By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Lawmakers are considering a bill that would include foster children in the conversation about their future living situation as they age out of foster care programs.
House Bill 351 would allow foster children 14 years and older to be involved in this process, and affords them more rights while in the program.
Lina Havron is a foster parent in Helena and shared her story of a foster child named Charlie during testimony on the bill Monday.
“One of the biggest fears through the whole process of her being taken out of her home, was that she didn’t have a voice,” Havron said.
Havron said when her family took Charlie into their care, they also adopted a list of things they weren’t supposed to do with her. The bill would also allow foster children to participate in extracurricular activities while under foster care.
Hunting, fishing and four-wheeling are among some of those things that Havron said Charlie wanted to do.
“You can’t take three children up to the mountains with three four wheelers and have one sit and watch the other two children watch them. That’s not normal. That’s not OK. She needed to be afforded the same opportunities,” Havron said.
Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, is the sponsor of the bill and said these activities are often overlooked in the foster care program.
“The lack of the foster child’s participation in these activities can limit their education, emotional and developmental growth. This bill will normalize the experience of youth in foster care, so they can hopefully have a more normal experience,” Dudik said.
For Havron, it was more important to make Charlie feel comfortable than to abide by the rules as a foster parent. But, she said when it comes to deciding the future for foster kids, foster parents don’t have that same leeway.
“It was about her parents, it was about the system, it was about the state – it wasn’t about Charlie, and Charlie wanted a voice,” Havron said.
Dudik said the bill updates state code in order to continue receiving funds from and comply with the 2014 Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.