Sponsored by Representative Roberts, HB 1284 states that, in a dependency case, following shelter care and no less than 30 days prior to fact-finding, the department or supervising agency must convene a case conference to develop a written service agreement regarding voluntary services for the parent. If a parent is unable to participate in person due to incarceration or participation in a residential substance abuse treatment program, the parent must have the option to participate in the case conference via teleconference or videoconference. In addition, the court will consider the constraints experienced by the parent’s current or prior incarceration or participation in residential substance abuse treatment (for example, delays in or barriers to accessing services) when determining whether a parent has failed to complete court-ordered treatment in his or her dependency case. In this situation, the department or supervising agency will notify the parent in writing of his or her legal rights and obligations and of services available in the community in which he or she plans to reside upon release that will aid in the development of a meaningful relationship with the child, including (when possible) services for reentry and family support. The child’s permanency plan must also address the special circumstances of the child and family in this situation.
If a child has been in out-of-home care for 15 of the last 22 months since the dependency was filed, parental rights are terminated unless the court makes a good cause exception as to why this would not be appropriate. The list of potential good cause exceptions is amended to include the parent being or having been incarcerated or participating in a residential substance abuse treatment program as a significant factor in why the child has been in foster care, provided that the parent maintains a meaningful role in the child’s life and there is no documented reason why it would otherwise be appropriate to terminate parental rights. A meaningful role is may include a parent’s expression of concern for the child (ex: letters, phone calls, visits, and other communication with the child); efforts by the parent to work with the department, legal guardian, foster parent, the court, the parent’s attorney, and other individuals providing services to the parent; a positive response by the parent to the reasonable efforts of the department or supervising agency; and whether the continued involvement of the parent is in the child’s best interest.
In evaluating whether a meaningful role has been maintained, the court will consider the parent’s limited access to family support programs, therapeutic services, and visiting opportunities; highly restricted telephone and mail services; inability to participate in foster care planning meetings; and difficulty accessing lawyers and participating in court proceedings. To make its assessment, the department will gather information from individuals and agencies, which may include the supervising agency, legal guardian, parent, child, foster parent, other individuals of importance in the child’s life, the parent’s attorney, correctional mental health and substance abuse treatment personnel, or other service providers.
The department may not move to terminate the parental rights of a parent if incarceration or participating in a residential substance abuse treatment program is the primary reason for the dependency of the child and there is no independent reason for termination.
Substitute bill: The substitute bill states that DSHS is no longer required to notify a parent of his or her other legal rights and obligations and of services available in the community that the parent resides in or will reside in upon release if a current or prior incarceration or participation in a residential treatment program has prevented a parent from accessing services. It also removes the requirement that DSHS aid the court in gathering information on behalf of the parent when the court assesses whether the parent has maintained a meaningful relationship with his or her child. It extends the requirement for reasonable efforts to facilitate visitation to all parents (not just those who are incarcerated or in residential treatment) and states that delays or barriers to the completion of court-mandated treatment caused by incarceration or participation in residential substance abuse treatment may be considered a good cause exception to the mandatory filing of a petition for termination of parental rights. The substitute also states that DSHS must seek a permanent placement that allows a parent serving a long-term incarceration to maintain a relationship with the child if the parent has chosen to do so and removes the prohibition that would have prevented DSHS from filing a petition for the termination of parental rights for the sole reason of a parent’s incarceration or participation in residential treatment.
As amended by HSC: Removes references to parents participating in residential substance abuse treatment programs.