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State senator pushes bill to give children in foster care more normal lives

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A local state senator is pushing for a bill that aimed at helping foster children lead more normal lives.

Currently, many children, especially those that live in group homes, are not allowed to do simple things like go to the beach, have sleepovers, or go on school trips. In many cases it comes down to in issue of liability.

"You feel like the walls are closing in on you," said Ebonie Thrower, 18, who was once in foster care.
 
Thrower entered the foster care system at age 15.

"My mom went through a really tough divorce, and all of a sudden she decided she didn't want to be a mom anymore," said Thrower.

Thrower said that what made a tough situation worse was that her group home felt more like a prison. Just to go to the mall with friends required special permission from a committee.

"People want to know, 'Why? Why can't you do the things I do?'" she said.

The state of Florida contracts nonprofit providers to oversee foster parents and group homes to make sure kids stay safe. But the way the law is written now, just about any activity could be seen as a legal risk or a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Right now providers have to weigh safety over normalcy. So safety usually wins out over something normal like riding a boat, having a sleepover, or getting a driver's license.

Thrower said she was not even allowed to go on a tour of colleges.

"It's embarrassing. It's a hurt moment," said Thrower.

Lynn Sennett was Thrower's volunteer legal advocate. She hopes lawmakers will pass a bill that will allow caregivers to do what she says a reasonable and prudent parent would do.

"We have to negotiate and give foster parents a little more flexibility to parent like a normal parent," said Sennett.

If not, those in foster care will continue to miss out on more than having parents.

"I missed out on a lot of school events. I missed out on a lot of friendships," said Thrower.

The proposal is called the Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act.

Lawmakers will consider it in two weeks.