By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service
LANSING — It’s now up to Gov. Rick Snyder to approve a set of bills that would make it more difficult for child protective officials to terminate the rights of some parents who previously had a child taken from them.
Legislative action on the flagship bill, sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, came after the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a provision dealing with termination of parental rights. Previously, courts could take away a parent’s rights based solely on a previous TPR (Termination of Parental Rights)without considering the parent’s efforts to improve.
Janet Reynolds Snyder, the executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Federation for Children and Families, said that the priority for judges, state agencies and “any authority that might be involved in solving a parental dispute simply got to be the safety and the well-being of children.”
If a court ends someone’s parental rights, the matter will come up again if there are other children involved.
Under the legislation, parents in such cases would “have the rights to have information reviewed that will show a change of circumstance, that will show that efforts have been made and allow the assessment of the current situation,” Snyder said.
“Parental rights are critically important,” she said.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bills. Among the four lawmakers who voted against the change was Democratic Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills.
“The most important thing in deciding policy is to protect people from harm, and I’m concerned that this bill will result in more children being kept in households where they are neglected and not properly cared for,” Greimel said.
Snyder. of the Federation of Children and Families, said courts have an important role to play when deciding whether to terminate parental rights.
“The court takes very seriously the bonds of family, and they’re going to look at situations separately and be able to make an assessment,” Snyder said.
She added that courts should allow experts to be called in to assess a situation if needed but that the priority should be on the safety and best interests of the child, not on any adult involved.
“Anyone, in any situation is always capable of change. Change is part of human nature,” Snyder said.
Greimel, on the other hand, said though he understands both sides of the issue, he still thinks “that if a parent has had one child taken away due to neglect, the parent is very likely to neglect other children as well.”
He also said, however, “that there needs to be more support mechanisms for families and for parents who are trying to do the right thing. But at the same time, if a parent had a history of neglect, the most important priority needs to be protecting children from suffering from continued neglect.”