New Bill Establishes NJ Siblings Bill of Rights
A new bill out of New Jersey, S1034/A1357, establishing the New Jersey Siblings’ Bill of Rights, supplements the Child Placement Bill of Rights by adding a number of provisions to strengthen sibling bonds in the child welfare system and during placement.
The bill aims to ensure that siblings who enter the Child Welfare System and wish to maintain their relationship are supported by the department during placement. The bill recognizes that children placed outside their homes have several rights related to maintaining sibling relationships, including the rights to remain actively involved in the lives of their siblings, and, where appropriate, have their voices heard in the permanency planning process for their siblings.
“By establishing the New Jersey Siblings’ Bill of Rights, we are acting in the best interest of children involved in the state’s child welfare system,” said Assemblywomen Gabriela Mosquera, Carol Murphy, and Lisa Swain in a joint statement. “Ensuring children can maintain relationships with their siblings, arguably the people who best understand what they are going through, we can provide them with more stability and the possibility of invaluable, life-long family connections.”
In January 2020, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Office of Family Voice (OFV) convened a Youth Council consisting of 24 members ages 14-23 who are or were previously involved with one of DCFs programs (such as Child Protection & Permanency or the Children’s System of Care).
During these convenings, the Youth Council identified issues and priorities based on the lived experience of child-welfare-involved youth. The leaders of the Youth Council consistently stressed that sibling relationships were crucial for maintaining stability and ensuring future success.
The Youth Council developed recommendations that were shared with the NJ Governor and Legislature and highlighted in a video presentation from the Council to legislators.
"Sibling relationships are often lifetime relationships, and are important to give youth -- and adults -- a sense of stability, or connection to someone who's shared a big part of your history," said Jack Auzinger, another member of the DCF Youth Council who helped to develop the bill. "New Jersey has taken a stance on sibling rights -- that they matter, they exist, and this is now the law."
In addition to establishing the right for siblings to maintain their relationship and have a say in their siblings’ permanency planning, the bill also adds the following rights for children placed outside their homes:
- To have access to phone calls and virtual visits between face-to-face visits with their sibling;
- To be placed in the closest proximity possible to other siblings who are not in out-of-home placement or if placement together is not possible, when it is in the best interests of the child;
- To have the recommendations and wishes of the child and of each sibling who participates in the permanency planning decision documented in the DCF case record and provided to the court;
- To know, or be made aware by DCF, of expectations for continued contact with the child’s siblings after adoption or transfer of custody, subject to the approval of the adoptive parents or caregiver;
- To be promptly informed about changes in sibling placements or permanency planning goals;
- To be actively involved in the lives of the child’s siblings, e.g., birthdays, holidays, and other milestones;
- To not be denied sibling visits as a result of behavioral consequences when residing in a resource family home or congregate care setting; and
- To be provided updated contact information for all siblings at least annually, including a current telephone number, address, and email address, unless not in the best interests of one or more siblings.
“Family separation is a very traumatic experience for children,” said Senate Majority Leader Ruiz. “Keeping siblings together when their worlds are shifting so dramatically is critical to providing both comfort and emotional support as they grapple with the challenges of their new circumstances.”
The first prime sponsors for this bill are Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera. Other prime sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, and Assemblywoman Lisa Swain.
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