HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Current and former foster youth helped shape legislation that Gov. David Ige will sign into law on Thursday.
The Bill of Rights for children in Hawaii's foster care system will replace the current guiding principles and provide certain additional rights.
Cheyenne Brock-Kuanoni, 24, spent most of her childhood in foster care. She was separated from her family in Kona when she was 5 and was placed in 6 different homes before she aged out of the system at 18.
"My mom, she was using drugs, so that's the main reason that I was in care, and possible neglect," said Brock-Kuanoni, who now works for West Hawaii Child Welfare Services.
She is also part of a HI H.O.P.E.S. (Hawaii Helping Our People Envision Success) youth leadership board comprised of current and former foster children.
Members led the effort to create the Bill of Rights, which brings together existing federal, state and department policies. The legislation also spells out rights such as being able to attend court hearings, request an attorney, and access transportation to stay in the same school.
"I had some good times and some bad times in care," said Brock-Kuanoni. "I'm really passionate about helping the foster youth now."
From state fiscal year 2004 to state fiscal year 2013, the number of foster youth in Hawaii dropped dramatically, from more than 5,353 to 2,180. Since then, the figure has slowly been rising each year, and the state Department of Human Services is trying to figure out why.
"Some of the early data shows that parents using substances and who have newborns or children before the age of 1, that those children were coming into care in certain neighbor island communities at greater rates," said Rachel Thorburn, CWS assistant program administrator.
During the last five years, the neighbor islands saw significant increases in the number foster care children, with West Hawaii's figure more than doubling from 123 to 254.
DHS officials are looking at adjusting resources and trying to expedite hiring for its CWS branch to help ease staffing shortages and overwhelming caseloads.
Even with all the challenges, Brock-Kuanoni said she loves her job offering support and compassion to youth whose lives have been turned upside down.
"We come into the system at no fault of our own and I really want people to know that beneath our tough exteriors is a really fragile person. We experience a lot of loss in foster care," she said.