- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - After foster care parents flooded the statehouse to complain about alleged deficiencies in foster care programs last week, lawmakers are making their first attempts at instituting major reforms.

The House Health and Welfare Committee introduced a measure Thursday that would allow judges to oversee adoptions and implement a timeframe for relatives to apply to care for a child. A second measure would require the Department of Health and Welfare to present an annual report on the foster care program to the Legislature.

Both measures were unanimously supported.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said the legislation isn’t an indictment of the Department of Health and Welfare, but it is one of the top issues the committee is looking at this year.

“We really want to mitigate (the Department of Health and Welfare’s) sole authority,” Perry said. “We think that you should have an extra set of eyes and another opinion when these decisions are being made.”

Perry, who used to be a foster parent, said it’s not the first time she has brought legislation aimed at changing the program. However, she said this year the Legislature may consider the reforms in light of the emotional testimony critiquing Idaho’s foster care program heard by the panel on Feb. 12.

During that hearing, several foster care parents testified against the department’s handling of specific cases, accusing the program of ignoring the children’s best interest, while disregarding the foster family’s attempts at adoption.

The bill would also allow such foster parents the right to be heard in the child’s case. But Perry said the bill wouldn’t necessarily give those parents more control over the placement of a foster child.

Department of Health and Welfare Communication Director Tom Shanahan said the department hadn’t seen the new legislation as of Thursday morning, but foster care reform is one of the department’s top priorities this legislative session. Shanahan said the department has struggled with adoption and placement timeframes, and he hopes this discussion about potential reform will help the department make changes.

However, Shanahan said he believes law enforcement, the court system and schools should be included in the discussion of reform.

“We really think if we want to change the law, let’s look at the law with all of the parts,” he said. “We are a piece of it. We are not the whole thing.”

The measure must now clear a legislative hearing before it faces the House for a full vote.


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