Gov. Eric Greitens on Thursday signed into law a bill designed to improve the safety and quality of life of children in Missouri's foster care system.
At the heart of the measure is the Foster Care Bill of Rights, which begins by stating the “best interests of the child shall be the first priority of the children’s division” of the Department of Social Services.
It does not, however, directly address concerns made in a federal lawsuit filed against the state’s DSS. That suit alleges that psychotropic drugs are being overprescribed to foster kids with little oversight.
“That’s been a concern of mine, as a pharmacist, for many years, seeing that some kids are overmedicated,” said the law’s sponsor, Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville. “I think we’re going to address that this next (legislative) session.”
Most of the rights in the bill address things such as how long and with whom a foster child is placed. But the opening statement could be interpreted as extending protections to children who are prescribed drugs for behavioral issues, according to the co-sponsor, Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton.
“(If) they’re in a situation and they find that they’re uncomfortable with the medications that they are being given, now they have a way to speak up and speak out,” she said.
The bill also bars anyone convicted of sex crimes against a child from being within 500 feet of a children’s museum. And it expands the definition of child abuse and neglect to include victims of sex trafficking or other “severe” forms of trafficking.
Greitens said the measure included direct input from foster children, parents, and advocates.
“If we’re listening to them, then we together can find ways to implement practices that are going to help them and are going to support them,” he said.
The bill had strong bipartisan support, passing the House 136-2 and the Senate 31-1. Lawmakers also added an emergency clause, meaning the new law takes effect immediately.
Here is the exact language of the Foster Care Bill of Rights:
(1) In all circumstances, the best interests of the child shall be the first priority of the children's division;
(2) Recognizing the importance of familial stability in foster care and adoption placement, it shall be the practice of the children's division, when appropriate, to support a child's return to the custody and care of the parents or guardians with whom the child resided immediately prior to state custody;
(3) When restoration of care and custody is not appropriate or possible, the children's division shall attempt to place the child with suitable relatives in accordance with section 210.565;
(4) The children's division shall further support familial stability by ensuring continuity of foster placement, except in instances where cause for a change in a child's placement is reasonably found;
(5) The children's division shall work with each child in state custody to develop both a permanency plan and a case plan. These plans shall be developed within 12 months of a child's entrance into state custody. The permanency plan shall include the child's immediate and long-term placement goals, while the case plan shall address a child's specific medical and emotional needs;
(6) Recognizing the value of familial relationships in foster care and adoption settings, it shall be the practice of the children's division to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship, guardianship, or adoptive placement, unless doing so would be contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings. If siblings are not placed together, it shall be the practice of the children's division to support regular visitation and communication between siblings in state custody, and between children in state custody and their parents and relatives, where not otherwise prohibited or against a child's best interests;
(7) The children's division shall support all children 12 years of age or older in state custody to attend any hearings pertaining to the child's placement, custody, or care, provided that the child is willing and able to attend such hearings, and that attending such hearings is in the best interests of the child.
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