JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Kids just want to be kids, but for Florida's 19,000 foster kids it's not always that easy.
State laws regulating reporting among Florida's foster parents often make it difficult for foster kids to live normal lives.
"Sometimes the best intentions with some laws may unfortunately create problematic situations in real life," says John Harrell, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families.
Harrell says the long list of laws to keep foster kids safe from abuse and neglect had good intentions, but instead keeps them from going to sleepovers, birthday parties, field trips and joining sports teams unless the state approves first.
"It's ridiculous that you would have to have red tape and that you need to have a bunch of things signed in order to allow these kids to be kids!"
Clay County foster mom Serena Quade says she needs approval to take her 1-year-old foster daughter to do almost anything. "Haircuts, ear piercings - pretty much anything that you want to do requires permission from somebody."
Quade says the foster agency she works with is easily accessible, but she knows other foster parents who have complained that restrictions are especially hard on teens. They can't travel, get a job, or go on a date without permission, which makes it hard for foster parents to teach them independence and structure.
Harrell says that's been a challenge that DCF has been working to remove in order to encourage more foster parenting throughout the state.
Currently, there are 2,500 foster kids in northeast Florida, and 35 percent of them stay with guardians not related to them. Teens are the hardest group to place in foster care.
"If we're trying to encourage people to become foster parents, which we are especially for teens, we need to eliminate the red tape that causes so much hassle."
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign what's called the "normalcy bill," to allow parents like Quade to make routine decisions for her foster daughter without having to go through all the red tape.
"These kids have come from very tough situations, and don't know a normal life. This will help us prepare them for the future, so they can see how different families live and how things are supposed to be."
For more information on DCF's new initiatives to encourage people to become foster parents go to www.fosteringflorida.com.
Event Note: Jacksonville's Foster Closet will hold its annual benefit "Have Tea with Me" on Saturday, April 20, from noon to 2 p.m. at Jacksonville Golf & Country Club.
Foster Closet enables foster parents and relative and non-relative placements in Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Baker and Nassau counties to "shop for free" for gently-used clothing from infant through adults sizes, shoes, books, toys, cribs, car seats, etc. to help take care of the foster children entrusted to them.
For more information, visit www.fostercloset.org or call (904) 382-5959.