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2/26/2024 Op-Ed: Our foster kids still need our help
By Rep. Julie A. Casimiro, Darlene Allen and Beth Lemme-Bixby

In 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation that monitors the graduation and achievement rates of kids in state care.  What we have learned is that there is a long way to go to help our foster children achieve academic success, and that it will take all of us to help them if we want them to enter higher education or a productive trade. Less than 50% of foster children graduate high school in four years and only 1-3% achieve a college degree. The long-term individual and societal economic implications are staggering. To create change, we need to address the barriers and root causes that perpetuate these poor outcomes.

We have listened to the voices of children and young adults impacted by our juvenile justice and foster care systems and the families who care for them. Supporting these youth is an utmost priority for us and we are committed to change. We hope to pass legislation that improves the Foster Parents Bill of Rights by giving foster parents more support and allowing grievances to be filed with the Office of the Child Advocate.  This would provide stronger backing for foster parents which will hopefully attract and retain more desperately needed foster families to care for the kids in state care.

Also, this year we hope to make many improvements for kids in state care that will help address challenges and barriers to their ability to learn, develop, and become productive adult residents, including:
  • Tuition waiver assistance that includes housing, a huge obstacle for kids aging out of state care.  A pilot program will be tested this year at Rhode Island College.
  • Free driver training, free driver’s licenses and free RIPTA bus passes for kids aging out of care to help get them to school and/or work.
  • Creating a work group to investigate federal Title IV dollars to help with tuition costs for social workers to attend RIC and then commit to the many front-line openings that have plagued DCYF for years.
  • Legislation addressing the excessive caseloads of DCYF case workers, and support of sufficient resources for the community-based providers and their workforce, to better serve the kids in state care.
  • And finally, legislation that addresses periodic needs assessments for kids and families involved with DCYF for child welfare, children’s behavioral health and/or juvenile justice services to ensure we are effectively meeting their needs. 
It is through this “it takes a village” approach, which includes foster parents, educators, legislators, advocates, and so many more, that we will be able to better prepare these kids to be the best they can be. Supporting them to become contributing members of our economy, who are self-sufficient and professionally successful adults is the right thing to do. We must invest in their future success now so that the state doesn’t have to devote the significant dollars needed if they become homeless, substance addicted, incarcerated or worse.  

Let’s do the right thing and provide the help and support that our foster kids desperately need.

Representative Casimiro, a Democrat, represents District 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter.  She serves as the Chair of the House Oversight Children and Families Subcommittee.  Darlene Allen is the CEO and Executive Director of Adoption Rhode Island.  Beth Lemme-Bixby is the Chief Executive Officer of Tides Family Services.

For more information, contact:
Andrew Caruolo, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903