What do you recall about childhood? I remember the fun of after-school play-dates (though we didn’t call them that then), staying up all night at sleepovers, and the giddy excitement of going on field trips. We were learning how to be with each other and where we fit in social schema — it gave us a sense of belonging.
As teens, mood swings, acne, and friendship drama were interspersed with prom, making the winning dunk in the school basketball game, and the satisfaction of taking the family car out on your first solo drive.
These milestones of youthful American pride allowed us to briefly forget our awkwardness. They made us feel like we were going places, growing up and ready to make a difference in the world. Like we mattered.
But some of us never got to do those things.
Did you ever have a friend who was never allowed to hang out? One who was so good at sports — but couldn’t try out for the team? What about the kid you stopped inviting to birthday parties because she never came?
In the state of North Carolina, foster parents are not legally able to give permission for the youth in their care to join sports teams, get a driver’s license, go on sleepovers, dates, or even just hang out with friends. This essentially enforces a childhood of loneliness and exclusion among those already considered a fragile population.
Kids arrive at the foster care system for a variety of reasons. Some are abused, others neglected, some lost a parent or were voluntarily given up because their parents knew they couldn’t take care of them because of illness, addiction, or poverty. These are young people whose lives have already been turned upside-down. Many feel like outsiders in their peer groups — alienated by the fact that they have been placed outside of a home. Preventing them from engaging in the same normal and innocent activities as their classmates pushes them further to the fringe.
The message we are sending NC foster kids is they are inherently the “other.”
Enter Senate Bill 423, otherwise known as the Foster Care Family Act. If passed, foster parents would be legally eligible to give permission for extracurricular activities, driving permits, and social events. As of right now, the bill unanimously passed by Senate at 48-0, and the Companion House Bill 407 passed at 116-0. The buzz is that these bills will continue to be approved and will pass into law this session.
May is National Foster Care month. For the nearly 15,000 children in the NC foster care system, and the families who care for them, this law will help normalize their childhood experience. It will show them that they are loved and worthy of all the things the “normal” kids get.
What better message could we hope to send?