Arizona Bill Would Terminate Parental Rights More Quickly in Substance Use Cases

The Arizona legislature may vote on a bill that would quicken the pace at which parents struggling with drug addiction could lose their parental rights.

The bill – Senate Bill 1452 – would speed up the timeline for the termination of parental rights, allow adoption of these children more quickly and deny access to services like addiction treatment for parents.

Under the bill, prenatal exposure to drugs would also be grounds for the termination of parental rights, in some cases. Its “aggravating circumstances” provision would require that certain cases move to a trial to end parental rights within 24 to 40 days after Arizona’s Department of Child Safety takes a child into custody.

The bill moved out of committee just days after President Donald Trump signed the Family First Prevention Services Act into law, which will soon allow states to draw down federal child welfare funds to keep families together during battles with drug addiction. Those funds would be available for youth who the state determines would need to enter foster care without the presence of treatment services for the parent.

Family First represents the first time federal child welfare funding has been amended since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997. Under ASFA, the timeline for reunification was shortened, specifying that parental rights should be terminated if a child had been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. Part of the rationale for this timeline, according to advocates, was that it often took months for parents to access the services required by their case plan.

Supporters of the Arizona bill say it is in the best interest of children to further shorten the timeline for reunification or adoption.

“This is about getting the clock to work for children,” Darcy Olson said to the Arizona Republic. Olson is the founder of Generation Justice, an advocacy organization focused on children’s rights.

Critics of the bill say it looks like an effort to make more infants available for adoption, according to the Republic. The bill targets children from birth to age 3.

“It’s just writing people off,” Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, told the Republic. “Substance abuse and addiction is a medical condition. We know from research that relapse is a common occurrence.”

SB 1452 was sponsored by Republican State Sens. Nancy Barto and Kate Brophy McGee. McGee reversed her position on the bill when it came time for the Senate to vote, citing its lack of detail and asking budget staff to estimate the potential cost to the state of speeding up the legal process.

Recent federal data show that babies are at higher risk of death than other children, especially when a parent has substance abuse issues.

The federal 2016 child maltreatment report found that babies under a year old died from abuse and neglect at three times the rate of children who were age 1 or older. It also found that, among states that collect the data, 5.7 percent of child fatalities had an alcohol-addicted caregiver and 15.1 percent had a drug-addicted caregiver.

A 2017 study looking at Arizona found that, among neglect cases, substance abuse by the caregiver was found in 55 percent of the cases where a child was removed from their home within 30 days of a maltreatment report.

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