ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday passed a foster care bill named after a Frederick County toddler who died last year after being reunited with her parents.
The legislation, which cleared the House by a vote of 133-2, would broaden the justifications for blocking reunification of a parent and child. Although an identical bill has already passed through the state Senate, at least one of the bills will have to clear both chambers for the measure to become law. However, the bill’s supporters are feeling optimistic now that lawmakers on both sides of the Legislature have endorsed the proposal.
“I think the prospects now are really great,” said Delegate Kathy Afzali, a lead sponsor of the bill. “I’m just really thrilled that people saw that the bill was necessary to keep children safe.”
The proposal is named for Anayah Williams, who was removed from her home and placed in foster care when she was 4 months old and found with a fractured rib and skull. She died at 21 months, weeks after being returned to her parents’ home.
Her father, Frankie Williams, is charged with first-degree murder in Anayah’s death. The toddler’s biological mother is charged with child abuse and accessory after the fact for not calling authorities sooner.
Social workers had to reunite Anayah with her parents because her situation didn’t rise to the level of “chronic abuse,” the standard set by current state law, Afzali has said.
The bill offered up in the House by Afzali and Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, and by Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, in the opposite chamber would enable a judge to prevent reunification if abuse is severe, even if it isn’t chronic.
The judge could also keep the child in foster care in cases of abandonment, abuse of a sibling or other child in the parent’s home or the parent’s failure to protect a child from abuse by another adult in the household.
“I think the bill would have kept Anayah safe,” said Afzali, R-District 4.
Afzali said the foster care advocates who have pressed for the legal change were thrilled to hear that the legislation sailed through the House. She said she plans to bring the advocates to Annapolis to celebrate the final passage of one of the bills.
The Senate bill is awaiting a hearing before a House committee. The House legislation will now head to the Senate for consideration.