CLS applauds H.R. 7976, the Protecting Families in the Time of COVID-19 Act, which was recently introduced in Congress by Representative Gwen Moore. This federal legislation will ensure that families separated by child welfare have the support and time they need to reunify during this public health crisis. Contact your federal legislator today to let them know you support H.R. 7976.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires, with few exceptions, that the state move to terminate parental rights to free a child for adoption once a child has been in foster care for 15 months. Termination of parental rights has been called the ‘civil death penalty’ for children and families: it permanently and irrevocably severs all legal ties children have with their parents and extended family, including siblings and grandparents.
While many families in the child welfare system can safely reunify within 15 months, the national and state public health crises brought about by COVID-19 have created nearly insurmountable obstacles to maintaining family ties if parents don’t meet this deadline.
Across the country, reunification services to children and families have been cut or dramatically reduced. Parent/child visits, drug treatment, mental health, and domestic violence services are limited or suspended altogether. Worse, at the same time that services are reduced, parents are facing new barriers created by the crippling economic impact of COVID-19, including job loss, eviction and utility shut-offs.
Without legislative relief, application of the ASFA timeline during the pandemic will lead to the permanent and unnecessary destruction of families. We must afford parents a reasonable opportunity for reunification with their children, and their children the chance to have permanent, lifelong family ties. This is both a basic right and an issue of racial justice, given the disproportionate rates at which Black, brown and Native American children are separated from their families and placed in foster care.
- Creates a “public health crisis” exception to the federally-mandated deadline for termination of parental rights, waiving the requirement that states file termination petitions at the 15-month mark.
- Clarifies that the current public health crisis is a “compelling reason” to avoid terminating parental rights.
- Clarifies how states can provide reunification support for families.
Rise Magazine Interview with legislative sponsor Rep. Gwen Moore.
Gwen Moore’s memo about why this change is needed.
Bill Summary and Text