Albert Lea Rep. Peggy Bennett presented her bill to the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee Tuesday. The bipartisan legislation — bill of rights for siblings in foster care — would create guidelines to help keep foster youth connected with their siblings, whether face-to-face or through social media. Often, children who enter into the child welfare system are separated from their siblings, the HF3626 would help to prevent that.
"I mean, can you imagine kinda being ripped from your family, plopped into this new situation and wondering where's my brother and sister? I'm worried about them,'" said Bennett.
For Bennett, the children this bill would help is near and dear to her heart. In 2016, almost 15,000 Minnesota children were in foster care or temporary-out-of home care for children.
"Not because anyone meant them to, just because the system is so huge," she said.
Rep. Bennett was joined by two advocates at the meeting. Both were part of the foster care system and faced difficulties maintaining a connection to siblings living in the care of different foster parents.
19-year-old Vivianna Castillo-Roybal entered foster care six years ago.
"Not being able to talk to them or see them, it really hurt me really bad," said Castillo-Roybal.
Castillo-Roybal said she often took on the parent role for her two younger brothers and even went to school conferences for them.
This bill ensures siblings in foster care stay involved in each other's lives and share celebrations like birthdays and milestones.
"It feels like I'm running to catch up with their lives. No sibling should have to lose a bond that strong," Castillo-Roybal.
The legislation requires that a copy of the rights in this bill are given to children at the time they enter foster care.
The bill was passed out of the Health and Human Services Reform Committee and was referred to the Health and Human Services Finance Committee where Representative Bennett is requesting a hearing. If passed, this bill would go into effect August 1.