Bill would ban smoking in foster homes with infants

No more smoking in foster homes?

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Smoking in foster homes is a complaint that State Rep. Patricia Cotham says she's heard over the years from children in foster care. So the legislator from District 100 in Mecklenburg County is co-sponsoring House Bill 580, which would ban smoking in foster care settings where there's an infant {child less than 1 year old}.

"Pretty simply I think babies and smoking are not a good mix," Rep. Cotham says. "And the state of North Carolina needs to protect our children - those who are in foster care because they are wards of the state."

Rep. Cotham says babies' exposure to second hand smoke make them vulnerable to "higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome or other respiratory problems for the rest of their lives."

Terrence Massey understands the idea behind the bill.

He and his husband, Clifford, have a 2-year-old foster daughter.

"We do know the challenges that arise with having infants," Massey says. "And when you're talking about smoking, and the infant being exposed to different elements - smoking is the one thing I think as foster parents you shouldn't allow your child - infant or any child for that matter - to be exposed to smoke."

Massey says they're not allowed to have smoking in their home. They live in Mecklenburg County and work with a private social service agency. Counties and private agencies have their own rules about smoking in foster homes.

Rep. Cotham believes there needs to be one standard policy. She's hoping the bill will come up for a full vote in the next week.

If the bill passes, the state's Social Service Commission would adopt a policy banning smoking in foster homes with infants.

Even though it makes sense to him, Massey says he has some concerns about the bill.

"I don't think it's something the government should be saying. I really feel it's up to DSS and the agency. I think it should stay on the agency level more so than the government level" he says.

Rep. Cotham says she understands the sensitivity of government telling people what to do in their own homes.

"I think it becomes different when these children are in our custody," Rep Cotham says. "We as legislators are responsible for them and if we are paying you to provide a service from the state, we should have some expectation."

According to state numbers, there are about 11,000 children in foster care. It's unclear how many are infants.

Could the bill make it even more difficult to find homes for foster children?

"That's something that is always said. There's no national research that really backs that up," Rep Cotham says. "When we're talking about infants we have to have some extra precautions. I think already in place we don't just give infants to anyone and so I think we owe these children the very best we can give them and we need to protect their health as well."

"I think if the Government steps in and passes a law or bill, it will prohibit children from finding good homes," Massey says. "I think if you're going to smoke, it needs to be outside. It doesn't need to be in the presence of the infant or the child. I believe a lot of people will not want to be foster parents if that does occur."

How would a smoking ban in foster homes be enforced?

Rep. Cotham says "if anyone comes in and does a pop up visit, which does happen, it would be pretty easy to detect. But it's also very important to be part of the initial screening process to ask the question, do you smoke? And, if they do - the state would have to have rules how they would handle that."

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