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Hickernell Ushers Another Landmark Foster Care Bill into Law
HARRISBURG – After three years of championing legislation to help children and youth who are in Pennsylvania’s foster care system live more normal lives, Rep. Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster/Dauphin) today announced that his legislation to accomplish this has been signed into law as Act 75 of 2015.

The measure, known as the Activities and Experiences for Children in Out-of-Home Placement Act, authorizes the caregivers of children and youth who are in out-of-home placement (i.e., foster care) to approve or disapprove their foster child’s participation in age-appropriate extracurricular, family and social activities without the prior approval or disapproval of that participation from the county child welfare agency, private placement agency or the court.

“Children in foster care are entitled to and should be encouraged to participate in activities that offer opportunities for healthy childhood and adolescent development,” Hickernell said. “However, things that other children take for granted, such as playing on an athletic team, joining the marching band, going on a field trip, getting a driver’s license learner’s permit, or going on a family vacation are often out of reach for children in foster care because of the lengthy delays involved in obtaining prior approval from the county child welfare agency or private agency that has legal custody of the child.”

In many instances, by the time formal approval makes its way through the chain-of-command bureaucracy, it’s too late for the child to participate in the event or activity. Other times, the steps necessary to gain that formal approval can alienate the child’s friends or their families, further stigmatizing the child.

Garry Krentz, president of the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association, praised the new law saying it is exactly the changes advocates have been trying to advance for years.

“Far too often the foster care system not only prevents kids from leading normal lives, but that it takes away exactly the sorts of activities they need to grow and develop into happy, healthy, and productive adults,” Krentz said. “It is no wonder that, as one former foster youth put it, ‘Growing up in the foster care system, I felt like I was in captivity.’

"In 2014, a provision contained within the federal law Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act would allow caregivers of foster children to make these types of decisions. However, each state must pass legislation to actually put teeth in that federal statute to permit caregivers to legally do so. Hickernell’s legislation provides those “teeth,” Krentz said.

Starting with the Resource Family Care Act of 2005, which was a very progressive piece of legislation, Rep. Hickernell has been the best advocate of creating opportunities for youth to have better lives while in care,” Krentz said. “Hickernell understands the legislative process can be slow and he doesn’t give up. This legislation is a real game changer.”

“We all recognize the paramount need for safety for children in care, but our quest for safety should not stifle the normal development of young people,” Hickernell said. “Bringing our policies into the 21st century to ensure these parents and children can interact with others without any stigma brings our communities closer together.”

Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner
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