‘Children really need a team’: Indiana lawmakers consider giving all foster children an attorney

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would appoint all children in foster care an attorney.

Senate Bill 180 passed the Senate family and children services committee Monday. It now heads to the Senate appropriations committee before it could be voted on by the full Senate.

“Growing up in foster care, it can be a little scary and lonely at times,” said Joshua Oswald, who spent 18 years in Indiana’s foster care system, living in 18 different homes.

Oswald said he believes the proposal introduced at the Statehouse this session could have made a difference for him.

“Children really need a team and a complete team that ensures that their legal rights are protected and a team that can help them get what they need to be safe and healthy,” Oswald said.

It’s a proposal several Indiana foster parents championed during Monday’s committee hearing on the bill.

“We were fortunate enough to have the resources to fund this battle, which ended up being tens of thousands of dollars,” said Braelynn Yerington, a foster parent. “Most foster parents I’ve spoken to cannot afford this.”

State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), who wrote the bill, said his goal is to help get kids out of the foster system and into permanent homes more quickly.

“What we’ve found in other states, it really speeds up the process,” Ford explained. “So states that have an attorney for each child in their system cuts it down by half, which here in Indiana, could cut it down to two years.”

“This has been a nationwide push for many, many years,” said Carey Haley Wong, chief legal counsel for Child Advocates, Inc., who previously worked for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

“With what I’ve seen in other states, the most important factors are that there are enough attorneys and that the attorneys are good and trained and committed to the work and that there are things like caseload standards,” she added.

During Monday’s hearing, some raised concerns about funding and implementation at the local level.

“If I have to try to get more attorneys to represent children, it’s going to be almost impossible to meet that capacity right now,” said Faith Graham, juvenile court judge for Tippecanoe County.

Ford acknowledged he’s still working out details of how the proposal would be funded, saying it could be a combination of state and federal money.

“I’m very open and collaborative to work with other folks including Judge Graham and other parties, stakeholders involved in the child welfare system,” Ford said.

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