JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate passed a House bill Monday that would require the state to privatize at least 50 percent of its foster care system by 2006.
The move would be incremental, with a requirement of 20 percent privatization by July 1, 2004, and 35 percent a year later.
The state currently has 10 to 15 percent of the children in its care receiving services from private agencies, said Carmen Schulze, executive director of the Missouri Coalition of Children's Agencies.
Schulze said privatization will allow the agencies that have been working in communities for years a chance to expand their work.
"I hope when they reach 50 percent, they won't stop at that," she said.
Schulze said privatization could benefit the Divison of Family Services, which has been understaffed, by reducing its responsibilities.
The bill would also require all interviews with children in the custody of a juvenile officer or law enforcement official to be recorded in their entirety.
Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, voted against the bill. During floor debate, Bray said she worried children could be intimidated by an audio or video recorder during interviews.
But Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said he worried that, without recorders, caseworkers could ask children leading questions, resulting in false accusations of abuse.
The bill would also change the standard of proof for removal of a child from probable cause to preponderance of the evidence.
A House and Senate conference committee will now meet on the bill.