On December 20th, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) introduced H.R. 3741: Rilya Wilson Act (no relation to the Representative), which aims to "protect foster children and to ensure that every state has a procedure in place to promptly report their disappearance." Essentially, this bill would require child welfare agencies to report missing or abducted children to law enforcement as soon as their disappearance is known, a procedure that has been formalized in only two states: Illinois and Florida.
The Rilya Wilson Act takes mandated reporting a step further with the inclusion of reporting missing foster children to law enforcement, as well as the requirement that the missing children also be reported to the National Crime Information Center.
This bill, along with other missing child/child safety work Rep. Wilson has accomplished in Florida, has been in response to Rilya Wilson's disappearance in 2001 while she was in foster care under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Rilya was missing for 15 months before the child welfare agency knew about the disappearance, and the case worker in charge of Rilya's placement had been falsifying her monthly visitation documentation over the same period.
Additionally, in 2002 Florida passed a law making it a felony for child welfare workers to falsify visitation records. While the Rilya Wilson Act would compliment that law by ensuring comprehensive reporting procedures for missing children in state care, it overlooks the issue of effectively managing case worker oversight and accountability within child welfare agencies.
Forty-one states have written standards for visitation by case workers, but there is no regulation or resource provision for enhancing the supervision of these visitations and their subsequent documentation.
The events surrounding cases like Rilya Wilson's are very complex. Laws regulating the implementation of reporting procedures and case planning measures are important - but thorough and effective execution of those processes takes time, professionals, and money. Many child welfare laws in regards to procedural mandates do not include the additional funding it requires for, as an example, ensuring case workers are visiting each foster family once per month and following up on all documentation, as Minnesota's out of home placement laws require.
In addition to federal and state legislation, how else can supervision and other oversight of children in foster care be strengthened?