New Bill in Congress to Preserve Parental Rights During COVID-19
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // August 13, 2020 // Washington, D.C. – On Friday, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) introduced a bill on the floor of the US House, which would suspend a federal provision that generally requires states to file for Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) against parents whose children have spent 15 or more of the last 22 months in foster care or other state custody.
Moore’s bill is H.R. 7976, the “Suspend the Timeline Not Parental Rights During a Public Health Crisis Act.”
Proponents of the bill, who hail from all sides of the political spectrum, argue that suspending the arbitrary timeline just makes sense in this season of unintended and often-inescapable delays caused by reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, many of these children would have been returned to their families,” Jey Rajaraman, chief counsel for the Family Representation Project, Legal Services of New Jersey, said for a press release from the Congresswoman’s office. “But agencies have been unable to provide the services needed to facilitate reunification. We should not allow this pandemic to lead to unnecessary permanent termination of parent-child relationships.”
Andrew Brown, with the Texas Family Policy Foundation, agrees. “Parents who were diligently working services required to provide a safe, stable home for their children suddenly, and through no fault of their own, found themselves unable to access these services due to COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns. . . . A temporary suspension of termination timelines gives these parents a fair opportunity to restore their families and honors their decision to take personal responsibility by doing the hard work necessary to achieve reunification.”
“Termination of parental rights has been called ‘the death penalty of the family courts,’” adds Michael Ramey, executive director of ParentalRights.org. “By no means should we race to inflict it on families just because they had the extreme misfortune of being separated, often by overzealous state actors, in a time when COVID-19 alone prevents reunification.”
The Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services has urged states to employ an exemption for special circumstances; that exemption is already written into the federal law that created the guidelines in the first place, but many states are not making use of it. This leads to virtually random results from state to state—and often from judge to judge.
“Congress made this mess by putting this arbitrary guideline into the Adoption and Safe Families Act in the first place,” Ramey says. “Now it’s time for Congress to clean up their mess, by providing clear guidance for states to employ common sense instead.”