February 9, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Missouri Legislature is currently considering an outstandingly bad bill regarding the fathers of children who’ve been taken into foster care by the state (Columbia Missourian, 2/5/18).
House Bill 2027 would excuse the children’s division of Missouri’s Department of Social Services from a search for a child’s biological parent or parents after the child has been in the system for 60 days if certain conditions are met.
The search would only end if a juvenile court has found the children’s division cannot locate the parents and “has utilized all reasonable and effective means available to conduct a diligent search.”
The bill defines a “diligent” search by six factors. The court would determine whether the division: checked the child’s birth certificate, checked a registry of Missouri’s possible fathers, contacted the child’s known biological parent or relatives to identify any possible father(s), tried to contact the possible father(s) and ask them to voluntarily participate in a paternity test.
Let’s glance at what those six factors would look like in all too many cases: the child’s caseworker would look at the birth certificate online on the site for the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. If Mom hadn’t told the caseworker who the dad is, she likely hadn’t told the hospital either. The birth certificate probably has “unknown” in the blank for “father.”
She’d then check the putative father registry to see if the man had filed the correct form. There’s essentially no chance he’d done so. That’s because states keep their registries closely guarded secrets. Most states budget no money to let men know (a) that registries exist, (b) what they are (c) how to file the correct documents and (d) the consequences of not doing so. Indeed, efforts to learn that information from the state agency personnel themselves often reveals they know little or nothing about the registries they supposedly administer.
Finally, she’d ask the child’s mother who, if she didn’t put Dad’s name on the birth certificate, probably wouldn’t divulge his name or location, even if she knows them. In the past, efforts by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement to find out the names and locations of the fathers of children of single mothers have met with widespread refusal.
Given those dead ends, there’s obviously no “possible father” to ask about paternity.
All that probably took the caseworker a couple of hours at the most. This is what some Missouri legislators want us to believe constitutes “diligence.”
At least one legislator grasps at least part of the problem.
But, the efficacy of that timeframe concerned Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis. She was worried the 60-day limit would take away due process from the father, who would may have to hire a lawyer and fight for his child’s custody, depending on the progress made on the child’s case after the search was over.
She argued the process could be further complicated when faced with the common occurrence of a father not knowing he has a child.
“What is the best interest of the children in that situation?” Mitten asked. “Is it to terminate the father’s rights without ever having located dad?”
Good questions. They’re particularly good in light of certain facts of which the bill’s sponsors seem unaware. I refer of course to the fact that, on average, foster care is much worse for children than is parental care. At least one study has found that to be true even when the parents are moderately abusive to the child. The trauma of a child’s being torn from its home, parents and often siblings and extended family alone is sufficient to counterbalance any good that may be done by removing it from an abusive or neglectful environment.
But of course the trauma often doesn’t end there. Again on average, children in foster care endure far more abuse and neglect than they do in parental care. Plus they’re far more likely to be subjected to a wide array of psychotropic medications. Illegal drugs tend to be far more available in foster homes and children are more likely to be sexually abused there. No wonder so many kids simply go back to their parents when they “age out” of the foster system.
So the idea that it’s in children’s best interests to be hurried into a foster home and to have (usually) Dad’s rights terminated without even finding out who or where he is makes no sense.
Well, of course it makes sense in one way. Because the federal government pays states for every child taken into foster care, streamlining the process also streamlines the flow of federal largess to the “Show Me” State. Who knew that meant “Show me the money?”
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