NDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana lawmaker plans to reintroduce a bill that would appoint children in the foster system an attorney.
“The system right now is not child-centered,” said Braelynn Yerington, a former foster parent who started the advocacy organization Champions for Children.
Yerington has cared for four children through the foster system, none of whom had their own attorney.
Adopting one of those children took five years, she said.
“It’s just very unsettling for a child to be in limbo,” Yerington said. “So we have a case that drags on that long, it wears on them horribly.”
That’s why Yerington is pushing lawmakers to pass a bill that would appoint kids in the foster system an attorney.
“This can save a lot of money,” said State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), who is writing the bill. “This can speed up the process for kids in foster care to get to permanency.”
The bill passed the Senate unanimously last session but didn’t get over the finish line in the House. Ford said he feels more optimistic this year after lawmakers studied the issue over the summer and are now working on a new two-year state budget.
The bill would apply to all foster children age 12 and up, Ford said.
“Really the debate comes down to when is a child old enough to really know, is competent to make their own decisions,” Ford said. “And so legally in juvenile cases it’s 12.”
Those who work with foster children say a lawyer can sometimes help in ways other advocates can’t.
“At a certain age, children have opinions of their own,” said Nicole Goodson of Kids’ Voice of Indiana, which provides advocacy services to foster children in Marion County. “What the best interest advocate thinks might be different than what the child thinks.”
The state is still working on estimates for how many children would be served by this program and how much it would cost the state, Ford said.