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    Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care’s Legislative Proposals Moving Forward Quickly

    Following the establishment of the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care, a new legislative package of 13 bills, called Foster Forward, was introduced. Megan DeVore talks about the Foster Forward bills and their potential to bring significant changes to the child welfare system in Wisconsin.

    Megan L. DeVore

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    As previously reported in Sarah Henery’s October article in this blog, the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care recently conducted a series of statewide hearings on issues related to foster care and foster children in the State of Wisconsin. Those hearings concluded in Green Bay on Oct. 25, 2017.

    Megan DeVore org mdevore lacrossecounty Megan DeVore, has been a corporation counsel for the County of La Crosse for 20 years.

    The Task Force in November introduced several bipartisan bills that address the issues facing the state’s child welfare system. The proposed legislation is referred to collectively as the “Foster Forward” package, which has the potential to move forward quickly. Additional information, including a Nov. 28, 2017, press release, about the package and the Task Force’s Interim Report, can be found on the Task Force website.

    Members of the Task Force have identified these primary areas of focus:

    • Prevention, including reduction of contact with the child welfare system, prevention of children’s removal from the home, increased support of families at risk of child welfare/protection intervention
    • Improvements to the child welfare system, including studies of caseloads and foster care licensing processes
    • Support for foster care providers
    • Support for foster youth

    So far, 13 bills have been introduced (listed in the Task Force’s Interim Report). The following proposals will be of particular interest to attorneys practicing in the child welfare area:

    • AB-775 /SB-652: Changes to the Continuing Need of Protection or Services as Grounds of Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) under Wis. Stat. section 48.415(2)(a)3. Current law has four required prongs, the last of which asks whether there is substantial likelihood that the parent will not meet the conditions established for the return of the child to the parental home within nine months following the fact-finding hearing.

      This proposal removes that requirement, unless the child has been placed outside the home for less than 15 of the last 22 months. If the child has been placed outside the home for less than 15 months, then there would be a requirement to prove that “that there is a substantial likelihood that the parent will not meet these conditions as of the date on which the child will have been placed outside the home for 15 of the most recent 22 months.”

    • AB-778 / SB-654: Changes to Appellate Procedure in TPRs. These proposals would require the parent pursuing an appeal to personally sign the notice of intent to pursue post-dispositional relief. It would also require that attorneys provide the appellate court with an affidavit in support of a motion to remand to the circuit court for post-judgment fact finding.

    • AB-784 / SB-657: Parent’s Right to Counsel. This bill would remove the prohibition on appointing attorneys to parents in CHIPS cases and would create a pilot program in five counties (Winnebago, Brown, Outagamie, Racine and Kenosha) that would grant attorneys to parents in CHIPS cases where the child has been placed outside the home, including referrals to the Public Defender’s office, if eligible.

    Other proposals include:

    • additional funding for the Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program,
    • funding to 2-1-1 Wisconsin, Inc., a statewide nonprofit community services information and referral resource,
    • the creation of a committee to study caseload issues in the child welfare system, and
    • assistance to foster homes through additional education and support and to former foster youth through tuition remission.

    The Children and the Law Section's Legislative Committee and full Board will continue to follow these developments; they plan to provide further updates and information in future newsletters.

    However, many of these bills have already had at least one hearing and may be moving through the legislative process fairly quickly, so we encourage you to review them on your own and participate in the process individually if you are so inclined.