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In wake of 6-year-old’s horrific death, lawmakers approve bill aimed at bolstering child welfare system

State lawmakers have approved a measure aimed at significantly strengthening Hawaii’s child welfare system.
Published: Apr. 30, 2022 at 5:44 PM HST|Updated: May. 1, 2022 at 12:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers have approved a measure aimed at significantly strengthening Hawaii’s child welfare system — including by expanding investigative powers — following the death of 6-year-old Isabella Kalua, whose foster parents have been charged with her murder.

“I really don’t want to see or hear about another Peter Boy Kema or Ariel Sellers,” said state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, chairwoman of the Senate Human Service Committee.

“And we’re hoping with all of the supports, that we won’t.”

State Rep. Ryan Yamane, chair of the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness, said the bill includes expanding investigative powers.

“If there is a complaint filed by let’s say, a teacher, or neighbor, or coworker, regarding the safety of that child in that home, the department then will need to monitor that family to ensure the safety of the placement, not just for that incident, but ongoing,” said Yamane.

In addition, Yamane said up to $8 million will go toward resources for the Department of Human Services.

“The department has always struggled to be able to not only attract and train, but also retain good Child Welfare Services workers because of the stress,” said Yamane. “And so, again, we wanted to balance that off knowing that if we want more things done, that we have to give them the resources.”

Buenaventura said CWS’ job vacancy rate stands at 20%.

She said funding will also go toward recruiting, training and supporting resource caregivers or foster families.

“And they’re the ones really where we need to recruit, and train how to deal with these traumatized children,” said Buenaventura. “We found out that the monies that that we had initially thought of about giving CWS was not enough. The budget for the resource caregivers has been severely cut.”

Under the measure, which now heads to the governor’s desk, a task force made up of providers would also be created to monitor the department’s actions.

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