Bipartisan legislation was introduced this week that incorporates the Pew Commission's recommendations to strengthen and improve state courts that oversee foster care cases. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced S. 1679 "WE CARE Kids: Working to Enhance Courts for At-risk and Endangered Kids Act of 2005."
Senators DeWine and Rockefeller have a strong record of working together to pass legislation to improve outcomes for children in foster care.
"The Pew Commission endorses this important legislation, and we thank Senators DeWine and Rockefeller for their leadership," stated Commission Chairman Bill Frenzel (R-MN), a twenty-year veteran of Congress and former Ranking Minority Member of the House Budget Committee.
The Pew Commission's recommendations seek to strengthen courts by calling for: 1.) the adoption of court performance measures by every dependency court; 2.) incentives and requirements for effective collaboration between courts and child welfare agencies; 3.) a strong voice for children and parents in court and effective representation by better trained attorneys and volunteer advocates; and 4.) leadership from Chief Justices and state court leaders in organizing court systems to better serve children, train judges, and promote more effective standards for all court personnel.
In his floor statement, Senator DeWine described the court's pivotal role in foster care. "As observed by the Pew Commission, it is the courts that decide whether a child has been abused or neglected, whether a child should be placed in the foster care system. It is the courts that oversee whether parents are making progress on their case plan and enforce the timelines for permanency. It is the courts that decide whether a parent's rights should be terminated or whether a family should be reunified. These judges are making tough, life-changing decisions for all parties involved."
Senator Rockefeller additionally referenced the work of the Commission in his floor statement. "The Commission did a careful review of the role of the courts in serving children in foster care, and it issued a series of recommendations. We are grateful for this report and relied on many of their recommendations in crafting this legislation. As always, we hope to forge bipartisan consensus on ways to move this bill forward."
The introduction of this legislation is the latest in a series of actions to enact the Pew Commission's court recommendations. Utah, Washington and Nebraska have already formed state commissions on children in foster care, while other states including California, Michigan, New York, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Maine, Louisiana, Iowa and Indiana have also implemented critical reforms. In addition, judicial leaders from all fifty states will participate in a national judicial leadership summit next week focused on strengthening courts to improve outcomes for children in foster care. At the summit, each state will develop an action plan to improve its child protection procedures, with special attention to the Pew Commission's recommendations.
About the Commission
The nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care was launched on May 7, 2003. Supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, the panel includes some of the nation's leading child welfare experts. The panel was charged with developing practical, evidence-based recommendations related to federal financing and court oversight of child welfare to improve outcomes for children in foster care, particularly to expedite the movement of children from foster care to safe, permanent families and to prevent unnecessary placements in foster care.