Adoptions are the most emotional part of the dependency court process. If you are adopting a child you are making the ultimate commitment and sacrifice to another human being. If your child is being adopted and your parental rights severed forever it is the worst consequence for a parent. The biological connection and natural yearning of a child to be with natural family is forever severed. The system is not perfect and the injustices involved in adoptions when the law is not followed are devastating. Knowing the dependency process, DCFS procedures, family reunification timetables, and the unspoken rules of dependency court can assist with an adopting a child or stopping an adoption.
The following types of people usually adopt children from foster care: relatives, foster parents licensed by the state, de facto parents, and grandparents. After Family Reunification (FR) services are terminated, the court no longer has the goal of reunifying children with their parents. Parents get FR and are ordered into classes to reunify with their children. When they fail to reunify with their children by not completing the court order classes or making progress within 6-18 months, FR is terminated. Once FR is terminated, the goal of the court shifts from reunification with the parents to finding a child permanence. The court and DCFS favor adoption over other permanent plans such as Legal Guardianship because it gives a foster child a permanent loving home forever. If you are a relative or foster parent and have a child in your home and FR of a parent has been terminated, you are in a strong position to adopt. However, if you are not in custody of a child during the permanency part of the case, you have limited options.
Under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 361.3, prior to termination of FR, a qualified relative has a preference for placement over foster parents. The process of qualifying a relative can take as long as six to 12 months depending on the social worker. A motivated social worker can qualify a relative within a few weeks if there is no criminal background. Once FR is terminated the relative preference no longer exists. Therefore, if you are a relative seeking placement and eventfully adoption, it is important to get court orders to start the qualification process for placement immediately. Otherwise, you may lose the relative placement preference under section 361.3 forever.
To be approved for adoption or placement, law mandates that you pass Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) qualifications. This is a federal law and checklist that determines if you have a criminal history and a safe home. If you do not pass an ASFA background check, it is almost certain that you will not be able to adopt.
If you have an ASFA approved home, it does not assure that you receive placement for adoption. Too many times grandparents and relatives are overlooked by social workers for foster parents temporarily caring for a child. Social workers are known to make gross misrepresentations about relatives seeking placement that are ASFA approved to the court to deny the placement. This is because the comfort level that a social worker may feel with the current foster parent that wants to adopt. This is referred to as the “social engineering of families.”
It is important to be aware of FR timetables and relative preference. It is best to get appropriate orders from the court early on to maximize your chance at overcoming a social worker’s bias towards placement in your home. If you are a foster parent that wants to adopt and relatives are seeking placement, it may be best to share concerns about the minor that occur after visits with relatives. Get the child enrolled in therapy and develop a child centric positive relationship with the child’s attorney and social worker. Generally, the longer that you have placement and prove you provide love and stability to a child, the more likely you will be able to adopt that child in the event the parents’ FR is terminated and an adoption hearing set.
Parents and Relatives Fighting to Stop Adoption
As stated above, once FR is terminated, the goal of reunification with a parent shifts to finding a child a safe and permanent home. All the court needs to find to adopt your child, once a permanency hearing is set, is that your child is “adoptable.” This means that the prospective adoptive parent has a clear background check, has a safe home for adoption, and has demonstrated an ability to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.
The laws on stopping adoptions are very limited. The main defense includes what is referred to as the “bond exception.” Under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26 (c)(1)(B)(i), a parent must show that it is detrimental to a child to be adopted due to the circumstance that the parents have maintained regular visitation and contact with the child and the child would benefit from continuing that relationship. Case law has interpreted the “bond exception” to very limited circumstances. For example, a mother that visited with her infant child daily, changed diapers, and cooked meals demonstrates detriment to the child if adopted.
The bonding defense works best for children that are older and have a strong measurable attachment to their parents. The defense is best for a teenager, who is seeking to be adopted when the parent has substantial visitation.
Another option to stop an adoption is to file a 388 motion. A 388 motion, allows the court to change a prior order regarding the minor if the filing party can demonstrate a change in circumstances in the child’s best interest. The court generally considers the following factors when deciding 388 motions, how long the minor has been foster care, the type of visits the parent enjoys, amount of classes completed, the minor’s current placement, degree that the problems that led to dependency court have been ameliorated, and the speed upon which the parent addressed the problems that led to dependency.
Your remedies once the court terminates your parental rights is to file an appeal with the California Court of Appeals. If that does not succeed, your rights to your child are forever severed. It is advisable to have an informal agreement with the people adopting your child for visitation, however, post-adoption visitation contracts are not enforceable by the court. Once the court terminates parental rights, you have no right to visit, speak, or make decisions for your child.
If you’re in need of an adoption attorney contact Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro today! (562) 653-4583