JEFFERSON CITY — Searches for biological parents of children in state custody soon could face a much stricter deadline.

House Bill 2027 would excuse the children’s division of Missouri’s Department of Social Services from a search for a child’s biological parent or parents after the child has been in the system for 60 days if certain conditions are met.

The search would only end if a juvenile court has found the children’s division cannot locate the parents and “has utilized all reasonable and effective means available to conduct a diligent search.”

The bill defines a “diligent” search by six factors. The court would determine whether the division: checked the child’s birth certificate, checked a registry of Missouri’s possible fathers, contacted the child’s known biological parent or relatives to identify any possible father(s), tried to contact the possible father(s) and ask them to voluntarily participate in a paternity test.

Currently, the children’s division cannot be excused from the search until a father has been identified or a juvenile court has excused it.

Lawmakers in a Monday House committee hearing argued these deadlines help “shuffle things along” in providing care for the children in the division’s custody. The discussion focused on finding the father.

“If you don’t put some time frame to it, then some of this stuff is never pursued to the point where it needs to be. And, who suffers? The kids do,” said bill sponsor Rep. Kenneth Wilson, R- Smithville, during his presentation to the committee.

But, the efficacy of that timeframe concerned Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis. She was worried the 60-day limit would take away due process from the father, who would may have to hire a lawyer and fight for his child’s custody, depending on the progress made on the child’s case after the search was over.

She argued the process could be further complicated when faced with the common occurrence of a father not knowing he has a child.

“What is the best interest of the children in that situation?” Mitten asked. “Is it to terminate the father’s rights without ever having located dad?”

The committee considered two other bills that set timelines for elements of the foster care system:

House Bill 2139, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Morris, R-Nixa, would give children who are either homeless or in the custody of the children’s division the ability to enroll in school or daycare without providing immunization records.

The children’s parents or guardians would then have 30 days to provide the records or begin the process of immunizing the child.

This law comes as a federal requirement. Tim Decker, director of Missouri’s Department of Child Services, said they will lose block grant funding by the Child Care and Development Fund. He also noted the law would make it easier to place children in better homes because it will make it easier for parents to care for the children without having to skip work.

Mitten again expressed concern.

“Thirty days strikes me as a very long time, particularly when you’re talking about young children,” she said. “It shouldn’t take 30 days to go and get a whooping cough vaccine.”

The third bill was proposed by Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, in House Bill 1767. It would require preventive care services to be completed in accordance with a schedule set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children younger than 10 must complete a broad physical, developmental and mental health screening twice a year. The bill also would extend these mandated screenings to all children under state care.

Arthur called this biannual requirement “arbitrary” and argued that the new bill would allow some flexibility in providing preventive health care for the children.

“Instead of this arbitrary government mandate where the kids are going every six months, we will adapt the best practices according to science, evidence and experts,” Arthur said. “As those change, so, too will our statute.”

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

“If you don’t put some time frame to it, then some of this stuff is never pursued to the point where it needs to be. And, who suffers? The kids do.” Rep. kenneth wilson R-Smithville
  • State government beat writer. Senior at the University of Missouri studying print & digital news reporting. Phone: (203) 710-9994 Email: MaxwellFillion@Gmail.com

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