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House bill influenced by murder of 6-year-old Waimānalo girl moves forward

honolulu police waimanalo isabella kalua 111021
Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/AP
Honolulu Police Maj. Ben Moszkowicz addresses a news conference in Honolulu on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, where law enforcement officers said they arrested the adopted parents of Isabella "Ariel" Kalua, shown on the screen to the left. The parents, Lehua and Isaac "Sonny" Kalua have been charged with second-degree murder in the girl's death. Police say the girl was killed a month before they reported her missing Sept. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

The murder of 6-year-old Isabella Kalua of Waimānalo last year shed light on the need for child welfare reform.

The girl was known as Ariel Sellers before she was adopted by Isaac and Lehua Kalua. The adoptive parents reported her missing but were later charged with second-degree murder. The girl was being homeschooled and had not been seen for weeks before she was reported missing.

The House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Homelessness passed a bill that would provide more protection for adopted children by allowing for more check-in visits from the state.

HB2424 would allow the state Department of Human Services to conduct home visits for children who receive adoption assistance or legal guardianship payment. The bill would also allocate funding to train more care workers.

Current foster parent Jenna-lyn Oda testified in support of the bill, stating, "Part of the issue is we only keep kids for a minimum of six months and then they can be adopted out. So having the extra eyes on each child — whether it's working out with the family, if not, if they need more services — this bill will help provide that."

"On top of [that] we are battling COVID, so some of the kids are now homeschooled. So they're not able to tell the teacher or counselor that they might be experiencing some problems at home — abuse or things of that nature. So having people and more eyes on these kids is such a wonderful thing. And of course, we always need more money to help support and protect the vulnerable," said Oda.

HB2424 will also be discussed by the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, and Committee on Finance.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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