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Jefferson City legislator's bill seeks to place children with relatives, instead of foster care

by Joe Gamm | January 13, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
State Rep. Dave Griffith, of Jefferson City, Mo., is seen in this January 9, 2019 file photograph. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)


New laws may come at a cost.

Sometimes those costs are unexpected.

The intent of House Bill 1563, sponsored by Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, is to place children whom the state has removed from parents or guardians with other family members as soon as possible, so they don't languish in the foster care system.

The bill, if passed, would require the Children's Division of the Department of Social Services to make detailed searches for biological parents in a timely manner after Missouri places the children in its custody, according to the bill summary.

Additionally, when it is deemed necessary to have an emergency placement of a child, the Children's Division is to search for and locate grandparents with which to place the child. If grandparents are unavailable or unfit, the division must make "a diligent search to locate other relatives for placement" within 30 days from the time emergency placement was deemed necessary.

During testimony on the bill for the House Emerging Issues Committee, Griffith told his fellow lawmakers he had not anticipated the bill to come at the cost estimated through its fiscal note.

The note says to conduct the searches as required, the Children's Division would have to hire 14 more staff members at a yearly cost of about $1 million. That cost would increase to about $1.1 million in the fiscal year ending in 2025.

The state's annual budget is about $35.5 billion.

An alternative to spending the money on new employees would be for the state to rely more on outside contractors to provide searches for family members, Griffith said.

Griffith said DeAnna Alonso, the founder and chief executive officer of Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association (CMFCAA), had interned with him for a year. Organizations like hers can conduct faster, deeper job searches than Children's Division, he said.

"I heard about foster care and adoption for a year. I bought in totally on what can be done and what we need to be doing," Griffith said.

He, like those in the committee, has heard personal stories -- and in some cases nightmares -- that families deal with when their children are taken from them, Griffith said. And what they go through trying to get their children back, or when their children separated from each other, or the children are not able to go to relatives.

They sometimes end up with the wrong relatives, he said.

That can be "injurious to their futures, and in many ways, to their health," Griffith said. "I'm trying to find the best way to take care of the children of Missouri as a whole."

He stressed the state must make diligent searches to find relatives for children's placement.

"I don't think we're doing a good enough job to try to find relatives," he said. "What this does -- it does a deeper dive in trying to locate relatives."

He continued, saying the shortage of workers in public and private sectors has affected how well searches can be done.

Griffith said he "darn near croaked" when he saw the fiscal note on his bill.

"I think that with the resources that the Children's Services has, that there are contract agencies around the state of Missouri that can assist them. While I haven't really talked in-depth with them, it is my understanding we are not really using those contract agencies to the fullest of what they can do," Griffith said. "A lot of the workload can be shifted from our state agencies to those contract agencies, who we already have a retainer to begin with. So, why not use those in order to try to find the best place we can for our kids?"

Alonso's organization, CMFCAA, is one of three agencies the state contracts with across the state, said Sarah Bashore, CMFCAA chief program officer.

Bashore testified in support of Griffith's bill to do more detailed searches for family members of children who arrive in the foster care system. Bashore said alongside CMFCAA, Foster Adopt Connect and Foster Adoptive Care Coalition provide services for the Children's Division.

Bashore said a line item in the state budget helps fund the Jefferson City-based nonprofit. CMFCAA is also funded through grants and donations.

The Children's Division is paying for services, but not using them, she said.

Bashore said the Children's Division has to give private agencies permission to conduct searches for family members of children in the foster care system. And a program that CMFCAA uses, 30 Days to Family, cannot help with children who have already been placed in foster care.

According to foster-adopt.org, 30 Days is an "intense, short-term intervention developed by the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition to increase the number of children placed with relatives at the time they enter the foster care system and ensure natural and community supports are in place to promote stability for the child."

Turnover in the Children's Division may be in part to blame for the state not using outside agencies as much as it could, Bashore said.

"We continuously present and give the information. The information gets lost when that person leaves," she added. "There are some counties that are much better than others.

"We've talked to juvenile officers about maybe putting it into practice. Maybe, we can't be in their policy, but there's a practice guide of 'Step Two of this investigation is to call CMFCAA to refer, for the program.' We haven't quite gotten there with all the counties."


Print Headline: Bill seeks to place children with relatives, instead of foster care Griffith suggests private agencies could be more efficient, cost-effective

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