Child in Need of Protective Services (CHIPS)
CAND Chair Judge Anthony Capizzi and David Edelblute, Manager, Children and Families Section at the Supreme Court of Ohio, presented the approved CHIPS packet to the Governor’s Child Welfare Transformation Advisory Council on September 9, 2020.
The prepared packet included an explanatory Memo, the new CHIPS Framework, a History of CHIPS document, a Case Example illustrating why CHIPS is important, and other appendices. The new framework includes incorporation of clear process guidelines and expectations to strengthen the CHIPS goals of increasing consistency and expediting permanency.
Ohio’s Background and History
In 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families Children’s Bureau conducted its Ohio Children and Family Services Review (CFSR). The CFSR determined that Ohio was not consistent in its efforts to protect children from abuse or neglect, and that Ohio lacks “clear and consistent statewide criteria” for initial child abuse screening decisions. In response, the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Children, Families, and the Courts established the Subcommittee on Responding to Child Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency (CAND) to determine if Ohio law relating to the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and neglect properly serves children and families in need of government intervention.
CAND commissioned a study by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law (ABA Center). Those results highlighted the need for reform to Ohio law to address the issues identified in the CFSR. This report, and supplemental research directed by the Subcommittee, found that Ohio child welfare statutes and rules are in, many respects, circular, ambiguous and confusing, leading to inconsistent responses between counties and to compromised outcomes for children and families. Also noted was a prosecutorial type of approach in child protection cases that has led to mistrust between parents and the Public Children Services Agencies.
In response to these issues, the Subcommittee focused its efforts on identifying statutory and practice-based barriers to consistent and effective child protection practice, and to develop a proposal for broad-based change in systemic philosophy and modification of statutory definitions designed to eliminate the identified barriers. The ABA Center and the Family and Youth Law Center (at that time the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy) were retained to assist in this effort.
The ultimate product of the Subcommittee’s two years of intensive work was a set of final recommendations for Ohio to revise its overall child protection statutory structure and adopt a “Child in Need of Protective Services” framework. Such an approach promised to refocus Ohio child welfare law onto the needs of Ohio’s children, leaving to the criminal justice system the punishment of those who cause substantial harm or risk of substantial harm to children.
Child in Need of Protective Services (CHIPS)
The Subcommittee’s report found that Ohio’s current child protection system focuses on whether someone has harmed a child or put a child at risk, and if that individual is culpable. In contrast, a CHIPS framework emphasizes that protecting Ohio’s children from maltreatment is the paramount concern of Ohio’s child protection law; under CHIPS the first inquiry is whether a child is in need of state intervention, regardless of whether it is someone’s “fault.” Under CHIPS, the criminal justice system would continue to hold offenders accountable.
The original draft of legislative language for CHIPS emphasized the following goals:
- To establish a child protection framework that focuses on the safety and well-being of children while respecting parental rights and autonomy, thus promoting family preservation.
- To recognize that for the government to constitutionally intervene in with a family, even at the initial response stage, there must be a connection between parental conduct and the alleged harm or risk of harm to the child, with deference given to the parents’ constitutional right to be free of unwarranted government intrusion into private family life.
- To clarify the type and level of harm or risk of harm to a child’s safety and well-being that justifies the state’s intervention in the life of a family.
- To eliminate current confusing, circular, broad, and vague definitions for child maltreatment. To promote consistency from county to county in reporting, screening, case response, and decision-making.
- To focus on assessing and responding to children’s needs rather than on punishing parents, while at the same time creating enhanced parental accountability.
The original CHIPS proposal included seven carefully defined categories of circumstances in which a child could be adjudicated a “child in need of protective services.” These definitional categories, which the Subcommittee proposed to replace the words “abuse, neglect and dependency” in Ohio law, were designed for effective and appropriate treatment of at risk children and families by child protection agencies throughout the state. They included the following categories:
- Physically Harmed
- Sexually Harmed
- Emotionally Harmed
- Lacking Necessary Health Care
- Harmed by Exposure to Substance Misuse
- Lacking Legally Required Education
- Lacking Necessary Care or Supervision
CHIPS Enactment Efforts
CAND members, individually or as representatives of their organizations or agencies, engaged in enactment activities independently of the Subcommittee in the years following the release of CHIPS recommendations.
In November of 2009, Representatives Connie Pillich and Belcher introduced CHIPS legislation as House Bill 371. Extensive stakeholder meetings to elicit feedback and provide proposed changes were held over a year-long review period. Unfortunately, H.B. 371 did not move out of committee during the 128th General Assembly. Attempts to secure sponsorship during the 130th General Assembly were not successful.
Subsequent CHIPS Approach
After the attempts described above, CAND members took a new approach to CHIPS. In the interest of promoting the original goals behind the full legislative proposal while simplifying the process, CAND decided to focus on creating new definitions for three of the categories included in the original CHIPS legislative proposal: Dependency; Sexual Harm; and Harm by Substance Misuse. Other States’ definitions of these categories were explored, and specific statutory changes were suggested and discussed. At the November 2017 CAND meeting, the final proposals for each of these subcategories were presented. Committee members recommended revitalizing a full CHIPS proposal, and efforts shifted back to creating a full framework proposal.
Current CHIPS Workgroup
The new CHIPS workgroup held its first meeting on May 14, 2019. The group began by reviewing Ohio’s long history with CHIPS and turned to focus on the current readiness for CHIPS in light of Ohio’s concurrent child welfare system changes. The group discussed ideas such as re-branding, past obstacles and how to overcome same, and identified further information and research needed. Some of the topics identified and reviewed by the workgroup included: CHIPS impact on mandating reporting and child abuse/neglect registry searches; creation of a “Why CHIPS” document and a fact sheet to share with stakeholders; a comprehensive review of the last introduced CHIPS legislation and seven categories included to note necessary changes to better align with the current child welfare climate/practice, including FFPSA mandates; and a review of other areas of Ohio law that a CHIPS model would impact.
After discussion during the January 2020 meeting, the workgroup determined a plan to best align with the concurrent changes in the Ohio child welfare system, including the extensive work of the Governor’s Office of Child Welfare Transformation. The group decided that the new CHIPS proposal should include a focus on process elements, both for the child welfare agencies and the courts, to continue to work toward the long-standing goals of CHIPS, including increasing parental engagement, creating consistency across Ohio’s 88 county-based system, and decreasing time to permanency.
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