Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, today, I introduced the Rehab and Ahmed Amer Foster Care Improvement Act of 2013, which is substantively identical to a bill I introduced in the 112th Congress. It will enhance the existing federal policy of encouraging state foster care programs to place children in the care of willing and able relatives.
This legislation accomplishes that goal by requiring States that receive federal funding for foster care programs to add certain procedural enhancements to their foster care programs so as to ensure a more fair placement decision-making process.
Specifically, my bill requires that, within 90 days after a State makes a foster care placement decision, the State must provide notice of such decision to the following affected parties: the child's parents; relatives who have informed the State of their interest in caring for the child; the guardian; the guardian ad litem of the child; the attorney for the child; the attorney for each parent of the child; the prosecutor involved; and the child if he or she is able to express an opinion regarding placement.
Additionally, States must establish procedures that: allow any of the parties who receive notice of the State's placement decision to request, within five days after receipt of the notice, documentation of the reasons for the State's decision; allow the child's attorney to petition the court involved to review the decision; and require the court to commence such review within seven days after receipt of the petition and conduct such review on the record.
The harrowing story of Rehab and Ahmed Amer of Dearborn, Michigan prompted me to craft this bill.
In 1985, the Amers lost two of their children to Michigan's foster care system after Rehab had been subject to criminal charges related to the death of her two-year-old son Samier, who died because of head injuries resulting from a fall in a bathtub.
Although Rehab had been acquitted in August 1986 of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with Samier's death, the State refused to return the Amers' other two children to them and, in fact, removed a third child from the Amers' custody four months after Rehab's acquittal.
As a temporary alternative, Rehab's brother petitioned to be a foster parent to the Amers' three children, but was denied his petition even though he had previously served as a foster parent for other children.
It is important to note that the Amers are Muslim. Nevertheless, the State, rather than placing the Amers' children with a foster family of the same faith and cultural background, sent them to live with an evangelical Christian family, which re-named the Amers' children--Mohamed Ali, Sueheir, and Zinabe--with Christian names and raised them as Christians.
Today, only the oldest of the Amers' three living children, Mohamed Ali, now known as Adam, communicates with them.
In reaction to the Amers' story, Michigan enacted what became known as the Amer Law. That law requires foster care placement agencies in Michigan to consider and give special preference for relatives when making a foster care placement decision.
The Amer Law is consistent with federal foster care policy, which also seeks to give preference to a child's relatives and, for Native American children, a family of the same cultural background as the child, when making placement decisions.
The Amer Law, however, has several provisions that go beyond current federal law to ensure due process. In sum, this law gives parents, relatives, guardians, and the child in certain cases additional procedural rights, including the right to written notice and an explanation of a placement decision. In addition, it authorizes judicial review of a placement decision by a foster care agency.
My legislation simply adds these enhanced due process features of the Amer Law to existing federal foster care law.
The best interests of the child should always be the overriding consideration when making foster care placement decisions. That standard should also require foster care agencies to give special preference to placing a child with relatives, where the child can be raised in the same culture or religion as his or her own, all other things being equal.
I thank Rehab and Ahmed Amer for bringing this issue to light and for their tireless efforts to make the foster care placement process fairer for everyone, first in Michigan, and, now, nationally.