Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-4) re-introduced a bill that will take important steps towards ensuring that parents and legal guardians are afforded legal representation in all stages of a child welfare case.
There are over 400,000 kids in the foster care system in the United States, many because their parents or guardians are accused of abuse or neglect. Professionals and parents agree that removing a child from his or her family can be traumatic and foster care, in many cases, does a poor job of preparing children for adulthood. For this reason, child welfare law is structured, through federal law incentives, to limit removal of children from their home unless absolutely necessary for the child’s safety, and promotes their reunification with their family. New research powerfully supports these goals by showing that children often have better life outcomes when efforts are directed towards keeping a family together.
“A vast majority of current federal dollars are spent towards the administrative costs of running the system and the overall cost of foster care, yet very little funding is designated towards ensuring that parents – especially low-income and minorities – have quality legal representation throughout all stages of a child welfare case,” said Rep. Gwen Moore. “High quality counsel helps parents access necessary services, advocate for increased visitation, negotiate reasonable and realistic case plans, and provide parents with someone who is on their side. It is for these reasons, that I have introduced this legislation to ensure that parents are afforded quality legal representation across all stages of child welfare proceedings.”
One of the most fundamental arenas for ensuring the safety, stability and permanence for abused and neglected children is through our nation’s court systems. Recently reauthorized under the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program (IV-B of the Social Security Act), The Court Improvement Program (CIP) has been instrumental in improving child welfare outcomes in state courts. The CIP has helped reduce the caseload delay, and also worked to stimulate fresh approaches to improving the court outcomes of children and their families.
“This legislation builds upon the successful framework of the CIP, adding an additional component for parental legal representation,” said Rep. Gwen Moore. “Child outcomes improve and courts function more effectively when all parties have quality legal representation. This legislation gives parents, alongside officials and judges, a voice when the best interests of their child are at stake.
“Our overall goal is to keep families together, not tear them apart. This legislation is a positive step towards sustaining the American family.”