JEFFERSON CITY — State senators are planning to bring foster care issues back to the table during the next legislative session.
Sens. Norma Champion, R-Greene County, and Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis, pre-filed foster care reform bills just one week after an audit of the state’s foster care system exposed potential dangers in the system.
Making the law official
The two new bills bear strong similarities to previous legislation vetoed by the Gov. Bob Holden. Holden said the Department of Social Services was able to begin implementing changes to the foster care system without the previous bills.
Champion said the reforms still need to be enacted through legislation.
“Gov. Holden said part of (the bills’ reforms) were already being done. I see no reason not to codify it,” Champion said. “That just guarantees it’s being done.”
Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the Senate’s committee on families, said Missourians could expect a bill to come out of his committee.
“We’ll look at the bills filed, take all the good ideas, put them into a committee substitute, and try to work out the details and differences,” Shields said.
A flawed system
State Auditor Claire McCaskill’s December 2003 foster care audit revealed that there are still many faults in the system.
A lack of updated information in the division’s database system led to overpayments to foster parents. Background checks were inadequately done, according to the audit, allowing for three cases in which convicted criminals became foster parents despite federal regulations prohibiting such individuals from receiving foster licenses.
Champion said she expects to see strong bipartisan support for a bill, since a foster care bill solidly passed in both the House and the Senate last year.
“I can’t help but think that maybe they’ll be more supportive than before, but you never know,” Champion said.
Bill has promise
Dougherty said his bill has a good chance of passing.
“I stripped (the bill) down to what I considered to be those basic things that we would need that ultimately would improve care for kids and families, and at the same time leaving out some of the controversial issues,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said those issues would include privatization of child care, punishment of social service workers and recording court hearings.
Despite leaving those disputed matters out of his bill, Dougherty said the topics will still come up in floor discussion no matter which bill is debated.
The issue of foster care reform became prominent after the 2002 death of a child in Springfield at the hands of an abusive foster care father.