“I didn’t decide to run because I needed the position, it needed me,” says Representative Sarah Stevens, Speaker Pro Tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives.
Representative Stevens is a longtime attorney and a Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly who represents Alleghany, Surry, and Wilkes Counties in the 90th District. She is serving in her 6th term.
Since becoming only the second woman to take on the role of House Speaker Pro Tempore, Representative Stevens has worked to mentor freshman members in the House of Representatives to become acclimated as successful legislators and ensure their effectiveness in the General Assembly. Holding one of the top four leadership positions in the chamber, she meets with members of the House on a weekly basis to discuss bills being introduced in the legislature, to share best strategies for meeting the needs of constituents, and to foster strong relationships among members.
Representative Stevens, a career family law attorney, found a natural path in the House as a tireless advocate for children and their families. Serving as Chair of the Judiciary Committee and previously chairing the Children, Youth and Families Committee, Representative Stevens has worked closely for the past eight years on making meaningful changes to the child welfare system. Discovering a point of frustration with the law regarding foster care children, she notes that while a parent who is taking care of a foster child could raise and provide a home for this child, they could not grant them permission to engage in everyday activities essential for their development, such as participating in sports, attending after-school functions like the prom, or going to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Decisions regarding the child’s wellbeing had to be checked and cleared by the Department of Social Services or approved by the courts.
These concerns led Representative Stevens to push for the adoption of the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard, which became law in 2015. Easing restrictions on caregivers and their foster children, this provision grants parents– who provide the daily care and supervision for their foster children and youth– more discretion in allowing them to engage in typical extracurricular, cultural, or social activities. Representative Stevens emphasizes the significant impacts these changes have had on reducing barriers for foster children to participate in activities that help them find a sense of belonging with their family and the larger community, saying “foster children can now live more complete lives.”
When Representative Stevens came out of law school, she didn’t distinguish herself as a female attorney. She says, “I saw myself as a lawyer who could do whatever a male attorney could do.” “Head to head, toe to toe.” While acknowledging women legislators as “task-oriented” and “servant leaders,” Representative Stevens doesn’t show up to the North Carolina General Assembly as a woman, but as a lawmaker, ready to the get the job done.