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New Laws Will Change Lives of Foster Children

Tommy Hearn spent his entire childhood in foster care, after his parents, who both battled addiction, were unable to care for him. Tommy was never adopted and lived in a group home throughout his teen years, always craving a permanent family. Today he's 29 and works in Pittsburgh. To most, Tommy looks like your average adult: working, hanging out with friends, watching sports.

But Tommy is consumed with trying to find his younger brothers whom he lost contact with after they were adopted out of foster care. No doubt their last names have been changed. Tommy's been trying to find them for years.

But hopefully, new legislation passed recently will help other children in foster care maintain their contact with birth relatives. While too late to help Tommy, he has been outspoken about this legislation and I know he's excited that it has passed. http://blog.papartnerships.org/index.cfm/2010/7/22/Where-are-My-Brothers

Post Adoption Contact Agreements (SB 1360), sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would allow adoptive parents and birth relatives the option of entering into a post adoption contact agreement as part of the adoption decree so that a child's connection with siblings, grandparents, etc. can be preserved.

For many youth in foster care, the idea of severing ties with their birth families is a scary notion and often causes them to oppose being adopted. This resistance likely contributes to the fact that nearly half of Pennsylvania's foster care population is comprised of teenagers, yet less than 8 percent of adoptions that occur from foster care involve children over age 13.

Through Senate Bill 1360, children can have the best of both worlds – a permanent family and enduring connections to close birth relatives.

The Children in Foster Care Act (HB 2338) passed yesterday and will ensure that children in foster care and those responsible for their care will be provided clear and accurate information on the basic requirements and protections for what they are to be provided while in care.

Requirements for the care of children placed in the system are scattered throughout various statutes, regulations and policy bulletins. This makes it hard to ensure that children, foster parents and other caregivers have a consistent understanding of the requirements and protections for children in foster care. Sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Mundy, House Bill 2338 aims to take the uncertainty and disorganization out of the information communicated to foster children.

Sam Waite is a former foster child who interned here at PPC and was very supportive of the Children in Foster Care Act. When Sam was placed in foster care, he had an extended family that might have taken Sam in if they had known he needed a home. But at the time, Sam never knew living with a relative was an option and no one dug into his family tree to see what relatives might come forward to help.

Sam spoke repeatedly to us about the importance of the Children in Foster Care Act so children and youth who are removed from their homes know it's their right to have first consideration for placement with relatives – one of the tenets of the legislation.

We are excited and grateful that thousands of children in foster care will be helped through these new bills. Both pieces of legislation represent solid steps to making much-needed improvements in the child welfare system.

Joan L. Benso is president and CEO, PA Partnerships for Children.

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