Lawmakers seek stronger protections for abused children

TORRES’ BILL PRIORITIZES CHILD’S HEALTH AND SAFETY, OPENS DOOR FOR FEDERAL FUNDS  • The following is from a news release from Sen. Mary Torres:

Recognizing the growing number of abused children in Guam’s foster care system, a supermajority of lawmakers is pushing for new standards in Guam’s Child Protective Act that prioritize the health and safety of the child—and may open the door for greater federal funding.

Introduced by Senator Mary Camacho Torres and eleven other senators, Bill No. 299-36(LS) would add child abuse and violence as legal grounds for terminating parental rights under Guam law. Currently, parental rights may be terminated if the court finds that the parent abandoned the child, raped the other parentresulting in the conception of the child, or is unable to parent because of mental illness or mental deficiency (19 GCA § 4303(b)).

Bill 299 would expand on this provision by including aggravated circumstances such as:

  • physical or sexual abuse of the child
  • a felony assault that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child
  • murder or manslaughter of another child of the parent
  • attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit murder or manslaughter

The bill would also update Guam’s timeline for permanency planning to comply with present federal standards. Under the Adoption and Safe Families Act (U.S. Public Law 105-89), state welfare agencies must file a petition to terminate parental rights when a child has been in foster care for fifteen (15) of the most recent twenty-two (22) months in order to receive federal reimbursement for foster care, adoption, and kinship guardianship assistance (Title IV-E funding). Guam law does not have this requirement—losing out on potential federal funds towards local foster care.

As a result, Bill 299 would require Guam’s Child Protective Services (CPS) to petition the court for termination of parental rights if the child has been under its care for over a year. The bill provides an exception for parents engaged in services (including treatment for substance use disorder, mental health concerns, or parenting skills) or if CPS has documented a compelling reason not to terminate.

Child Protective Services extensively reviewed and supports Torres’ measure.

“Bill 299 will help ensure that infants and children no longer languish in the foster care system unnecessarily; and that they have the opportunity to find permanent, loving homes as soon as possible—despite their past traumas,” stated Ms. Melanie Brennan, Acting Director of CPS and Director of the Department of Youth Affairs.

The bill is co-sponsored by Telena Cruz Nelson, Therese M. Terlaje, Tina Rose Muña Barnes, Sabina Flores Perez, Amanda L. Shelton, Jose “Pedo” Terlaje, James C. Moylan, Christopher M. Dueñas, V. Anthony Ada, Joe S. San Agustin, and Frank Blas Jr.

“Nothing is more important than protecting our children. That’s why Bill 299 implements federal standards that prioritize the health and safety of the child—while making exceptions for parents seeking treatment,” said Senator Torres. “I thank my cosponsors for standing with me to strengthen our Child Protective Act and hope this legislation will better protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

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