Thursday, March 06, 2008

What about the PEW recommendations and advocating for the voice of the child?

Bill would alter foster care process
Aims to protect parental rights.
Honeycutt Spears, Valarie. Feb. 23, 2008.

FRANKFORT --In Jefferson County, attorneys volunteer to help indigent families at a crucial first hearing to determine whether a child must live in foster care or can stay with an appropriate family member.

Parents in the rest of the state aren't as lucky -- indigent parents go to court without a lawyer initially.

Jefferson Family Court Judge Patricia Walker Fitzgerald takes it on herself to make sure that all families are educated about complex and confusing court procedures. She tells them in clear terms that if their child has been removed by a social worker, the child could be headed for a state adoption. As a result, according to Fitzgerald, "more children are able to stay with their families."

Elsewhere in Kentucky, many parents don't realize that they can lose their child forever until it's too late.

State Rep. Darryl Owens' House Bill 151 would require that the entire state embrace the policies Jefferson County officials voluntarily carry out.

"What we have now is not a system, it's just luck," said Robin Cornette, a Lexington lawyer who often works as a court-appointed attorney. "If we are serious about holding social workers accountable for their work, about ensuring that parents' rights to their children are not unjustly terminated, then we have to create a real system, one which does not rely solely on the luck of finding free or underpaid lawyers."

House Bill 151 requires attorneys to be appointed before the first hearing in child protection cases, called the temporary removal hearing. It directs judges to tell families in writing and orally that they stand to lose their children permanently. The bill was drafted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adoption after 16 months of hearings.

John Hamlet, a court-appointed attorney in Jefferson County, said the bill "provides some protection for the most vulnerable families."

House Bill 151 would give court-appointed attorneys in child protection courts the first raises they've had since the 1980s. Now, court-appointed attorneys in child protection cases are paid a maximum of $500, and in some jurisdictions, only $250 -- no matter how long the case goes on, how complicated the case is, or how many hours are required. The bill would raise that amount to $1,000.

It would require that an attorney be appointed for indigent parents who want to appeal the termination of their parental rights.

State Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she will call the bill for a vote next week in the House Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. She will also call House Bill 421, promoted by Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, which would make child protection hearings open in selected courts across Kentucky in a four-year pilot program. Child protection courts in most states are open to some degree.

Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat who introduced House Bill 421 and is a co-sponsor of House Bill 151, thinks Senate leaders will realize the importance of the reform legislation.

After multiple hearings and investigations into allegations that children were being improperly removed from their families, Westrom said she believes people expect results.

"We've got to prove that we listened, so that no family or child will be abused by the system," she said.

But Stein's counterpart in the Senate, Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, isn't making any promises. Stivers, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has had only a brief conversation with Lambert's aides about the open court bill and hadn't read it or other legislation concerning child protection courts because the bills aren't yet moving in the House.

"It would be premature for me to comment on the chances for passage," Stivers said this week.

With the state's budget constraints, David Richart of the Louisville-based Institute on Children, Youth and Families thinks the likelihood that lawmakers will increase fees for court-appointed attorneys "is not great." But he said lawmakers could save the parts of the bill that give families an attorney earlier in the process, that supervise court-appointed attorneys and that educate families to the fact that the state could arrange an adoption for their children.

"Even if the fee increase is cut," Richart said, "there are still some substantial things we can do to improve child protection court procedures."

Meanwhile, Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for Lambert, says that he will soon be meeting with Stivers.

"We are continuing to educate legislators about the purpose of the bill and how it will be implemented," Hiatt said.


Blogger Kala said...

My names Kala Hickman. I'm in fostercare. I came into the system april 10th of 2008. The system to be is wrong here in russellville kentucky. I come from a abusive home. My parents divorced in 2000 and my mother had custody of me. She abused me alot. With no food no electricity and she would leave me at home for several days at a time to go see men in other states. I'm in fostercare for emotional abuse. My father picked me up one day after school to take me to DCBS in russellville to tell them whats was going on in my mother house. Insted of placeing my with my father, which had taken me to them, or even trying to place me with another family member; they threw me in fostercare that next week. Since then I have been in a total of 4 homes. The moving from them had nothing to do with me. Their were problems in the homes. My father "Kevin Hickman" has done all that he has been asked to do to recieve me back in his home. The DCBS office refused to let me go with him still with no reasoning. So my father went and filed a complaint over them in lexington. It really made the DCBS office in russellville mad so they've been even worse since then. I'll soon be 17 in January of 2011. My social worker Paula Miles told me that I couldn't have a cell phone, I had asked her why and she told me because I couldn't have contact with my father. Ok, so now I have unsupervised visits with my father, not because of DCBS but because of Sue Carrol Browing the District judge of logan county. And ask again for a cell phone she says absolutly not. I ask for a reason and don't recieve one. Does this make any since to you? I have my permit and will be getting my intermediate license in august. What if I have a reck or break down some where. What do I do then. I'll be looking for a job here soon. I got emancipated so I could recieve my permit. I want to return with my family; father or grandparents.
My father has done everything possible and hasn't been in any trouble since i've been into the system. Can someone please help me?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Kala said...

Anyone willing to help me call me at 270-725-0818. Anyone who knows anything i can do is welcome to call at anytime. If you can not reach me a voicemail is more than welcome. Thanks.

1:51 PM  

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