BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts could become home to the first union to successfully represent foster parents.

SEIU 509 announced plans Thursday to unionize thousands of foster parents across the state.

Union officials say that while foster parents provide nurturing and compassion, they also require the critical skills needed to guide a child who has experienced abuse and neglect.

“These families are undervalued and under resourced,” Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU 509 said in a press release. "Like every essential worker, foster parents need a collective voice at the table fighting for them.”

MacKinnon said the need for union representation for foster parents is even more critical given the ongoing pandemic.

Besides remote learning and technology demands, foster parents must safely navigate COVID-19 behavioral and mental health care, virtual and in-person visits with biological parents, and appointments with social workers to ensure children are getting the support they need.

Many foster parents are also taking on the added cost of personal protective equipment and sanitation materials to keep their homes safe and healthy, he said.

SEIU 509 and hundreds of foster parents are planning to deliver a series of COVID-19-related demands to Gov. Charlie Baker and members of his administration including: free and accessible testing and personal protective equipment; planning for what will happen if a foster parent, foster child, or biological parent is infected with coronavirus; and doubling the daily reimbursement for foster parents to cover expenses incurred while supporting their foster children.

Democratic state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said she plans to introduce legislation next year to allow SEIU 509 to formally negotiate with the state on behalf of foster parents.

“Giving foster parents the opportunity to unionize will provide them a seat at the table to advocate as a group for things that impact them and the children they care for," she said.

There was an effort in 2006 to unionize foster parents in Washington state, but it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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