Griffith’s House Bill 1563 would require the Division to make “diligent searches” for biological parents when a child enters state custody. In the case of an emergency placement, the Division would search for grandparents. If they can’t be found or aren’t fit, it would then look for other relatives for placement within 30 days.
Sarah Bashore with the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association told the committee that her agency, serving 24 counties, helped find family members for 34 children in state care in the last two quarters of the last fiscal year. She said it could help even more children, but the Children’s Division hasn’t being asking.
Bashore said her agency and others are simply more capable and have more resources than Children’s Division for doing the kinds of searches that Griffith’s bill would require, and with compelling results.
Women in Missouri prisons might not have to be separated from their newborns under a bill being considered for the legislative session that begins in January.
The plan would allow some women who are pregnant when they are about to be incarcerated for short sentences to have their babies with them in prison so that they can bond with their newborns. The idea is being referred to as the establishment of “prison nurseries.”
Missouri Appleseed is an organization helping drive the effort. Director Liza Weiss said some other states already have such programs, and some of those have been in place for years.
The Department told House Communications that right now when a woman in a Missouri state prison gives birth, that baby goes into foster care or with a family member.
Currently, pregnant women are housed at the prison in Vandalia. As of early October, 23 had delivered babies. In 2016, that number reached 73, but decreased to 49 in 2019 and 31 last year. The Department notes that in the last 4 years Missouri’s population of incarcerated women has dropped by 42 percent.
Representatives DeGroot and Trent are still developing draft language for their bills, and DeGroot said the Department of Corrections is involved. He expects to propose that the program be available to women whose sentences are for up to 18 months.
Missouri House members aren’t pleased with a lack of answers from the Department of Social Services in the wake of a federal report slamming its lack of response when children in foster care go missing.
The U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services’ Office of the Inspector General report is based on 2019 data and was released last week. It said the state does not properly report when children are missing and doesn’t do enough to keep them from going missing again, if they are found.
That study found that 978 children went missing from state care at some point during 2019. In looking closely at the handling of 59 cases of children missing from foster care, it found that in nearly half there was no evidence that the state had reported those children missing as required by law.
The Committee heard testimony from Department of Social Services Acting Director Jennifer Tidball, who said many of the policy issues cited in the report stemmed from a previous administration. She produced a 2016 memo from then-director Tim Decker that allowed caseworkers to quit some practices and documentation, some of which she says has been resumed since 2019.
Coleman and other lawmakers were frustrated by what they saw as a “passing of the buck,” trying to blame that earlier administration, and a failure to follow the law and to implement programs the legislature has authorized to help the Division keep foster kids safe.
Coleman said she was troubled that the Department did not today provide much information outside of what was in the federal report and even challenged its findings. She said the next step will be to hold a hearing focused on possible solutions.
After Tidball’s testimony the Committee heard from several child welfare advocates, offering their response to the report and possible responses, however Tidball and her staff left the hearing shortly after she spoke.
The legislature has proposed several measures meant to give more Missouri children a chance to get out of the foster care system and into permanent homes, and to help foster and adoptive parents afford the costs of caring for and adopting children.
HB 430 would expand current tax credits for the adoption of Missouri children with disabilities to be available in any adoption, while giving priority to instances involving Missouri children with disabilities. Kelly said of a program capped at $6-million a year, less than $30,000 was claimed last year.
She said by allowing a broader offering of this credit, more Missouri children will have the opportunities for permanent families.
HB 429 authorizes an income tax deduction for expenses related to providing care as a foster parent.
It also creates a “Birth Match” program. It would require the state Children’s Division and the State Registrar’s Office to compare birth reports with information on parents who have been convicted of certain crimes. When parents have history of the specified crimes, Division personnel will make contact with the family to see if any action is appropriate.
This could include seeing whether any crimes are being committed, but Kelly said in a broader sense it is about seeing whether the family is in need of any of the types of assistance the state could facilitate.
HB 429 also increases the age threshold for abandoned infants and children from one year or under to under three years old. It sets a time frame of six months before a petition of termination of parental rights is considered in cases of neglect by a parent.
Kelly said by restructuring this and other parts of law, impediments to giving a child a permanent home are removed.
Kelly credits House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) with making the legislation a priority, which pushed these bills to be the first non-budget measures sent to the governor this year. She said not only did he make these issues priorities, he bravely, publicly shared his own personal story of having been in Missouri’s foster care system as further evidence of the need for reform.
