Jefferson City, Mo. – Spurred by the death of a two-year-old foster child, the Missouri House Wednesday gave first-round passage to a bill changing how the state handles child abuse and neglect cases.
Another vote is needed to send it to the Senate.
Supporters hope the proposal will result in fewer children needlessly removed from their homes, and let the state better address the most serious abuse and neglect.
It offers new procedures for deciding if hot-line abuse tips are legitimate. It also mandates checks for criminal records and protective orders for all adults in potential foster homes.
Springfield Republican Mark Wright says record checks could have saved young Dominic James, who died in August. His foster father, John Dilley, is charged with murder.
Here is a look at the legislation overhauling the state's child welfare system:
Places hot line tips of abuse or neglect in three categories of severity, requiring home visits from state caseworkers in either three hours, 24 hours or 72 hours. Allows a new "child well-being" hot line for tips that don't rise to the level of abuse or neglect.
Requires a status conference with parents and state caseworkers within three business days after a child is taken into state custody and a court hearing on the child's protective custody within 14 business days of request.
After a child is taken into custody, a hearing must occur within 60 days on whether the child should remain in state custody and within 90 days on the disposition of the child's case. After that, periodic review hearings are to be held.
Requires a "preponderance of evidence" of abuse or neglect to remove a child from a home instead of the current standard of "probable cause."
Opens to the public court proceedings to determine whether the state should take custody of children in abuse and neglect cases.
Closes proceedings during the testimony of children and victims and in other circumstances that a judge deems appropriate.
Opens most court records after the 72-hour status conference.
In cases where children die or are seriously injured, employees of the Division of Family Services could be fired or charged with misdemeanor crimes for purposely or knowingly violating rules, policies or laws related to child abuse and neglect.
Requires criminal background and protective order checks on all adults in a potential foster homes. Criminal background checks also would be required for school administrators, teachers, aides, secretaries, cooks, nurses and bus drivers hired after Jan. 1.
Sets up pilot projects in three areas to contract with private providers for many foster care services. Directs other privatization efforts statewide when available and appropriate.
Provides for children currently in state custody only to receive mental health care to be returned to their family's custody and continue receiving care through the state Department of Mental Health. Directs the state to seek special federal approval to get Medicaid funding for more mental health care.