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Hair-care plans for foster children sparks debate in Illinois Senate

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(The Center Square) – Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, couldn’t say if required hair-care plans for foster children would come at a new cost to the state or the foster parent.

The haircare plan legislation in House Bill 5097 would, according to Simmons, require every child in the foster care system to have a hair-care plan that accounts for their racial, gender, cultural, religious or other identities. The case worker has to discuss the hair-care plan with the child monthly and the child is the one who must develop and be consulted on the hair-care plan.

As amended by the Senate, state Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said the measure is “broad” but ultimately voted in support of the bill.

“The bill is written very broadly, so it could include hair color, removal or even microblading for brows. Who is responsible for that cost? Is it the foster parent in the allotment that they are given or is it the state? I don’t know a foster parent who doesn’t run out of money by the end of the month and then add their own dollars into that,” Bryant sad on the Senate floor Friday. “Can you tell me who the cost would be incurred to?”

Simmons explained that the Department of Children and Family Services Youth Advisory Board is in charge of working with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to create rules and ultimately once those are made, the answer to Bryant’s question will be answered.

“It is an opt-in for the youth that are in care,” said Simmons. “Any young person who is in care can decide if they need a hair-care plan or any young person can decide if they do need a hair-care plan. It is impossible to estimate the cost because we don’t know how many youth would want to participate or how many free options would be made available to them. The youth advisory board at DCFS will be working with JCAR to promulgate the rules for this.”

Bryant asked again for the sponsor’s intent of who would pick up the cost of providing a hair-care plan.

“I want to know if this is going to hinder us from having additional foster care parents. Is it your intent that someone could go get microblading, hair removal? As JCAR is making up these rules … what is your intent?” asked Bryant.

Simmons said his intent is to respect the intent of the youth that are in care.

Bryant expressed her support but then urged Simmons and the Senate to look at her House Bill 4241, which came from her youth advisory council, to provide criminal penalties for teachers convicted of having sexual relationships with students 18 or older.

Republicans on the Senate floor echoed the sentiment surrounding the old saying, “care more about what’s in your head than what’s on it.”

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Cherry Valley, said there’s going to be a cost and said the legislature’s focus should be working with foster parents in building a child’s inner self image. He suggested maybe the legislature consider offering a tutoring plan.

“We are going to teach children in grade school that hair-care plays, as the legislation puts it, are an important role in a child’s identity and self worth,” said Syverson. “Being taught that self worth is based on external items such as hair, clothes or the right shoes is what’s creating emotionally and mentally shallow children. It’s no wonder why so many children are suffering from self esteem, depression and feeling of self worth.”

Syverson said the legislature should be more focused on getting more Illinois children to read and do math at grade level. Illinois’ 2023 Report Card shows that 65% of the state’s 1.86 million public school children can’t read at grade level.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said there’s nothing wrong if a child in the system wants to continue sporting a “punked-out look” with a mohawk, blue or purple hair.

“If that person says, ‘don’t cut my hair because it’s my strength,’ then don’t cut the child’s hair,” said Lightford.

HB5097 passed with only nine senators voting “no” and awaits further action in the House.