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Foster care on the legislative agenda again

December 08, 2003
By: Matthew Lunders
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - State senators are bringing foster care issues back to the table during the legislative session.

Senators Norma Champion, R-Greene County, and Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis prefiled foster care reform bills just one week after an audit of the foster care system exposed potential dangers in the system.

The two new bills bear strong similarities to previous legislation vetoed by the Governor. Gov. Holden said the Department of Social Services was able to begin implementing changes to the foster care system without the previous bills. However, Champion said the reforms still need to be enacted through legislation.

"Gov. Holden said part of (the bills reforms) were already being done. I see no reason not to codify it," Champion said. "That just guarantees it's being done."

Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, chair of the Senate's committee on families, said that Missourians could expect a bill to come out of his committee.

"We'll look at the bills filed, take all the good ideas, put them into a committee substitute, and try to work out the details and differences."

State Auditor Claire McCaskill's December 2003 foster care audit revealed that there are still many faults in the system.

A lack of updated information in the division's database system led to overpayments of foster parents. Background checks were inadequately done according to the audit, allowing for three cases of convicted criminals who became foster parents despite federal regulations prohibiting such individuals from receiving foster licenses.

Champion said she expects to see strong bipartisan support for a bill, since a foster care bill solidly passed in both the House and the Senate last year.

"I can't help but think that maybe they'll be more supportive than before, but you never know."

Sen. Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis, said his bill has a good chance of passing.

"I stripped down to what I considered to be those basic things that we would need that ultimately would improve care for kids and families, and at the same time leaving out some of the controversial issues."

Dougherty said controversial issues would be privatization of childcare, punishment of social service workers, and recording court hearings. Despite leaving those disputed matters out of his bill, Dougherty said the topics will still come up in floor discussion no matter which bill is debated.

The issue of foster care reform came to the forefront after the 2002 death of a child in Springfield at the hands of an abusive foster care father.