On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill creating a foster child bill of rights. 
House Bill 2552, authored by Rep. Pat Ownbey, establishes certain rights for children in Department of Human Services’ custody with regard to their placement, safety, privacy, communication, and personal growth. The measure also directs DHS and child placing agencies to develop grievance procedures for children in custody.
“The governor’s signature on this important piece of legislation means children across our state will now have a statutorily enforced set of rights that are found in one place,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore. “Before this measure, most of these rights were found in policies at one agency or another, but now children and foster parents will have easy access to this information.”
Before this bill was signed into law, foster parents had a bill of rights, but foster children did not, said Ownbey. The bill covers key areas and makes provisions for children in foster care to be provided the bill of rights yearly. Ownbey said many of the measures in 2552 were codified in law elsewhere, but they were so scattered those who needed the information could not access it. The bill provides for foster children’s safety, privacy and personal growth. “Another thing I included was a provision for their belongings,” Ownbey said. “I heard reports of some children who might be at say, their third home, and their personal belongings were still at the first home. A foster parent might have a child’s belongings two years later and not even know where that child is.”
Another issue Ownbey said is addressed in the bill is the inclusion of children in decision making when appropriate. “They might not have final say, for safety reasons,” Ownbey said, “but they should have the opportunity to be heard.” Ownbey said that one thing that was a glaring issue to him when working on issues related to the foster care system was the lack of involvement with some child attorneys. Ownbey said he saw many cases where deals were made prior to any contact being made with the children. Ownbey said he felt the children should have the opportunity to speak with their attorney and the judge about decisions that affect them. Ownbey said he had conversations with adults who aged out of the system who felt they had no say in their lives as they were offered no dialogue about what was happening. “I think that is ludicrous,” said Ownbey.
The Office of Client Advocacy will establish procedures to ensure grievances are resolved no more than 60 days after they are filed. Children who are age-appropriate will receive notification on procedures and how to file complaints.
Foster children and parents will receive a statement of the bill of rights each year and legislators will receive an annual report detailing what grievances have been filed and how they were handled. Before the new bill, reports on these grievances were only received from those filed by foster parents. “[The foster kids] are the ones not getting a fair shake,” said Ownbey, “and now they will be getting reminded of their rights every year.”
Ownbey has discussed issues with DHS and those the agency serves with foster children, those who have aged out, and a number of professionals over the years.  “I’m honored to have worked with so many experts as we strengthened our child protection laws,” Ownbey said. “This group is made up of members of DHS, law enforcement, Court Appointed Special Advocates – or CASA – and a number of other stakeholders.
The legislation passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the state Senate. It will take effect Nov. 1, 2018.