A bill pending before an Indiana Senate committee would place additional requirements on the Department of Child Services before removing a child from long-term foster care, though DCS representatives object to the bill on the basis of court caseloads and child safety.
The Senate Family and Children Services Committee heard Senate Bill 128 on Thursday, when its author, Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, told committee members he has heard several horror stories of children being removed from foster care without notice or explanation. Often, the lack of explanation is a result of DCS confidentiality requirements, Head said, but foster parents are frustrated when those requirements keep them in the dark.
To that end, SB 128 would require DCS to file a motion with the court having jurisdiction over the child in need of services or other similar case prior to removing a child from foster care if the child has been with the same foster family for at least one year. The foster family would then have the opportunity to object to the motion, which would force the court to hold a hearing on the matter.
Head told committee members he plans to present an amendment to his bill that would carve out exceptions for emergency situations. In those cases, foster families could still object to the child being removed from their home, but DCS would not have to file a motion before removing the child if removal is due to an emergency, such as abuse or neglect.
Even with that planned amendment, DCS legislative director Parvonay Stover urged the committee to vote against SB 128. Stover raised multiple concerns about the implications of the bill, including the impact additional mandatory hearings in CHINS cases would have on already packed court dockets. Further congestion in juvenile courts could delay a child’s path to permanent placement in a home, which is the ultimate goal of DCS’s work, she said.
Additionally, removal of a child from long-term foster care placement is usually a topic of discussion among the DCS caseworker, foster parents, biological parents, court-appointed special advocate and other parties involved in the child’s case before a decision is made, Stover said. That decision would only be made for a compelling reason, such as a threat to the child’s safety or the opportunity to place the child with a biological relative.
But Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said based on her experience working in the CHINS realm, those meetings don’t always occur. Stover acknowledged that DCS can fall short at times, but said the department’s goal is always to act in the best interests of the child.
Rather than passing SB 128, Stover said DCS would encourage the General Assembly to support SB 233, a Foster Parent Bill of Rights.
Both SB 233 and 128 will come before the Family and Children Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Committee chair Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, withheld a vote on SB 128 until that meeting to allow for amendments.