Home Official News Releases Foster Children Work with Drake Law Students to Pass Unique Sibling Visitation Law in Iowa

Foster Children Work with Drake Law Students to Pass Unique Sibling Visitation Law in Iowa

Jerry Foxhoven

CONTACT: Jerry Foxhoven, 515-271-2073, jerry.foxhoven@drake.edu; Lisa Lacher, 515-271-3119, lisa.lacher@drake.edu

Law school students and faculty at Drake University are trying to improve Children’s Rights in Iowa by trying out a novel idea — asking foster children themselves what laws need to be changed to better protect them, and then enlisting those foster children to lobby lawmakers to pass that legislation.

The legislation the foster children and law students are working to get passed would mandate visitation rights for siblings who are split up and placed into foster homes, and ensure that foster parents receive training about the need to accommodate those visits.

Jerry Foxhoven, director of the Middleton Center for Children’s Rights at Drake Law School and the former executive officer of the Iowa Child Advocacy Board, said ensuring sibling visitation rights was by far the most important issue that emerged in conversations with more than 100 foster children in the Greater Des Moines area.

“It was absolutely unanimous that they wanted to do something on this issue,” Foxhoven says.

If the bill passes, Iowa would be one of the few states in the nation to legally guarantee children the right to visit each other if they are split up by the courts.

Very few states have sibling visitation laws,” he says. “Most would say ‘We try to do that already.’ The young people we’ve worked with are saying states need to do more than try. They want to know why they’re not being given regular visitation with their siblings, and they think foster parents need training to make sure those visits happen.”

Although courts try to keep children together when they are taken away from their parents and placed in foster homes. “We forget that focus when siblings are separated.”

California is the only other state Foxhoven is aware of that has a sibling visitation law, and Iowa is the only one that will have foster children themselves lobbying for the proposed legislation, which he estimates has a 90 percent chance of passing.

Foxhoven doesn’t limit using foster children to lobby legislators. Recognizing that children evoke sympathy and empathy in a juvenile justice system that often depersonalizes them, he also deploys them strategically in other settings, having them deliver presentations to judges, social workers, teachers and anyone else who works with children in the legal system.