JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s not often that a House committee hearing leaves members fighting back tears. It does happen, but only a certain number of issues. One topic that is most likely to do so is anything involving children.
That was the case during last week’s hearing in the Children and Families’ committee when the members heard testimony on HB 1081.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, seeks to put a requirement in place in regards to chief juvenile officers. Under the bill, each judicial circuit would be required to elect a chief juvenile officer every six years in general elections. The judicial court would be permitted to appoint other necessary juvenile court personnel.
But the testimony brought forward before the committee opened eyes to something many of them had not thought about before: children being taken away from families, and a parent’s fight to get their kids back.
“There were so many people shedding tears from these stories. We had two cases come forward, we had a lawyer testify, and said this had been going on for years,” Remole said. “We’re talking about someone’s child. But even in some of these cases in which a child has been taken out, some of these parents truly love their kids and have done everything that the DFS (Division of Family Support) has asked, only to find more steps to complete.”
“You have a young mother that admitted she had a problem, admitted herself into a rehab program, and did everything she was asked to do, and was still denied access to her children. She went almost six months without seeing her children,” he said.
Remole says the issue is that, even though a parent does everything they can to regain their children, the system still allows for children to be adopted after nine months. He says that system doesn’t really allow for second chances for parents trying to do the right thing.
“I know a lot of work has been done for the juvenile system, but there’s still a lot of problems out there in the field,” Remole said. “What I saw and heard was so many heartbreaking stories where kids were being taken out of homes, and some of those things weren’t right or constitutional. Some of the things were breaking our own statute.”
While it sounds like a simple enough piece of legislation, Remole’s hope with the legislation is to start a dialogue on a topic he believes needs the attention of lawmakers and Missourians.
The real motive behind the bill lies in perceived issues and flaws in the foster care system.
Remole argues that the current system is broken and corrupt and that the motives lie more with the money than with what is best for families and children.
“The conversations between the chief juvenile officer, the judge, and the DFS… it’s already pre-decided before they walk into that courtroom,” Remole said. “It doesn’t matter what evidence was brought, the judge still ruled. There’s no accountability.”
“I’ve seen different cases where due process of law has not been allowed. We’re seeing fewer lawyers wanting to take cases because they know it’s pretty cut and dry.”
In the year of 2015, the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) shows a total number of $882.9 million in child support collections. Remole’s concern is that some of the decisions being made about a child’s future are more about money than the kid’s future.
Remole says it all can be traced back for decades, first beginning with the Child Abuse and Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 1974, also known as the Mondale Act, a federal law that led to the creation of Child Protective Services (CPS).
Opponents of CAPTA and the CPS argue that the legislation created a lucrative source of revenue through federal funds given to states for removing children from homes in cases of child abuse or neglect and placing them in foster care. In short, they argue that the states profit off children in DSS custody.
While the bill has only been heard in committee, Remole says his hope, once again, is simply to start a conversation.
“There’s a lot of sad things out there, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Remole said. “People still deserve their day in court.”