Foster Youth Bill of Rights, New Narratives

by: Posted on: July 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: Continuing our coverage of rights-based narratives. Foster youth in Oregon are working to explicitly recognize rights of theirs that are being violated. What can we learn from their logic? Below is a written conversation between Read the Dirt editor Simon Davis-Cohen and Lydia Bradley, Oregon Foster Youth Connection Program Manager—working to pass a Foster Youth Bill of Rights in Oregon.


Simon Davis-Cohen: Can you give a very brief synopsis of Oregon Senate Bill 123 and the future of the Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights?

Lydia Bradley: Senate Bill 123, drafted by the Oregon Foster Youth Connection with input from over 100 foster youth and championed by Senator Chip Shields and Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, creates a Foster Youth Bill of Rights guaranteeing basic rights for the 13,000 foster children in state care. The bill establishes a foster care ombudsman in the Governor’s Advocacy office to address reports of violations of foster youths’ rights. It finally establishes a clear requirement for informing kids in foster care about the rights they have under state law.

SDC: What rights of Oregon foster youth are not being enjoyed today?

LB: The life of a child or youth in foster care is complicated. At very young ages, youth are expected to make decisions that have lifelong consequences with little information. They are forced into a complex system, with no firm understanding of their role or rights. SB123 establishes clear requirements for informing kids about those rights. Many foster youth do not understand their rights and it is unclear where they should turn when those rights are violated. Oregon does not have a uniform system for informing youth of their rights or a formalized grievance process for foster youth to follow when those rights are violated. This keeps many of Oregon’s 13,000 foster youth disconnected from their siblings or on unwanted psychotropic drugs. Not knowing you have rights – or not having anywhere to turn when those rights are violated – is like having no rights at all.

Royce Markley was one of the voices behind SB 123 and was one of roughly thirty Oregon Foster Youth Connection members who advocated for the bill during session. Now 19, Royce spent eight years in the Oregon foster care system, where he says he experienced abuse—and fall out from attempting to complain—despite having a supportive team of advocates. “I still had many challenging experiences while in care that required me to have a better understanding of my rights than I had,” he says. “Things such as knowing I had access to a lawyer if I needed one, that I was able to keep and spend my own money, that I could have scheduled visits and be transported to see my siblings in different homes and, maybe most importantly to my case, knowing that I had the right to make a private complaint. It’s a lot harder to get through the system, an already difficult system, if you don’t know your rights.”

SDC: How would a Bill of Rights help?

LB: While current law already protects youth’s basic rights in theory, gaps in policies and protocols still keep many foster youth from ever knowing their rights in care and, worse, leave them without safe means to report violations. Nico Marquez was one of the youth voices behind SB 123 and a member of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection. Now 20, Nico was raised in the Oregon foster care system and lived in more than 16 homes since being removed from his mother at birth. Nico describes episodes of excessive housework while in care, of being denied calls to his case worker, of being punished and humiliated, of having to wear shoes long after they no longer fit his growing feet. He describes friends who were only fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at every meal, or forced to wear the same underwear for days because they weren’t given access to clean clothes in their State-assigned homes. None of them knew they had a right to say anything about it. Moreover, kids in foster care are often overmedicated (prescribed psychotropic drugs at a ratio of 4:1 compared to non-foster youth), but don’t have any say in their medical care. The Foster Youth Bill of Rights seeks to correct these injustices.

SDC: How did the idea of a Foster Youth Bill of Rights come about?

LB: From the onset of convening youth. These issues were identified by the youth themselves last summer during a three-day policy-focused foster youth summit convened by the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, a program of the nonprofit child advocacy organization Children First for Oregon.

SDC: To what extent is the bill of rights an educational and organizational tool to empower and connect foster youth and former foster youth in Oregon?

LB: Governor Kitzhaber’s statement after signing Senate Bill 123 summed it up nicely: “Foster youth deserve to know their rights and should be empowered to assert those rights. While we need to reduce the need for foster care, we also have a responsibility to do everything possible to make foster care safe and supportive. The Foster Youth Bill of Rights ensures Oregon’s foster youth have access to tools and support they deserve while helping them reach their full potential. I commend the Oregon Foster Youth Connection members who helped advocate for this important legislation.”

