With more than 94,000 residents in need of substance use disorder treatment throughout the state, Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Gabriela Mosquera and Chris Tully sponsor legislation to address one of the factors that can lead to the disorder. The bill, which requires State departments and courts to consider placing children with relatives if their parents cannot care for them, was passed by the Assembly Health Committee on Monday.
Whenever parents are no longer able to care for their child, the bill (A-5598) requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the court system to make a reasonable effort to place the child with a suitable relative or someone who has a kinship relationship with the child prior to placing them with a stranger/non-relative in the foster care system.
“As a doctor, I know it is just as important to try to prevent a problem as it to treat it,” said Assemblyman Conaway (D-Burlington). “Adverse childhood experiences, such as being taken away from one’s parents and placed with a stranger, often lead to issues such as depression and substance use disorder later in life. If we want to help prevent these mental health disorders in our state, we must address the factors that can contribute to them in the first place.”
“Studies have shown that children often fare better when placed with relatives rather than someone they do not know in foster care,” said Assemblywoman Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester). “More residents with happier, stable childhoods will help reduce the number of people throughout our state who struggle with substance use disorder.”
Friends of the family who are not relatives but have cared for the child for an extended period of time would more easily qualify for kinship legal guardianship (KLG) under the bill. These caregivers would now be able to qualify for KLG if the child lived in their home for six consecutive months or nine of the last 15 months, rather than 12 consecutive months or 15 of the last 22 months.
“A safe and loving home environment helps pave the way for children to lead healthier lives,” said Assemblyman Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This legislation provides solutions to one of the key factors contributing to substance use disorder by ensuring more children end up with family or friends who know them and can care for them when their parents cannot.”
The legislation also removes the requirement that KLG can only be considered when adoption has been ruled out as an alternative, thereby making it easier for previous caregivers to become kinship legal guardians.
The measure, which is part of a seven-bill package addressing the substance use disorder crisis in New Jersey, now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.