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Foster Care Bill One Step From Governor's Desk

May 15, 2003
By: Missy Shelton
State Capital Bureau

Legislation designed to overhaul the state's child protective system is one vote shy of the governor's desk.

Missy Shelton reports.

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The bill bears the name of Dominic James...He's the Southwest Missouri toddler who died while in foster care.

The shake-up in the Division of Family Services following his death prompted lawmakers to put together legislation to correct the problems that some say plague the foster care system.

Early versions of the bills held D-F-S workers criminally liable if their failure to follow state guidelines resulted in the injury or death of a child.

Lawmakers watered down that part of the bill and it now requires those workers to be fired.

Republican representative Mark Wright of Springfield says he prefered to hold workers criminally liable but is pleased the bill increases accountability.

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Lawmakers say they sought to strike a balance between making sure children are protected but not acting too hastily in removing children from their home.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway sponsored the foster care bill.

She says it's wrong for the state to break up families when there is no abuse.

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The House gave final approval to the bill by a vote of 125 to 18.

Opponents cited several parts of the bill that cause them concern...Among those, the provision that requires meetings between state workers, parents and children to be recorded.

Democratic representative Barbara Fraser says she's concerned how the presence of recording devices will impact the child who often must talk about the abuse during these meetings.

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Another democratic representative Margaret Donnelly expressed similar concerns.

She says it's one of several reasons she does NOT view the bill as kid-friendly.

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In defense of the mandetory recording, Hanaway says many children are coerced into making up stories of abuse.

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Representative Mark Wright agrees...He says having video or audio recordings of meetings between D-F-S workers, parents and children are critical to ensuring the rights of parents who have lost custody of their children...It's a critical issue for Southwest Missouri where Wright says more children are taken from their parents and fewer families are re-united.

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But the mandated recordings aren't the only reason some lawmakers voted against the bill.

Representative Margaret Donnelly says lawmakers haven't backed up the provisions of the bill with adequate funding to carry out the changes to the system.

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Even supporters say their bill isn't perfect but they argue it goes a long way toward improving a system they describe as broken and in serious need of repair.

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