The proposed tax deduction for foster care would begin January 1 and continue for six years unless extended by the legislature. Parents who foster children for at least six months would be eligible for a deduction of up to $2,500, or $5,000 for a couple filing jointly.
Those who foster for fewer than six months could apply for a prorated deduction. Kelly said extending help to those foster parents is no less important.
The Missouri legislature this year passed a number of provisions aimed at making life better for children in the state’s foster care system. Legislation that has become law would help children get an education, proper medical care, and ease their transition out of state care.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) in January created the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People, to focus on foster care issues. That committee and its chairman, Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), handled many of these provisions and oversaw combining several of them into one bill, House Committee Bill 11. Many of them later became part of Senate Bill 819 which was passed and has been signed into law. The provisions in that bill become effective August 28.
The Director of Missouri’s Office of Child Advocate, Kelly Schultz, has been a foster parent to 17 children over the years. She said both as a foster parent and as the director, this year has been “huge,” for professionals, families, and most importantly children in foster care.
Schultz described some of the changes the legislature approved this year as “low-hanging fruit;” issues that were easily fixed that could have a major impact on the lives of children and those who work with them.
Schultz said as a foster parent, that provision doesn’t just help children. She was once “on the hook,” when a child whose account she was a co-signer on overdrew that account.
Another provision will allow fees for birth, death, or marriage certificates to be waived if those documents are requested by certain state agencies on behalf of a child under juvenile court jurisdiction.
The sponsor of the original legislation dealing with that, Representative Mike Kelley (R-Lamar), said the fees for those documents might be considered nominal to most people, but they can seem insurmountable to children trying to gain their independence.
– Allow a child who is homeless or in state care and who has not received all his or her required immunizations to enroll in school, daycare, preschool, or nursery for up to 30 days while he or she begins getting caught up on those immunizations.
– Expand assessment and treatment services for children in foster care. It would require such services for all children in foster care – currently it is required only for those under the age of ten – and would require that those services be completed in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ periodicity schedule. Current law requires screenings of children in state custody every six months.
– Allow minors to contract for admission to a rape crisis center if qualified as specified in the act
SB 819 also creates the “Social Innovation Grant Program.” It will create a state program to fund pilot projects that seek to address social issues such as families in generational child welfare, opioid-addicted pregnant women, or children with behavioral issues who are in residential treatment. Projects receiving grants should have the potential of being replicated to get the most out of state funds and address such concerns.
Neely said some of the things HCB 11 would change in Missouri law are “quick” or “simple” fixes that could have significant impacts, especially in situations in which foster children have been described as, “falling through the cracks.”
HCB 11 includes language that would update background checks on foster families so that the Children’s Division would know immediately if a foster parent is charged with a crime that would disqualify him or her from being a foster parent. Current law only allows checks every two years.
HCB 11 would also expand assessment and treatment services for children in foster care. It would require such services for all children in foster care – currently it is required only for those under the age of ten – and would require that those services be completed in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ periodicity schedule. Currently children are screened every two years.
The original sponsor of that language is Representative Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City), who said it would ensure that children in foster care receive more appropriate care, and the comprehensive screenings will in turn save the state money by catching medical conditions earlier and aiding in preventative care.
Current law prevents Missouri Social Services workers from investigating reports of abuse of Missouri children in foster care if the abuse doesn’t occur in Missouri, and prevents them from communicating with counterparts in other states about abuse or potential abuse. Christofanelli said his bill would remove those barriers and fix what he called a, “bureaucratic technicality.”
Some lawmakers expressed concerns with the portion of the bill because other states might release information about abuse claims – particularly unsubstantiated claims – that Missouri would not release. They expressed a desire to see that concern addressed before the bill could become law.
The House is prepared to vote on whether to send HCB 11 to the Senate. The bill is broadly supported, including by Columbia Democrat Martha Stevens, who sits on the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People.
– Allow a child who is homeless or in the custody of the Children’s Division, but the whereabouts of his or her immunization records is unknown, to be enrolled in school for up to 30 days while efforts are made to find those records, and if needed, another 30 days after that for the child to get caught up on immunizations (found in House Bill 2139 sponsored by Representative Lynn Morris, R-Nixa)
– Define when juvenile courts have jurisdiction over a child under 21, streamlining situations in which a child is in a safe situation but juvenile court involvement is interfering with the family (found in House Bill 1728 sponsored by Representative Bill Lant, R-Pineville)