Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why discrimination against our children and families is not a good thing - as if I actually needed to write that sentence

Yesterday I testified before the Florida Senate Rules Committee why CS for HB7111 was a bad bill and would ultimately harm the children of our state. It amazes me that we even have this kind of debate going on in today's world, but we do! Discrimination is discrimination - regardless of whether it's cloaked in the blanket of religion or morality - but some people don't understand that.

Here's the text of my testimony:

My name is Heather Rosenberg. I’m a foster mom, an adoptive mom and an advocate for the children in the foster care system. I am also a product of a family where the kids were removed, split up, placed in different families and ultimately aged out of care. I, myself did not age out of care – I was lucky enough to have had my dad’s side of the family to rescue me, but my three younger siblings did not and ultimately paid the price by leaving the foster care system at 18 with no permanent home.

I have had fifteen children come through my home in the last five and a half years as a foster parent. Two of those munchkins came to me last Friday night in what was supposed to be an emergency, overnight only placement. I still have one of them with me today – and it’s a good thing I do, because if not, she would have had to be shipped down to central Florida in order to have a place to sleep.

Why would that be a bad thing you ask – and how does that address the topic of this bill?

Well, my current child is one of a sibling group of four. At just over four years, she is the oldest – with her brothers right behind her at 3 years, 2 years and 6 months old. There are simply not enough homes available in this area to handle the needs of the kids who are being removed from their families of origin. My home was not technically an “active” foster home when I got the call to take her – we were licensed, but only as child specific and respite for if my niece were to come back into care – so when the phone rang at 1 AM and I saw it was placement I knew the straights were dire. I was right. This area is critically short of homes – in fact, in the panhandle alone, we need 1,100 more homes to meet the needs of kids CURRENTLY in care. Limiting the available pool of applicants is the wrong way to go to meet that need.

This bill is designed to limit the number of permanent homes available to the children in care which is exactly the opposite of what needs to be happening. Our children deserve a loving family to call their own forever. Davion Only knew that when he stood before a congregation at his church begging for someone to adopt him. The kids my husband and I adopted over the last three years knew that and have thrived with having a permanent, forever mommy and daddy. And while it’s too early to say how the case will go for my current munchkin, if it heads in the direction of termination and adoption in a couple of years she will know it too.

There is no substitution for a permanent, loving, family-style home. You guys have addressed that in other legislation this year when you’ve sought to limit the use of group homes – yet you’re considering limiting the pool of prospective families again – and I get it that you’ve probably never gotten the phone call in the middle of the night to take in a child who has been abused or neglected so it may not be high on your radar. But I have. And it is. I’ve lived it as a child. I’ve lived it as an adult. I’ve lost siblings to this system. I’ve seen kids age out of care, first hand. I see their pictures on the mugshots of the local sheriff’s website years after they’ve aged out because they didn’t have someone to help step in and guide them. That is not good enough for our kids. That’s not good enough for the families who are willing to step up and help our kids.

If an agency is in the business of licensing homes for adoption and is taking public money for that purpose, there should be no proviso to let them discriminate against a potential family. This law in any form is bad. This law in its current form is aimed at discriminating against gay and lesbian families, but it’s written so incredibly broadly that a religious organization could discriminate against single parents, military families, they could even discriminate against you if you have a glass of wine with your dinner. Let’s agree that this is a bad idea in any form, dismiss the bill and work on legislation that will help recruit more families to help take these kiddos in – not fewer.

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