by Elizabeth Gibbons
In a recent State News update, we talked about Georgia’s bill to allow faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against couples who are LGBTQ. The Oklahoma State Senate is now hearing a very similar bill. Advocates for foster youth in Oklahoma have reported that the state Senate will take up a bill to enable faith-based child welfare providers to discriminate against couples, and potentially foster children and youth, who identify as LGBTQ. While the Oklahoma bill is not yet part of the official agenda, it specifically permits private providers to pass on recruiting or training LGBTQ couples, unmarried people, or people of different faiths to act as foster parents or adopt any children under the care of the private provider. The language of the bill also allows these private providers to refuse placing or working with youth referred to them from the public child welfare agencies based on religion or sexual orientation.
A federal review of Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services has determined that the agency has not made necessary improvements in its operations since the first major evaluation in 2003. This is the third time that the agency has failed to meet any of the thresholds established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which include quality assurance and foster parent licensing, recruiting, and retention. Failure to meet any thresholds means Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services agency is “not in substantial conformity” with federal standards. This can have major implications for the department, most notably decreased legitimacy in both the public and government mindset. However, Hawaii is not alone in their poor review; many states’ child and family welfare departments do not meet any or all federal thresholds. The state of Hawaii is working on improvement plans and noted that other changes have been implemented, but needs time to yield the intended positive results.
Also in Hawaii, state lawmakers are calling for more oversight for homeschooling in response to the high-profile 2016 death of Shaelynn Lehano-Stone, a 9-year-old girl who had been pulled out of school to be homeschooled. State Senator Kaiali’i Kahele, who represents Hilo, says that new laws are meant to ensure the health and safety of children. The bill he proposed specifies that any parents or guardians wishing to homeschool must undergo a neglect and abuse inquiry by Child Welfare Services, which would be shared with the Department of Education, finished with a background check. The family can then be approved or denied. This bill is attempting to remove the loophole that allows guardians with a history of abuse or neglect to blindly remove children from schools without ensuring the protection of the children. Homeschool advocates have voiced loud concerns that this bill unfairly targets a minority population; they argue that homeschoolers do not have a demonstrated increase in reports of child abuse and such a bill is discriminatory and ineffective. The bill did not pass the House, but is expected to be up for debate again next year.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed into legislation a bill that will allow federally recognized Native American tribes access to state Child Protective Services records that relate to the children within their tribe. This legislation will further the partnership the Michigan state government has with tribal leadership and enhance collaborative efforts to protect children and ensure the safety and stability of families. The bill is actually an amendment to the Child Protection Law that not only makes it easier for tribal members to access records, but also allows the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to share information from cases with tribal representatives. Native American children and families benefit when Child Protective Services can actively engage with tribal resources, extended family, Native American social service agencies, and individual caregivers within the tribal community. Ultimately, this bill will allow staff from state and tribal agencies to work together with more harmony in providing services and support to families involved with Child Protective Services.
Indiana’s child welfare agency is undergoing a thorough exam conducted by The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, and a preliminary report released on Thursday, March 1, showed that the department’s work is being compromised by serious challenges. These difficulties include under-trained case workers, inexperienced attorneys that cause court delays, and a shortage of treatment plans and mental health support. These challenges keep families from achieving health and stability, ultimately jeopardizing the family structure and the safety of any children.
This development is part of a series of negative press surrounding child welfare in Indiana. In January, former director of the Department of Child Services, Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, resigned with a scathing letter calling out Governor Eric Holcomb’s cuts and changes, which drastically affected the child welfare department. According to U.S. News, Holcomb was not interviewed by the consultant group. The Indiana House of Representatives was not surprised by these findings, claiming this as known information and the Department of Child Services has been facing these challenges for some time. No solutions have been proposed yet. The final report is expected to be released in June.
Members of the Wyoming Senate are advocating for an amendment to the state constitution that would affect education funding. Senate Joint Resolution 4, filed by Senator Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) specifies that the Legislature has the right to determine school funding based on state revenue. The state constitution currently requires that education be funded at a high level, despite the state economy, and often at the detriment of other programs. The constitution also mandates that the Legislature should raise taxes or find other revenue sources in order to maintain education funding. The amendment would remove that mandate and change the language so that only currently available funds are considered and no other programs are affected by education funding. Ellis argues that education is critical, but should be considered with other factors that also affect the health and safety of Wyoming’s children. Opponents of this bill argue that it makes education legislation and funding ineffective and jeopardizes schools. Furthermore, opponents argue that the language of the bill makes it near impossible to challenge any government bodies or government actions, effectively lowering all standards and leaving funding up to the whims of the Legislature. The amendment needs to pass the Senate before it can be voted on by the public.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.