MONTGOMERY — A family advocacy bill giving foster parents equal representation when the court must decide the placement of an in-foster care child has passed the Alabama House and Senate and has been sent to the governor for review.
Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure, HB 157, was created because the current system does not give foster parents fair positioning when put against a parent.
“When a child is in foster care and been there multiple years while the parents and family has not been in the picture, unfortunately the way the law reads today, a judge can’t even use the last one, two, three, however many years that the child has been in a good, stable environment of a foster home to make any type of decision,” Lee said. “If the foster parents want to adopt them, it carries no weight in the court system.”
The bill, entitled the “Best Interest of the Child Bill,” serves to create a fair positioning for the foster parent, and unlike the current system, will allow the judge to determine what the best and healthiest fit is for the child, Lee said.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said the legislation is about creating fairness.
“Currently, foster parents don’t have fair footing at the table when a child’s lifetime decisions are being made,” Collins said. “I’m not trying to give them an extra foot; I just believe they deserve a seat at the table.
“They, for all practical purposes, are parenting of those foster children, and they deserve to be considered.”
Collins said that in some cases the current system does not allow foster parents in the courtroom when a decision is being made about the child. She said giving the judge the power to determine the child’s healthiest home will be a big move forward.
“They have to be included in the decision. They don’t have to continue to reach out to a family in a pervasive way as was required before this law,” she said.
Lee said the bill is bigger than just a placement of a child and that it will have a direct effect on the schools in the state.
“We’re losing kids in the school system by how they come in and do so poorly,” he said. “Many times, if you really dig down and do the homework, you find that a lot of those children doing poorly have been passed around from one place to the other.”