Last month foster youth gathered at the state Capitol for the ceremonial signing of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights into law.

On its most basic level, the legislation requires the state Department of Human Services to inform all foster youth of their rights on a yearly basis, and it creates a position in the governor’s office to assist foster youth when they feel they cannot go to their caseworker.

As foster parents, we think the bill makes perfect sense and is long overdue. We have dealt first-hand with the horror stories of mistreatment that foster youth face in the system, and we were incredibly proud of the dedicated foster youth who put in long hours to pass this bill into law.

With the help of Children First for Oregon, foster youth from across the state came together to identify problems in the foster care system and created a solution. They worked tirelessly through the legislative process, which often is very convoluted, and they spent many unpaid hours traveling to Salem to ensure the bill’s passage.

Our experience with the foster care system has taught us, however, that the bill’s passage is only one step forward in a long march to overhaul the foster care system to create homes of healing for Oregon’s most vulnerable youth. On any given day, Oregon has approximately 8,700 youth in foster care across the state, and we need to do so much better as a state in caring for these youth.

Most importantly, we need to attract more and retain good foster parents. We can do so by giving them more respect, autonomy and quality training to learn how to interact with emotionally distressed children.

In some areas of the globe, including the United Kingdom, individuals can actually make foster parenting a career, where they gain expert knowledge in how to care for foster youth, and they earn a living wage to provide homes of healing for youth until they are reunited with their families or adopted.

In this country, we ask individuals to be a foster parent out of the goodness of their hearts, and we are surprised that the drop-out rate for foster parents is so high when we don’t give them adequate resources.

It’s time we make a change. We may not need to make foster parenting a career, but we can invest a great deal more in

foster youth and in improving our foster care system so that we can break the cycle of

child abuse that persists in

our society.

Join us in this endeavor by contacting Children First for Oregon or the Oregon Foster Parent Association to see how you can help to make Oregon’s foster homes true homes of healing. Call your Oregon state senator and representative to demand we invest more in foster youth, and consider making the commitment of becoming a foster parent.

It won’t be the easiest thing you do, but seeing the positive impact you can make on the life of a foster child is one of the most fulfilling experiences we have ever had.

State Sen. Chip Shields represents North and Northeast Portland. Shelda Holmes is a family nurse practitioner with a primary care clinic, Hands On Medicine, that serves many foster children.

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