Collaboration is one of Family Advocates’ four core values. In the field of public policy and non-profit administration, collaboration can be difficult to do well. It is a process that takes time and resources from agencies and officials who typically run thin on both. However, the benefit of the process of true collaboration, where multiple parties come together to achieve a higher goal, is that something new is born, something that could not have been done by a single entity acting alone.
In the 2019 Legislative session, Family Advocates and Idaho Voices for Children began their collaboration by organizing the First Annual Foster Care Awareness Day along with Casey Family Programs. Over 250 people turned out to our state capitol to show their interest and support, speak with legislators about their issues and listen to a panel of foster youth discuss their experiences and desires within the system. Governor Brad Little proclaimed February 28th officially, Foster Care Awareness Day! This was just the beginning.
During the 2018 Legislative session, Idaho Voices for Children sponsored Senate Bill 1341 which made key changes to the foster care system, including the establishment of a legislative over-sight committee and a citizen review panel. This legislative session, Idaho Voices for Children went on the defensive and lobbied to stop House Bill 170, which would require social workers to read parents their rights before they conduct an investigation thus increasing the likelihood that any abuse or neglect present would continue to occur or intensify and impede prevention efforts. This bill was supported by an unnamed group who filled the House hearing room with young men who employed physical intimidation tactics to create a hostile and threatening environment. The bill was opposed by police officers, social workers and child protection judges but HB170 passed in the House. In the Senate, Idaho Voices for Children knew they needed to take action but also keep vulnerable populations away from testifying because of their potentially aggressive opponents. Instead they packed the house with police officers and credible child welfare workers who testified against the bill. HB170 was sent back to committee. These are just two examples of how this organization has taken on protecting children through mobilizing members of the community and employing political process expertise and strategy to influence legislative action.
The focus for Family Advocates and Idaho Voices for Children in the 2020 Legislative Session will be working to get Idaho’s CASA Program fully funded. Statewide we need six million dollars and a complete overhaul of our statute and standards to adequately represent all children in care. The entire state is currently operating the program with just over one million dollars in state funds and last year 3,323 children were in care- YIKES. In 2017, the Office of Performance Evaluations released a study outlining the gaps in representation and the needs specific to our state. We encourage you to check out the full report.
Children are our most vulnerable population and as such it is critical that they are represented in our most powerful systems; this is the common ground upon which Idaho Voices for Children and Family Advocates stand. Family Advocates recruits and trains citizen volunteers to represent children in foster care in court. Idaho Voices for Children educates and lobbies for legislation on behalf of children and the families who nurture them. In the coming year, our organizations will work together on big changes to move us closer to our goal that every child in foster care is represented in court, something we cannot do alone.