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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Foster parent bill survives

May 26. 2018 10:38PM

With 70 New Hampshire children housed in out-of-state foster homes, New Hampshire is clearly in need of more foster families to house and care for its most vulnerable youth.

The state once had such a robust network of foster homes, that children could be matched to one based on a variety of criteria. Now, it's a matter of triage, according to the state's director of the Division for Children, Youth and Families, Joe Ribsam.

In 2010, New Hampshire had 896 foster families, but by 2016 the number had dropped to 593, and has been slowly building back into the 700 range.

State Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping, and his wife have taken in foster children for several years. They believe better treatment of foster parents might help keep more in the system. With that in mind, Morrison spent the better part of the past two years working a foster parents' Bill of Rights through the Legislature.

The bill, HB 1562, started out as a three-page list of 14 separate rights, but the final version headed to Gov. Chris Sununu only presents three.

If the bill is signed into law, foster parents will have the right to receive reasonable notice of any changes to the case plan for the child; to be apprised of the number of times the child has moved from one foster home to another and, as appropriate, the reasons; and the ability to request a team meeting to address concerns specific to the child.

As a freshman representative, Morrison found the process at times frustrating and at other times enlightening, but sees what passed the House and Senate as "a good beginning."

"There are many issues addressed in the original bill that still need to be resolved," he said. "For instance, there is still no law that states parents whose children are in state care and have a history of drug misuse be drug tested. This is amazing to me."

Morrison said he will continue to push for more representation by foster parents and the children's therapists in the family court processes, calling such contact "essential for the judge be better informed when making decisions."

Rules that govern the assignment of a "health proxy" for foster children also need to be addressed, he said.

"In many cases children in foster care are not receiving the medical and mental health care that they need because there is ambiguity as to who can make decisions and appointments for these children who so desperately need these issues addressed," he said.

Regrets, they have a few

As Sununu signs into law the bills that passed the recent legislative session, there will be opportunities to celebrate each one. As the old saying goes, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan."

State Sens. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Dan Feltes, D-Concord, did not shy away from their failures when asked about their biggest regrets from the past session - a session in which the two partnered on some key measures like expanded Medicaid, but differed on several others.

For Bradley, the most bitter pill was the demise of his animal cruelty bill.

"It hit the rocks of entrenched opposition," he said. "I learned after the fact that these battles have been fought before. We have very weak laws in New Hampshire dealing with animal cruelty. I think it's a question of when, not if, we upgrade our laws, but that was disappointing for me."

Feltes cited the failure of the paid family leave bill, a sore spot with many Democrats.

"It started out with broad bipartisan support then hit the Senate and got partisan," said Feltes. "That's OK though, that happens sometimes. We're going to come back at it next year, no doubt about it."

When asked about any other plans for next year, Bradley had his priorities straight. "I'm getting married in August," he said with a broad grin. "That's the top of my to-do list."

Batter up

The second annual Legislative Softball Classic, sponsored by the House of Representatives Veterans Interest Caucus, is slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at the Anheuser-Busch athletic complex in Merrimack.

Proceeds will once again go to Liberty House in Manchester, which supports homeless and transitioning veterans. Republicans won the inaugural classic in 2017.

"We fully intend to keep the Brown-Murphy Trophy in the Republican office," said House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, who will again be managing the red (GOP) team. The blue (Democrat) team is managed by Rep. Ben Baroody, D-Manchester.

With some rookie talent recruited thanks to Democratic victories in several special elections over the past year, Baroody says he's hoping for an upset as a harbinger of an electoral blue wave in November.

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