This legislative session, Connecticut Voices for Children has been working with youth advocates in support of a bill (Senate Bill 156) that would strengthen sibling rights for children in the care of the Department of Children and Families. Ideally, all children in out-of-home care would be placed together with their brothers and sisters unless such placement is not in their best interest. The bill would require that, in situations where placing all members of a sibling group together is impossible, DCF should provide for frequent (at least weekly) visitation to help sustain sibling bonds.
Senate Bill 156 was approved yesterday by a unanimous vote of the Senate and now goes to the House for consideration. Yesterday morning, our executive director, Jamey Bell, spoke at a press conference at the State Capitol with legislative supporters of the bill, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, and Alixes Rosado, a youth advocate. (Alixes was also one of the panelists at Foster Youth Capitol Day, an event that Connecticut Voices co-sponsored with Rep. Toni Walker and Rep. Peter Tercyak last October, which was presented with the support of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.) Watch some highlights of the press conference below:
We would like to thank the bipartisan group of legislators in the Senate and the House who have provided leadership on this bill—including Sen. Terry Gerratana, Rep. Diana Urban, Rep. Toni Walker, Rep. Lile Gibbons, Sen. Len Fasano, Sen. Toni Harp, Sen. Don Williams. Sen. Martin Looney, Sen. Len Suzio, Rep. Terrie Wood, and many others—as well as Commissioner Joette Katz of DCF, who has championed this issue as part of the agency’s shift to family-centered practice.
The groundswell of support for the bill in the General Assembly comes after youth advocates took their ideas about improving sibling rights directly to legislative leaders and Commissioner Katz. Just one example is a letter that one young woman wrote to the Select Committee on Children, which was read at the public hearing on the bill by her older sister:
“At the age of twelve I was separated from my sister, the only person who had remained consistent in my life. Though the circumstances were undesirable, my at-the-time social worker assured me she would take me to visit my sister at least once a month. In the year to follow I saw my sister around three times…The thought that there are other kids out there who might be in this same situation truly breaks my heart. My sister is my best friend. Visits between siblings should not be a privilege.”
Rep. Diana Urban, co-chair of the Committee, summed up the feelings of many in attendance at the hearing, when she told the young people testifying that “your voice — the voice of someone who is going through this is so incredibly strong and it makes a very big difference to us, so thank you for doing this.”
In respectfully urging the House to pass this bill before the legislative session ends on May 9th, we can only echo the words of another young person, Sixto Cancel of Bridgeport. As Sixto wrote to the Committee, describing his lost relationship with his brothers, “Sometimes there is no later. We need our siblings now.”