Thursday, March 10, 2011

Report on Children, OKDHS and Legislation Part2

As previously reported, there are a number of children in state custody that are victimized by the people charged with the children’s protection. Another concern raised in the report recently released by the Center for the Support of Families has to do with the placement of the children.  HOUSE BILL 1967 seeks to make changes in the placement procedures.
This bill requires OKDHS to give preference to relatives in the placement of children and report to the courts the effort made to that end.  Siblings shall be placed in the same home given the placement is in the best interest of the children.
The department will begin an immediate search for fit and willing relatives for children in need of temporary housing and notify them of the possibility of the need of a permanent placement as well.  The Department, while assessing the relatives for the possibility of placement, shall be authorized to disclose to the relative, as appropriate, the fact that the child is in custody, the alleged reasons for the custody, and the projected date for the child’s return home or other permanent placement as well as any other confidential information deemed necessary and appropriate to secure a suitable placement.
OKDHS will also have to provide and institute written rules for facilities under contract or operated by the Department. The rules will constitute the right of the child to communicate with family, relatives and former foster families where appropriate.  The child shall not be punished by deprivation of food, physical harm or solitary confinement. A child shall have constant access to writing materials and may send mail without limitation, censorship, or prior reading, and may receive mail without prior reading, except that mail may be opened in the presence of the child, without being read, to inspect for contraband or if authorized by the court for the protection of the child. The child will not be denied access to an attorney as well.
This law does not cover some of the concerns with multiple placements directly; however it is covered in seeking placement with a relative who would be willing to accept the responsibility of care of their relative.
It is believed this law in conjunction with the Oklahoma Child Protection Act and SENATE BILL NO. 674 requiring background checks for foster family care, which includes kinship homes, will allow suitable caretakers for the children in need to be found.
Some argue that the background checks will discourage some from becoming a foster parent or running a child care facility. Many others are sure that the checks will aid in the proper placement of the children who are in need of a stable loving environment. Since these children come from unstable and often abusive and neglected environments, it is important to quickly establish the permanency of a healthy home. The checks are intended to avoid placement in homes with people that have prior abuse and neglect charges.
It is important to note that the bill also requires the same checks for part-day programs, school-age programs, or summer day camps.  This reading implies the criminal checks would also be necessary for church camps, for example.  The costs of the investigations will be paid by the individual seeking to operate a facility, camp or foster home.
The bill will make it unlawful for anyone who required to register pursuant to the Sex Offenders Registration Act to work with or provide services to children or to reside in a child care facility and for any employer who offers or provides services to children to knowingly and willfully employ or contract with, or allow continued employment of or contracting with individuals who are required to register pursuant to the Sex Offenders Registration Act. Individuals required to register pursuant to the Sex Offenders Registration Act who violate any provision of this section, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a felony punishable by incarceration in a correctional facility for a period of not more than five years and a fine of not more than Five Thousand Dollars or both such fine and imprisonment.
A report from the Committee on Public Safety, dated 2 24 11 – DO PASS, As Amended.
The legislation reported here and previous articles are aimed at children safety. It is important to keep in mind that an allegation should never be treated as a conviction in these instances. Just because you are said to have committed and act does not mean that you have.  Stories of families being torn apart by false allegations can be found by a simple web search. We need to protect children but also be careful of inordinate laws of preemptive measure that will do more harm than good.

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