DHS to drop foster parent rule | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 9, 2008

DHS to drop foster parent rule

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2008 at 4:08 PM

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The state Department of Human Services is dropping its rule to prohibit placement of foster children in homes with unmarried couples. Instead, it will decide placement on a case by case basis according to the best interests of the child.

This change wouldn't have happened without the support of Gov. Mike Beebe. I had written this week that I appreciated his move in this direction and hoped it would come to pass. Given the sexual politics, it would be wrong to say this is a small thing on his part.

This amounts to a declaration by state child care professionals that Initiated Act 1, which would make law of the rule being invalidated, is a bad idea.

The Religious Right is up in arms, as you'll see on the jump. Why help a child when you might be able to punish a gay person? Or a straight person, for that matter?

The unmarried-couples rule has been in effect for several years, though never officially promulgated. It was the subject of a public hearing last week at which the majority of speakers opposed the rule. Gov. Mike Beebe said afterward that he leaned toward dropping the rule, which child care professionals said adds an additional burden to finding good homes for the overabundance of foster children.

The rule change amounts to a state recommendation to vote NO on Initiated Act 1. That proposal would, by law, prohibit foster parenting and adoption in homes with unmarried couples.

The rule was an outgrowth of Huckabee-era efforts to impose conservative religious thought on DHS practice. They first attempted to ban foster parenting by gay people. That was ruled unconstitutional. So the rule was changed to bar foster parenting by "cohabitating" couples, gay or straight. The definition of "cohabitating," by rule or in the proposed law, is just one of many difficult legal questions posed by the rule. Most of all, though, the rule can bar placement of children in willing, stable homes of relatives in favor of strangers.

The alternate rule to guide child placement is the essence of common sense (and thus unlikely to placate the bigots at the Family Council, whose distaste for gay people overrides their concern for children). It says simply that placements should be made according to the best interests of the child. I have no doubt that family circumstances will figure in a caseworker's evaluation, but a blanket policy will no longer make some preferable options illegal. Unless Initiated Act 1 passes. For that reason, and many more, Vote NO on Initiated Act 1. We don't want the Family Council, the conservative religious group that wants to make this rule law, saying who can and who cannot adopt children. Let the courts decide.

DHS NEWS RELEASE

Arkansas Department of Human Services Announces Intentions to Change Foster Parent Requirements

The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced its plan today to discontinue the process of putting language on cohabitation into policy and instead propose new policy that allows workers the flexibility to make decisions on a case by case basis.

“Throughout this process we listened to many people including those with whom we do casework and the public regarding the needs of foster children,” said John Selig, DHS Director. Recognizing that this is a sensitive societal issue, it’s important to expand our recruitment base so that we can to find a family that best meets the needs of every child.”

The Department will immediately begin the process of proposing the new policy for inclusion in the standards for family foster homes and will ask the Child Welfare Licensing Agency Review Board to amend its minimum licensing standards to reflect the new practice. The Department will offer the proposal according to the Administrative Procedures Act which will include a separate comment period for the new policy.

“I was delighted to hear that all those who commented during the public hearing  felt as though our staff were the best assessors of what a home should look like, regardless of where they stood on the issue,” added Selig.  “It’s encouraging to see so much community interest in foster children since that’s the primary resource for finding good homes in which to raise children in state custody.”

PROPOSED LANGUAGE

Households will be assessed based on the caretaker(s) ability to parent a child in foster care. Other children and adults who are a part of the household will be evaluated on the basis of how they will affect the successful development of a child in foster care. Individual placement decisions will be made on a case by case basis in the best interest of the child.

FAMILY COUNCIL NEWS RELEASE

Pressure from pro-gay special interest groups causes state to fold: Gay couples can now foster children in Arkansas. Act 1 needed now more than ever. 
 
As if you didn't have enough reason to campaign and vote for ACT 1, the Arkansas Adoption and Foster Care Act, there is news today that the Arkansas Department of Human Services has decided to officially drop its longstanding ban on placing foster children with cohabiting couples.

The Department of Human Services folded in the face of a little bit of vocal opposition from a few pro-gay groups in Little Rock. [Editors note: These include a number of professional medical organizations.] They're playing along with them and this is a tragedy for children in foster care.

The state of Arkansas has recognized for a long time that foster children should not be placed in homes where there is a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. When faced with vocal opposition from a few pro-gay groups, they folded.

The voters of Arkansas need to put a stop to this by passing ACT ONE.

ACT ONE takes what was a good DHS foster care policy and writes it into the law. That policy has been good for foster children and it will continue to be good for foster children if we write it into the law by passing ACT ONE.

NEWS RELEASE FROM ARKANSAS ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

Child advocates cheer reversal of foster-parent policy

AACF urges Arkansas voters to follow the state’s lead and vote “no” on Act 1

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families applauds Gov. Mike Beebe’s decision to end a Department of Human Services policy that limited the pool of potential foster parents.

Our statement:

“We were pleased to hear that Governor Beebe has done what’s right for Arkansas children and has dropped the policy banning all unmarried couples from being foster parents. We thank him for his courage in putting kids first.

The Beebe Administration and DHS obviously heard and listened to the many child welfare experts, former foster children, adoptive parents, and residents who spoke out at the hearing against this policy.

We agree with the Governor that the most important factor in deciding who should be foster care parents has to be what is in the best interest of the child.  These decisions can best made on a case by case basis by qualified child welfare experts such as juvenile judges and caseworkers.  This is the standard practice in other states, the recommended practice of the Child Welfare League of America, and it should be the policy of Arkansas.

 It is our hope the voters will follow the Governor’s lead and do what is right for kids at election time. We hope they will vote no to Act 1 and defeat this ballot initiative in November.”

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