

“On the spur of the moment, you can’t do that,” Campbell said. “They should be able to have senior pictures without having to go through a lot of red tape to get there.”

The bill would give foster youths the chance to excel in high school activities and make new friends, helping their development, said Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue. Foster youths facing the restrictions “avoid making new friends, because if you make new friends, it’s going to lead to an awkward conversation about why you can’t go with them somewhere,” she said.

“That leads to frustration and the temptation to just run away,” Crawford added.

Nebraska requires a “transition proposal” for older foster care youths to help them learn what they need to live independently, how they will meet those needs, who will help them along the way and what steps they have to take to become independent.

Under the bill, foster care youths would have a greater voice in shaping their plan and possibly lifting restrictions they oppose. Each youth could select an adult advocate to argue on their behalf for more flexibility with their state caseworker, guardian and others. The bill also would require a greater focus on independent living support for foster children who are older than 16, before they turn 19 and age out of the system.

Doug Weinberg, who leads the state’s Children and Family Services division, has said his agency now tells foster parents to use “reasonable and prudent” parenting standards when deciding whether to allow a child to participate in activities.


The bill is LB746.


Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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