At a time when federal policy on child welfare aims to help parents build strong bonds with their children so that fewer kids end up in foster care, a pair of bills in Wisconsin propose new grounds for terminating parental rights.
The two measures, which are among several other bills regarding family law, consumed much of a recent legislative hearing in Madison, Wisconsin. The first would create a new process for parental rights to be stripped if a child is found to be drug-affected, while the other would create a new process for termination of parental rights when a parent is incarcerated.
Both bills aim to speed up the timeline for children who are at risk of separation because of abuse or neglect into a placement outside the home. But some child and parent advocates and experts worry that the changes would only heighten existing racial disparities in the system, among other doubts about the bills.
Republican state Rep. Barbara Dittrich, however, said child welfare officials need to act fairly and quickly when kids are in danger. “These bills are not aimed at taking children away from parents arbitrarily or prematurely, but rather ensuring children more expeditiously achieve permanency and stability for their childhood,” Dittrich said in a legislative hearing.
Under Assembly Bill 626, a juvenile court could order a child in need of protection or services if they suffered prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs and permanently terminate the parents’ right to raise the child.
The petition would have to be filed within 18 months of the child’s birth, or the court would have to find that the child’s basic needs and safety have been adversely affected by the caregiver’s chronic and severe use of alcohol or a controlled substance.
The court could terminate the rights if the parent is not seeking or receiving treatment, or if there is “a substantial likelihood” the parent won’t do what’s needed to make sure the child is safe in the home.
Assembly Bill 627 would establish a new ground for terminating the rights of incarcerated parents. This could happen if a child has been placed outside their home based on one or more of the other grounds for removal if the parent is locked up at the time of the court’s fact-finding hearing and is likely to remain so for at least four more years. A parent’s previous stretch in jail could be considered in the court’s decision.
According to The Capital Times, the Ho-Chunk Nation is against the first bill, saying it would “have a disproportionate impact on Indian families,” because those communities “have higher instances of drug/alcohol abuse due to historical trauma inflicted from past wrongs this country has done to American Indian communities.”
Other opponents include Community Advocates, Legal Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Council of Churches, The Capital Times reported.