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Adding a Non-Discrimination Clause to the Rhode Island Children’s Bill of Rights

Update: Victory! The Rhode Island House passed the bill June 24 and the governor has signed it into law!

Read testimony submitted by GLAD's Youth Initiative Director Vickie Henry

June18, 2015 Rhode Island Action Alert

Rhode Island House Speaker Mattiello is holding up the addition of a non-discrimination clause to the Children's Bill of Rights for kids in DCYF care. The Senate version passed the Senate unanimously and was called a "no brainer" by the ACLU and the HEW committee members. In fact, throughout the hearing people seemed surprised to learn that this was not already included in that document. Both bills are now sitting in the HEW committee.

Please call the Speaker at 222-2466 and express support for H5586. This is not an LGBTQ specific bill but it does include sexual orientaiton and gender identity and expression in the language.

That language may be part of why the speaker is holding up the bill. Please reinforce that this is about ALL kids having knowledge of the rights that they already have. And it is important to also note that the Massachusetts Children's Bill or Rights lists their non-discrimination clause as item #1.

The bill sponsors are: Diaz, Slater, Ruggiero, Tanzi, Maldonado  and the bill proposes adding the following language:

(q)  No child shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with an individual orgroup who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics.

Why Add Nondiscrimination Language to Children’s Bill of Rights?

•   The Children’s Bill of Rights is a document given to children who come into DCYF care to explain all the rights they have within the child welfare system. The right to be free from discrimination is the most fundamental right they have and should be added.

•   The nondiscrimination language proposed for the Children’s Bill of Rights includes only protected classes that are currently included in Rhode Island State law. Including it in this document insures youth know that this law exists and that they are protected by it.

•   The children within the child welfare system are already a vulnerable population and need to know they will be protected against all forms of discrimination. Seeing nondiscrimination language within their Bill of Rights shows them that the state is paying attention to their treatment.

•   Children from minority populations have often faced discrimination in other settings and need to know they will be respected within state care.

•   All child welfare experts and agencies agree this is important for children in state care including the Department for Children, Youth and Families, the Child Advocates Office, Family Services, Child and Family Services, Adoption RI, Foster Forward, and St. Mary’s Home for Children among others.

•  Expressly informing youth of their rights might provide some protection to the state from liability for damage claims. This is for two major reasons: 1) it reminds staff of their obligations; and 2) it helps youth self-advocate and avoid the need for legal action.

•   The Massachusetts’ Foster Children’s Bill of Rights includes nondiscrimination language as their first bullet point.