Newspaper article Roll Call

Wilson: A Plea for Action to Protect Foster Children

Newspaper article Roll Call

Wilson: A Plea for Action to Protect Foster Children

Article excerpt

Protecting children is our society"s most sacred obligation.

President Barack Obama eloquently affirmed this principle in his speeches in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. But every parent in America feels this instinctively in his or her heart.

This is why - as a parent and educator - I was so deeply shaken 12 years ago when a beautiful 4-year-old girl in the custody of the foster care system went missing in my own community. Rilya Wilson"s foster mother, Geralyn Graham, continued to collect payments from the Florida Department of Children and Families for 15 months after her disappearance, during which time the agency never knew the little girl"s whereabouts. When Rilya"s disappearance finally was discovered by DCF, it took a full week to report her missing to local authorities. Rilya has never been found.

With this week"s conclusion of her murder trial, I will be reintroducing the Rilya Wilson Act, a bipartisan bill that will increase state and federal officials" cooperation, transparency and vigilance to protect the lives of children in foster care.

Rilya"s tragic case brings a serious national problem into focus. Foster children continue to go missing at much higher rates than their peers, and their disappearances tend to go unreported for much longer periods of time. Currently, only two states have procedures in place to ensure that their child welfare agencies report known missing children and work with law enforcement agencies to find them.

During my time in Florida"s Legislature, I was proud to pass the state"s Rilya Wilson Act to ensure, among other objectives, that children in DCF custody attend school.

If a child in Florida DCF care is reported as absent from school, the school is now obligated under the law to report the absence to the child"s caseworker. The caseworker is then obligated to visit the child and determine whether the child is within the custody of a proper guardian. …

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