Foster care reform marks philosophical change
Corrects imbalance favoring the state
By Allen Palmeri
May 25, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – The General Assembly approved a comprehensive overhaul of Missouri’s child welfare system May 14 on a 33-0 vote in the Senate.
House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, hailed the bill as the beginning of a philosophical change to correct an imbalance favoring the state raising children better than the birth parents. A critic of the overhaul, Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis, said the measure sponsored by Hanaway seems to be more pro-adult than pro-child.
Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, who vetoed a similar bill by Hanaway last year, is not among its critics this year. He has signaled to various news outlets that he hopes to sign it.
Hanaway said the Dominic James Memorial Foster Care Act, named in honor of the 2-year-old boy who died at the hands of a foster parent in 2002, will help the Division of Family Services (DFS) focus more on providing better care to abused and neglected children and less on snatching them away from good homes. The DFS of the Missouri Department of Social Services oversees foster care services.
“We’re going to prevent child abuse, and we’re going to take care of those kids who have already been through that horrific circumstance of being abused,” Hanaway said.
With the governor poised to sign the bill into law, Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, and assistant pastor and ministry director for First Baptist Church, Belton, said now is the time for more Missouri Baptists to lend their support.
“I think that Missouri Baptists need to be more involved in helping these children,” Baker said. “There is a real need for Missouri Baptists to take a special interest in this issue, to make sure a kid is protected from a system that has been flawed and has had problems.”
The bill overhauls laws on child abuse and neglect, granting more rights to accused parents while expanding background checks, opening court records, encouraging the use of private contractors and increasing the amount of adoption tax credits available each year, according to the Associated Press.
Hanaway fought to change the “probable cause” legal standard to “preponderance of evidence,” making it harder for DFS to initially remove a child from their parents. By succeeding in making this change, she hopes to lower the number of children in the state’s foster care system.
“We want to work with parents more,” Baker said. “The state has a lot of control. When a bureaucracy is deciding the lives of children rather than people who are really actively involved in their lives, it becomes a problem.”
Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, played a major role in the political process. Her hope has been that foster care reform would reduce the number of children in the system by strengthening families. This is a philosophical change being wrought by Republicans, she said.
“What permeates the whole system is a belief (by DFS) that many parents don’t do a very good job of taking care of their children,” Champion said.