• UFA Members in the news

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    UFA Urges Support for Bill that Would Make Montana a Child Welfare Leader

    January 3, 2023

    THE PROBLEM:

     

    Year after year, Montana tears apart families at the highest or second-highest rate in America, even when rates of family poverty are factored in. But, as documented in a performance audit by the Montana Legislature, that’s done nothing to make children safer. On the contrary, in addition to inflicting enormous trauma on children needlessly taken, this obscene rate of removal overloads workers so they have less time to find the relatively few children in real danger.

     

    A SOLUTION

     

    HB-37, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson and Democratic State Sen. Ellie Boldman, would make Montana a national leader in child welfare. HB-37 would take important steps toward making all Montana children safer. The bill would:

     

    ● Narrow Montana’s breathtakingly broad definition of “neglect” to exclude conditions related to poverty.

     

    ● Specify the steps the state Children and Family Services Division must take to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together. Federal law already requires reasonable efforts – but does not define them.

     

    ● Require that impoverished parents be given a lawyer (in Montana that’s now discretionary). High-quality legal representation has been shown to significantly reduce foster care with no compromise of safety.

     

    ● Require that CFSD get a warrant before putting children at risk of the enormous trauma of needless foster care. Such warrants can be obtained by phone or electronically and there are exceptions for genuine emergencies.

     

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    January 2022

    Kathleen Creamer of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia joins to discuss two recent court cases of note in the state, Philly’s high rate of foster care, the Adoption and Safe Families Act and more.

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    Chris Gottlieb and Andrew Brown, Washington Examiner, December 12, 2021

     

    "The COVID-19 pandemic taught us all valuable lessons. Those of us in the child welfare community were confronted with the reality of the many ways in which our system does harm to those it is intended to help. It also affirmed that the most important safety net, especially during times of social and economic hardship, is not government intervention but family ties and community support.

     

    It’s time to put these lessons into action through commonsense approaches to correcting the damaging course federal child welfare law has taken as it has prioritized family separation and speeding to adoption over preserving family bonds. The newly proposed 21st Century Children and Families Act takes some steps in the right direction."

    How ‘Shadow’ Foster Care Is Tearing Families Apart, By Lizzie Presser, December 1, 2021, New York Times Magazine and Pro Publica

    This lengthy expose of America's hidden foster care system features the recommendations of UFA's Hidden Foster Care group: "As the new law may welcome hidden foster care, reformers have been looking for fixes beyond litigation. The Hidden Foster Care Working Group, a coalition of advocates for parents, children and caregivers, compiled a list of principles this fall. They sent it to the federal Children’s Bureau, which they believe has authority to write guidelines around hidden foster care and can encourage national and state legislators to enact laws. They ask that families never be separated when there isn’t immediate danger. They ask that parents have the right to free counsel whenever an agency takes their children. They ask that agencies notify caregivers about their rights and available resources. And they ask that hidden foster care, if it does occur, is brief and includes a plan to return home."

    UFA suggests its "Top 10" ideas for amendment of S. 1927, which reauthorizes the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, to better support families, including preventing unnecessary family separation, keeping data on hidden foster care, and protecting caregivers from wrongful inclusion on registries.

    Across the country, child abuse registries inflict lifelong harm on parents and caregivers with minimal oversight or due process. Families living in poverty and families of color are disproportionately likely to experience the harms of the registry, and because child abuse registries severely limit employment opportunities for parents and caregivers, registries drive and exacerbate child and family poverty. While we caution against a national registry, should it be included in CAPTA, UFA proposes several changes to mitigate the harm to children and families.

    United Family Advocates recommends an overhaul of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to prevent unnecessary family separation, including separations based on poverty rather than neglect; protect innocent caregivers from wrongful inclusion on central registries; replace anonymous with confidential child abuse reporting; narrow the overbroad use of Plans of Safe Care; and expand access to counsel.