Missouri Child Welfare Overhaul Includes Kinship Diversion, Access to Birth Documents

Missouri

Missouri State Rep. Sheila Solon (R) looks on as Gov. Mike Parson (R) signs H.R. 1414. Photo: Facebook

Missouri has made it easier for an adult relative to temporarily look after the children of kin without legally removing them into foster care.

That’s one of several substantive changes to the state’s child welfare system that Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed into law earlier this month after House Bill 1414 passed both legislative houses with broad bipartisan support. 

The new law creates a “temporary alternative placement agreement,” which is described as an agreement between parents, relatives and the child welfare agency whereby the physical custody of the child changes, but there is no formal removal into foster care. These arrangements are limited to 90 days, and are meant to avoid the often traumatic experience of a court-ordered removal, an action that sets cases on a path where parents could have their rights terminated. 

Those arrangements, which are already allowed in most states, are not without downsides. Some child welfare advocates have voiced concern that child protection agencies can use the threat of foster care to get parents to agree to temporary agreements, even if they disagree with the agency that abuse or neglect has occurred in the home.  

The state has a financial incentive to avoid foster care, which requires payments to licensed caregivers. Were the state to formally remove a child into foster care, an unlicensed relative could be paid up to $400 per month to care for them in the first 90 days of foster care under Missouri’s reimbursement rates. After that, a relative would have to become licensed to continue caring for the child, and the monthly payment would rise. 

Missouri’s new bill does not mention any payments to relatives to help support these temporary placements. It does grant them “the authority to make the day-to-day decisions” in the child’s life, and gives juvenile officers the power to overrule the agreements and order that a child be placed in foster care. 

The bill, carried by soon-to-retire Republican State Rep. Sheila Solon, also empowers foster parents with an immediate right to access a child’s health records upon accepting the child’s placement. In addition, the law allows homeless youth to obtain a free copy of their birth certificate and allows them to have health coverage through the state’s Medicaid plan (if the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agrees to the state’s proposal for a waiver).

Adopted young adults now have a new right to access all information if their birth parents’ rights have been terminated.

Solon said on her Facebook page that the new law “will positively impact the children of Missouri. This bill improves transparency, modernizes, & expands best practices to ensure that the foster system remains focused on the best interests of each child.”

The Imprint staff reports.

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