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N.H. Lawmaker Wants To Create Bill Of Rights For Foster Parents

Peter Biello

After spending two years as a foster parent, first-term state representative Sean Morrison is concerned about what he says is a lack of rights for foster families in the child protective services system.

The Epping Republican and his wife foster two children.

He is proposing legislation to create what he calls a foster parent bill of rights.

He spoke to NHPR’s Morning Edition about his proposal.

You’ve been a foster parent for two years now, and just added your second foster child to the family. Why did you choose to become a foster parent?

Actually, we just wanted to help children. I had always intended to do that. We have two children of our own, but it was really just to help children.

As a foster parent yourself and someone who’s seen the system from the inside, what is the role of a foster parent exactly and how does DCYF and the court see it?

Well, I don’t think DCYF and the court see it as important as it is. Frankly, nobody involved in any of these cases see the children more than foster parents or have more of an impact while the child is placed with foster parents, which is why I think we need a specific bill of rights.

What would this bill of rights look like?

It’s going to be an enumerated bill of rights. It’s currently being worked on by a number of representatives, and I’ve invited some senators, as well. But it’s going to be an enumerated list of rights that I would like to see made law so that there’s no misinterpretation and there’s actually ramifications if they’re not followed.

Would this bill of rights actually create new legal standing for foster parents?

That is indeed the goal. In fact, in speaking with a foster parent recently, I’ve discovered that the foster parents essentially have no standing in the courtroom while these cases are being heard. Historically, foster parents have had no say. It seems to me to be a lack of respect for foster parents and the role that they play in the process. 

The state is facing a severe shortage of foster parents, correct?

Yes. I recently heard a statistic that there’s been an increase of 35 percent of cases involving drug issues. I’m a firefighter and paramedic, so I see to the opioid crisis up close and personal. But there’s been an increase of about 35 percent, and since 2014, we have lost approximately 270 foster homes in the state. We were at more than 800, and now we’re around 600.

So at a time when foster parents are needed more than ever, why isn’t there more interest?

It’s very difficult to be a foster parent in the state of New Hampshire. Again, I allude back to basic respect. Anybody that gets involved or wishes to be a foster parent in the state certainly isn’t doing it for the money. I think it’s $15 a day per child. They’re doing it because they care about the children, and I think seeing how the system really works, I think that discourages people. A lot of people may try it once or twice, and then they get fed up with it.

Are other states doing it better and what are they doing that we should be doing?

I think they’re adhering to laws better. I think that they have more laws. In fact, according to a Casey study that came out in 2014 I believe, New Hampshire is third worst in the country when considering recidivism of children who initially enter child protective services, and then are put right back in within one year. We’re third worst in the country, so obviously many states are doing things better than we are right now.

So what happens from here? What are the prospects for this bill of rights?

I hope the prospects are good. I think the governor is proactive on this issue. I think it’s hard not to be when you see weekly stories in the newspaper about how it’s really going. So I’m hopeful. I’m also tenacious. I’m not going to just let this go away; whether I’m a state representative or not, I’m going to continue work on this. Frankly, it’s absolutely necessary changes happen.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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