On Thursday, November 4, 2021, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced 21st Century Children and Families Act (HR 5856). The bill bans discrimination in placement and recruitment of foster and adoptive parents and places added emphasis on kinship care. It requires states to substantiate with clear and convincing data and analysis that the child welfare agency is addressing disproportionality within the child welfare system including disparities in access to community-based services. It also revises and adds exemptions to the 1997 requirements to terminate parental rights within 15 months of a 22-month period.
In introducing the measure Bass said, “It’s time to update old child welfare laws. I’ve spoken with former foster youth, social workers, and child welfare professionals over the years and the consensus is that more needs to be done to improve foster kids’ options for stability in their lives. Premature modification of parental rights too often leaves children in foster care with no legal family. The changes that I’m proposing today focus the foster care system on the child and the idea that children should be at the center of our efforts.”
The bill would:
- prohibit discrimination in foster care services and placements based on the race, color, sex, religion, or national origin of children and families in adoption and foster care;
- require states to report on disproportionality and disparities in access to services in their child welfare system;
- require states to demonstrate that they provided the family services, support, and the time needed to address the reasons for the child’s placement in foster care, and link modification of parental rights to the child’s best interests;
- extend the timeline for modification of parental rights from 15 out of 22 months, to 24 months and exempt parents from the timeline when the parent is actively engaged in services, or when the modification of parental rights is based principally on parental incarceration or detention of the parent by the Department of Homeland Security;
- Modify the Court Improvement Program (CIP) to include training on racial equity and high-quality legal representation.