by Christina Zschomler

Child welfare reform was significantly emphasized this week across the nation. Multiple states saw new bill proposals that would reconfigure and monitor child welfare and foster care statewide.

While the need for child welfare reform within Kansas seems agreed upon by officials, what is the best way to go about making improvement a reality? Sen. Molly Baumgardner urged colleagues this week that the pathway to needed reform is via virtual education and reliable health care for children transitioning into custody. Proposed Senate Bill 122 would supply laptops to high school students within this transition, tracking students’ academic performance and granting online access to classwork. The bill would additionally a delegate a “nonprofit managed care organization” to meet the needs of Foster care children through KanCare, Kansas’s form of Medicaid. Secretary of the Department for Children and Families Laura Howard fears the legislation’s July 1, 2020 deadline is too pressing to make the bill a reality. She suggests the bill could pause other foster care improvements being implemented and does not account for needed software developments. Others, like Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D – 24th District), have long advocated for a state child advocate to monitor the system—that is, until recently. This week, Ousley officially paused  his pushes for an advocate until the Department of Children and Families is overhauled and reformed. He feels that allowing Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration a year to target child welfare issues will determine whether an advocate is necessary.

Much of Vermont has concluded that the state is in need of an Office of the Child Advocate. Lawmakers and advocacy groups pressed for this new position to ensure oversight of the juvenile justice systems and improvement of child welfare. The Office of the Child Advocate bill (H215) was introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives in addition to a bill that would outlaw unsecured firearms in homes with children present (H203). Could the proposal of two bills concerning the safety of children mark progress for their protection as a priority to government officials?

Unfortunately, not all change marks progress for child welfare, as seen in the increased wait times for adoption in Philadelphia. Ever since the shift to reliance on outside providers for case work in 2013; 1,400 cases have been left untouched in the city alone. Although Philadelphia has seen 200 more adoptions than last year, countless parents and children are waiting to hear promising news. The Department of Human Services Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa notes the reality that changes in child protective services have affected every single adoption case. Figueroa inherited the system in 2016 after its license had been downgraded. Since then, she has implemented a “rapid permanency review,” which analyzes what obstacles are stopping cases from moving forward. Additionally, she has worked to grant children who are ready for adoption access to resources, in coordination with the statewide adoption network.

Christina Zschomler is CWLA’s editorial intern.