A bill in the state legislature, AB 73, which would have opened dependency court hearings to the public, was put on hold Tuesday, and that’s a shame in our view.
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) was one of the few solutions under consideration to improve the outcomes for children in the child welfare system that would have allowed greater transparency in how we treat children who find themselves in the system through no fault of their own.
Too often, children are returned to parents whose actions were the cause for them being placed in the system in the first place, only to be returned to foster care when those same parents prove once again to be incapable of providing a safe and healthy home.
Too many children are subjected to further abuse and neglect by the very system that is supposed to protect them, but which is overwhelmed by the large number of cases and the view by the courts and the welfare system that says children should, if possible, always be reunited to their parents. The same mantra that causes them to over and over again overlook or excuse questionable, if not darn right risky and potentially dangerous behavior by biological parents.
Hearings in dependency court are not open to the public, allowing parents, caretakers and foster parents to effectively escape public scrutiny; Feuer’s bill would have changed that in some cases. Opponents to the measure said that children would be re-traumatized by the details of their cases being discussed in open court. We disagree. AB 73 would have left it up to a judge’s discretion to close the courtroom in sensitive situations.
We believe there has to be a way to protect the privacy of children and families by keeping their identities confidential when there is only one incidence of contact with the welfare system, but if contacts continue to occur we think, for the protection of all concerned, especially children, those situations should be resolved in public.
The details of further contacts should be public but the identities could be kept confidential, the way the names of witnesses can be kept secret.
So, while the legislature has effectively killed AB 73 for this legislative session, it is our hope that the measure will soon get another hearing.