INDIANAPOLIS — According to CASA, there are currently 12,000 children in foster care in Indiana.
The national average amount of time a child stays in foster care is 760 days. In Indiana, that average is around 1,000 days.
House Bill 1188 is something foster parents say would help kids receive permanent placement faster.
"If they tell you they are afraid or they are being hurt you should listen,” Jenna Hullett said.
Hullett was Judah Morgan's foster mother. She took him in as a baby and the two were together for four years.
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Hullett says she pleaded with the Indiana Department of Child Services not to allow Judah to return to his birth parents.
He would still visit his biological parents, but when he would have to go he would tell her he didn’t want to and cry before he’d have to leave.
After four years her local DCS office granted temporary placement to the biological parents, which ended in tragedy.
Morgan died in October 2021 in LaPorte County, just months after being reunited with his birth parents.
Judah Morgan's story led to a law being passed.
A second bill that became law last yearwill require the Indiana Department of Child Services to disclose more details when a child dies from abuse or neglect.
“I was very concerned about that case,” bill author Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, told WRTV last year. “Little Judah Morgan was on my mind when authoring the bill.”
Foster advocates say kids are staying in foster care too long and not being allowed to be adopted by a foster parent who has been caring for them for several years. For them, that’s where House Bill 1188 comes in. The bill would allow foster children to have a voice in where they want to live.
"Nobody is hearing this 4-year-old crying or any other child crying begging not to go to visit or begging not to go see his biological parents. If they hear that once, if they were put in our shoes once, they would know, " Hullet said.
The bill would also provide a timeline for how long biological parents must meet court expectations. Those timelines would allow adoption options to be explored sooner for foster parents that have been caring for the child for an extended period.
"When you have biological parents who are not complying with their court order services and we are still seeing positive drug screens after two, three, four years — there is no reason why we can't start moving the needle a little bit farther to help get these kids the permanency and stability they need," Melody Gandy, a foster parent, said.
The bill has opponents, though. Both the Indiana Judges Association and Public Defenders Council spoke against it Wednesday.
"Denying contact between the parent as a punishment for falling short in treatment goals just comes across as not sound policy and is going to tie our hands. In retrospect, we'll say we're sorry we did that, " Darrin Dolehanty with the Indiana Judges Association said.
But foster parents in favor of the legislation say policies like this could save more children’s lives.
“We are not asking that parents' rights be terminated,” Gandy said. “We are asking that people will take a look at children and if they are indeed really safe and if the home they are returning to is safe. "
House Bill 1188 had testimony in the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday. However, several foster parents were upset they couldn’t testify. The chair of the committee, State Representative Jerry Torr, had to stop testimony early.
WRTV's Meredith Hackler asked Torr why that happened and he sent the following statement.
"At the start, I announced we had a hard stop time due to the committee schedule and that we might not be able to get through all of the witnesses. I tried to prioritize hearing from those who had traveled the farthest, but we weren't able to hear from everyone in the time we had. I encourage those who weren't able to share their thoughts to submit written testimony for committee members to consider."
You can submit your written testimony on the bill by clickinghere.
MORE: Central Indiana has a need for adopting older children, DCS says | Girl Scouts seeking Silver Award work to pass legislation benefitting foster families | Nonprofit organization, Resources of Hope, supports foster families in central Indiana | 'It's also rewarding': Indiana kids need more foster parents
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