Some of the programmatic goals of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection are youth empowerment and connection to a foster care community. Royce Markley, a youth member of our Legislative Action Team describes his experience and validates the impact of our work: “As a kid and as a foster youth, you never grow up thinking, ‘when I’m 19, I’m going to be in Salem talking to legislators, I’m going to be making big changes for myself and for other foster youth.’”

SDC: Do you see a parallel between foster youth’s advocacy for a bill of rights because current law is failing to protect their rights, and a sentiment within the general public that might be interested in passing bills of rights for analogous reasons? Do you think the greater public has something to learn from the bill of rights tactic that Oregon Foster Youth Connection has embraced?

LB: We hope the general public can learn the lesson we’ve embraced: that everyone’s voice, especially those directly impacted by a system is important and critical to making positive changes in our community.


Photo: Lydia Bradley


3 Responses to “Foster Youth Bill of Rights, New Narratives”

  • Thanks for publicizing this issue.
    by: Abe Cohenon: Thursday 11th of July 2013
  • I am going to tell everyone at the National Association to Protect Children ( about this. We advocate for abused/neglected children by supporting legislators who pass laws to better protect children, so we can be very proud of these youth who established a means for asserting and getting their rights recognized. Good work!
    by: Laura Avaanton: Monday 16th of September 2013
  • I am very happy about this, but not all. I was a family foster home for 12 years. And had to bully my voice in to speak for my 2 nephews. But there was a time were I had to restrict certain friends because of bad influences. You thwart the duty of a good parent in doing this. One of those children agreed to my terms to be allowed to remain a friend. He came back a few years ago and thanked me for intervening and saving him from a life of crime. But 1 thing not covered that I got in a judges face about was the kicking the support of the child 1 month before their 18th birthday. Now my young man had been held back 1yr. in school while with his mother. He was now almost a 4. student and a birthday in December. He wouldn't even be able to finish his 3rd year of high school. The judge did not send me away for contempt but ordered CSD to pay till he graduated. I also had to do the same for his CP brother before his 18th b-day too. From out side sources I found out the handicapped should be covered till age 21. It was always a fight to get help what was already in place, to even get money's for musical instrument's or help on athletic fee's. These kids need to graduate!!! Also when CSD took over the CP young mans SSI check they held back about 150$ out of his payment. I questioned this. They said it was for summer camp and other things he might need. I thought OK. Summer camp sign ups come about a month behind normal kid camps. So when I hit them up for his money to go to camp, they said it was already gone to other kids. I threw a fit. That money was for him and his extra med. needs, not every body else. I didn't know what else to do but scream and call SSI. The next year they stopped taking the money. And they never returned what they took. And they were never fair in their payments for the care of this med. fragile child because I was family. It wasn't until the lasts years I even got any respite and only because big bro was gone and he could not speak to his public defender, so I was allowed to for him. I believe even with these kids being taught their rights, if they like the foster parents, to allow them to help speak for the kids. Kids forget things, they need help. Advocacy is a must for all these kids. And don't forget- kids do lie. You can't exclude the foster parents in any of this. And family is not being pursued by CSD as first choice over stranger care. It is much easier to maintain family contact when in the care of family. And when it's protective custody, it's not fair or safe to force the foster parents to do the supervised visits. It endangers every one in the home. And this is 1 reason I am no longer taking in children. The drug issue is good. I refused 1 kid, because of the drugs they had him on. We did an over night trial and they sent him with papers that said 100 mg speed per day. I called and said what is this. This will kill him. A mistake-really! I went further and asked why he was on it. They said because he liked it and he lost weight. I said he was obnoxiously hyper from it and that was not a reason to put a kid on drugs. I had no rights to object and so was forced to refuse entry to my home. And lastly- the perverted case worker that exited my handicapped young man. Informed me that by law or so she said, but would provide no documentation, that I could buy hookers and pot for him out of his SSI check. Some of the mental heath counselors are just as bad and we had to change many times to find a good one. On the news of late they are exposing child care workers smoking dope on the job. We need to put a stop to the foster homes and all involve with children services on the same basis. No predators and no druggies involved with our kids. They need more than a back ground check to be any where near our kids.
    by: terion: Thursday 7th of August 2014

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