Foster care immunization has gained the spotlight in Texas recently as the state attempts to reform its foster care system. The Texas child welfare system has been under fire since 2015, when a Corpus Christi judge delivered a 250-page ruling that declared that long-term foster care in the state was, as she put it, “broken.” The ruling came in the wake of 144 deaths of children in care between 2010 and 2014. According to the judge, this violates the 14th Amendment – the right to be free from, as the judge said, “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability.” After receiving this criticism, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) of Texas began reform efforts, and House Bill 39 was introduced with a number of stipulations intended to keep children in foster care safe. Amidst the debate one hot-button issue has gained attention on the national stage: foster care immunization.
Immunization has been a controversial topic in the United States for years, with many groups across the country voicing opinions over the implementation of vaccines for children. Arguments tend to fall into two categories: “Are vaccines safe?” and “Should vaccines be mandatory?“ Proponents of immunization argue that vaccines are effective in preventing disease. They also have faith in major medical organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others that verify the safety of vaccines. They believe that vaccines are the primary way to protect future generations from possible disease outbreaks. For those that believe vaccines are safe, the question of whether the government requires them is moot – if vaccines are good for society and protect future generations, a mandatory vaccine schedule is entirely reasonable and acceptable. For those who doubt the safety of vaccines, however, government-based immunization schedules (including a foster care immunization plan) represent a threat to their children’s well-being.
Opponents of immunization cite the presence of certain compounds, including mercury, aluminum and formaldehyde, as potential sources of danger resulting in complications from cardiac impairment and asthma to kidney failure and autism. With the understanding that such compounds could cause terrible complications, immunization opponents often wish to keep such an important medical decision entirely in the hands of the family with little to no government involvement. Former US Representative Ron Paul, MD (R –TX) has been quoted as saying, “Intimately personal medical decisions should not be made by government….” The battle between those that believe vaccines are safe and those that don’t has transcended into a debate over how much influence the government should have in our lives and to what extent communities should have control over personal decisions. In the case of Texas, the specific issue is whether or not the immunization of children should be required before a termination of parental rights (TPR) has occurred.
For Rep. Bill Zedler (R – TX), who helped amend the bill to prevent foster care immunization before TPR occurs, such an arrangement is inappropriate. “We’re treated like automobiles, like you get your oil change every 3,000 miles, well we’re going to give you this vaccine at birth … and so on down the line,” he told Mystatesman.com.
As of September 2015, Texas had 8,879 children whose parents had their rights terminated and were waiting for adoption, representing 14 percent of all such children in the nation. (AFCARS). This means such an amendment could affect the estimated 21,000 children (AFCARS, estimated from 2015 numbers) whose parents retain their parental rights and would prevent the state for immunizing them.
To some, keeping immunization under the control of the biological parents is an important goal, but for others, the notion that they might have to take unvaccinated children into their home can be unnerving. For biological parents, the foster care immunization amendment to Bill 39 is a victory of rights, but questions remain as to how this will affect the current body of open foster homes. Furthermore, to what extent should the state be involved in handling children who are not immunized? Zedler’s amendment was preceded by a different bill that would prohibit the state from removing children from a parents’ home if those parents choose not to vaccinate their children.
Each state differs with regards to how they handle foster care immunization. In New Jersey, according to the Manual of Requirements for Resource Family Parents, children in a foster home, whether they are a foster child or a resource parent’s biological child, must receive immunizations as recommended by the children’s doctor(s).