S1034/A1357, a new bill from New Jersey that establishes the New Jersey Siblings’ Bill of Rights, amends the Child Placement Bill of Rights by adding a number of elements to improve sibling connections within the child welfare system and after placement.
The law intends to ensure that the department supports siblings who join the Child Welfare System and wish to continue their contact throughout placement. The bill recognises that children placed outside their homes have several rights related to maintaining sibling relationships, including the right to remain actively involved in their siblings’ lives and, where appropriate, to have their voices heard in the permanency planning process for their siblings.
In January 2020, the Office of Family Voice (OFV) of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) assembled a Youth Council consisting of 24 people ages 14 to 23 who are or have been involved with one of DCF’s programmes (such as Child Protection & Permanency or the Children’s System of Care).
The Youth Council identified challenges and objectives based on the lived experience of child welfare-involved youth during these meetings. The Youth Council’s leaders continually emphasised the importance of sibling connections for sustaining stability and assuring future success.
The NJ Governor and Legislature received suggestions from the Youth Council, which were emphasised in a video presentation by the Council to legislators.
In addition to creating the right for siblings to preserve their relationship and to have input into the permanency planning for their siblings, the bill includes 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.
Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera are the primary sponsors for this legislation. Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, and Assemblywoman Lisa Swain are also principal sponsors.