September 01, 2014

ABA recommends actions Congress can take to strengthen families and protect parental rights

The ABA highlighted the association’s long history of working to strengthen families and laid out legislative steps this month that the association maintains Congress could take to enhance the rights and responsibilities of parents.

In a statement for the record of a Sept. 9 hearing on H.J. Res. 50, a proposal to amend the Constitution to state that the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children is a fundamental right, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman explained that the ABA has no position on this proposed constitutional amendment. He emphasized, however, that “there is no shortage of sound policy reforms” in this area that Congress can currently act upon through the regular legislative process.

Susman described the following ABA policy recommendations related to child protection and parental rights.

Foster Care

The ABA calls upon Congress to encourage keeping or reunifying children safely with their birth parents by increasing the amount and flexibility of funding available for family preservation and enhanced federal support for family reunification services.

Legal Counsel for Parents

The ABA, which has long called for improvements in the provision of legal counsel for parents when the parent-child relationship is potentially affected by court action, has adopted the Standards of Practice for Attorneys Representing Parents in Abuse and Neglect Cases. The association supports H.R. 1096, a bill to help provide quality representation through each state’s federally supported Court Improvement Program.

In addition, the ABA Center on Children and the Law sponsors the National Project to Improve Representation for Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System, which, among other things, provides statewide and local assessments of parent representation systems and provides training and technical assistance for parents, attorneys, courts and legislators.

Military Families

The ABA urges Congress to direct greater attention to the hundreds of thousands of children of military families who are separated from their mothers or fathers due to military assignments. The ABA supports the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody Visitation Act promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law to protect the parental rights of military members.

Incarcerated Parents

Congress should help protect parental rights of incarcerated parents through support for initiatives that facilitate contact and communication between those parents and their children. The ABA has urged Congress to eliminate restrictions that prohibit recipients of Legal Services Corporation funds from providing legal assistance to incarcerated parents when they are dealing with family law issues. The association also supports federal support for prisoner reentry programs that include family reunification services upon release.

Child Support

The association has urged Congress to pass legislation to ensure uniform laws and procedures in child support cases, including requiring new employees to report child support obligations and payment through payroll withholding and requiring employers to honor those orders, and requiring improved training for those involved in child support enforcement.

International Law

The association supports action ratification of the Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, a treaty that addresses custody matters and other measures taken for the protection of parents and of children and their property.

Other Areas

The association recommends establishment of a national computerized child custody registry to combat parental kidnapping, support for job-protected parental leave, and development of creative mechanisms for extending the availability and affordability of quality child care.

No further action is scheduled for H.J. Res. 50 or S.J. Res. 37, an identical Senate resolution.

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