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LOS ANGELES — The county has launched website to help foster youth understand their rights.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said foster children need to know their rights and those in power need to enforce them.
“With so many challenges facing our foster youth, we need them to know first and foremost that their community is here to protect them and to help them,” Hahn said. “Empowering them with rights is a good step forward, but we also need to continue to show that their community is here for them if their rights are being violated,” Hahn said.
LAYouthRights.com is designed to be teen-friendly and highlights more than 40 laws that make up the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. That includes the right for foster youth to review their own case plan at the age of 10, the fact that no one has the right to physically discipline them, and that they cannot be locked in a room, unless they are detained in a juvenile hall or Foster Youth Bill of Rights.
Caregivers are not allowed to search a young person’s room on a whim, but must have a reasonable and legal reason to believe that there is something there that puts the minor’s safety or the safety of others at serious risk.
Youth also are entitled to reasonable access to the internet and social media and an allowance. They have a right to make their own decisions about birth control.
The site is searchable based on frequently asked questions and keywords. It also urges caregivers, social workers and probation officers to print out and distribute the Bill of Rights to youth and make use of a coloring book and poster to spread the word.
“Our goal is for every young person in care, as well as those who love and work in service to them, to be educated about foster youth rights — whether it’s through the LAYouthRights.com website, our new handbook or the coloring book,” said Tamara Hunter, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families.
“There’s been increased focus on racial justice and equity in recent months, and this must extend to youth in foster care, as they are among our most vulnerable and marginalized populations,” Hunter said. “We must empower them by educating them about their rights, and then collectively — as a community — ensure that these rights are upheld.”
Printed materials will also be distributed to youth and caregivers in the weeks ahead. The effort is a collaboration of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson, current and former foster youth and other advocates across California.
“Foster youth were essential partners in the creation of these documents, which will educate foster youth and those who care about them,” said Wendy Smith, former chair of the L.A. County Commission for Children and Families. “Their lived experience helped to bring these rights to life.”
Expanded state law under AB 175, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, requires children and their representatives to be informed of their rights in an age-appropriate manner. Expanded rights to protect LGBTQ+ youth are also included, among other enhancements.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl characterized the changes as historic.
“The Foster Youth Bill of Rights guarantees the basic rights of dignity and privacy for LGBTQ+ youth,” Kuehl said. “We know that one in five L.A. County foster youth identify as queer, and the rights outlined in this document ensure that these vulnerable young people are entitled to be called by their preferred name and pronoun and that they have an inviolable right to privacy concerning their sexual orientation and their gender identity and expression. That’s why it’s truly historic that L.A. County and the state of California have adopted this guiding document.”
Youth with complaints about their care can reach out to the state’s Foster Care Ombudsperson’s Office at (877) 846-1602.
“Being in foster care can be overwhelming for youth, especially if they are not sure where to turn to for help,” said California Foster Care Ombudsperson Rochelle Trochtenberg. “With the new materials, our hope is to educate youth about their rights and empower youth to call our office if they feel those rights have been violated. The Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson is dedicated to supporting youth with their complaints, inquires, and questions.”
There are more than 38,000 youth in foster care countywide, said Bobby Cagle, who heads Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services.
“Youth in care should feel safe and secure where they live, and they also need to know they have a place to turn to if they need help or resources,” he said. “LAYouthRights.com is a critical resource where youth may have their questions answered.”