Tuesday, February 7, 2012

HB 237

In addition to HB 225, another bill was put before the Utah State Legislature yesterday which greatly affects not only the rights of foster parents and foster children, but the rights of birth parents and parents pursuing private adoptions as well.  This bill is HB 337.  Although I didn’t read all 43 pages of HB 337 and thus didn’t take the time to formulate a response in letter form to my representatives, from my understanding the “jist” of the part of this bill which affects my rights is that relatives of foster children would be given preference to adopt a child (versus the child’s foster family) AFTER parental rights of the child have been terminated. 

When I heard this I scratched my head and was like, “Say WHAT?”  Yet another one of my pet peeves concerning foster care is when a foster family has had a child in their care for several months or in some cases, a couple of years, and as soon as parental rights are about to be terminated relatives come out of the woodwork and suddenly decide they’d like to have the child in their care-despite the fact that the child is bonded and attached to their foster family (and vice versa) and thriving in a safe and nurturing home.  In some cases, the foster child has never even met or rarely interacted with their relatives who are now interested in becoming their full-time caregivers.  Perhaps the most disturbing scenario is when relatives come forward insisting that their rights be heard, and the child is placed in their care- perhaps even adopted by them- and then the relatives change their mind about becoming the permanent caregivers to the child which results in major disruption and trauma for the child as he or she is returned to his former foster home.   
Please don’t misunderstand me- the reason such scenarios irritate me is not because kin of the foster child steps forward- keeping families together is one of the primary goals of foster care and foster parents (or “resource families” as the Utah Foster Care Foundation refers to us) are just that- a resource in helping families while they work things out.  The thing that bothers me about such cases is the TIMING of it all.  Where were these relatives during the 120 day period following the child’s initial removal when they are by law given preference to come forward, express an interest in caring for the child, get their background checks turned in and home studies done?  Furthermore, what kind of support and/or intervention did these relatives provide to the biological parents before the child came into state custody in the first place? 
[Of course, it the relatives are distant ones, they may be unaware there is a need for support in the first place- or that such relatives even exist.   Such was the case with our foster son, George, who only stayed with us for three months before distant relatives of his mother’s were able to become licensed kinship providers with the intent of eventually adopting him.]  I was honestly happy for them and for George after meeting them and I know from listening to their perspective and going through the licensing process myself that they would have liked to have sped up the process of paperwork and training required to have George in their home sooner.  Had George been in our home for several months or over a year, on the other hand, his move would have been even harder on everyone involved- and especially traumatic to George to be bounced from home to home after forming attachments and beginning to establish a sense of permanency.
Hopefully, those examples are helpful in illustrating to others why HB 237 is upsetting to Utah’s foster parents and the children they care for.  Now for the GOOD NEWS from yesterday’s hearing:  According to one representative, the intent of the bill was not to remove a child from a suitable foster home that wished to adopt.  But as with The Constitution (or any other legal document for that matter) some of the wording in certain sections of the bill (Namely, Section 13 on page 36), was interpreted by many to mean such.   Click here to read the bill in its entirety.
Aside from foster children and foster parents, here’s how HB 237 could affect birthparents and adoptive couples pursuing private adoptions:  (Anyone who has a better legal understanding of this part of the bill, please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken) Once a birthparent has terminated their rights to an infant in a private adoption—a relative may come forward and adopt the child, against the birth parent’s wishes!

Regarding this legislation I’m grateful for the chance for my rights to be respected and for my voice to be heard on such important decisions effecting children and families.


CCmomma said...

wow- not sure how i feel about that bill. this is in UT only? So excited to dive deeper into your blog. we start Foster Care pretty quickly here now!

Jess said...

I'm a foster parent in AZ. Worked in the child welfare system here for more than 10yrs professionally, have been fostering 3yrs now. The laws in AZ have always been like this (at least as long as I have been involved in this system). The family has always been priority over foster parents regardless of time in care. It's interesting to hear how other states systems work b/c I am only really familiar with AZ.

I have a new blog about my foster care journey. I'd love if you checked it out.

~Jess @ fosteringinthedeepend.blogspot.com

RSJ said...

I'd like to comment on this from both perspectives. We are foster parents in the state of TN. Some months back my husbands youngest sister had all 4 of her children removed for what we understand were incredibly horrendous conditions and she and her boyfriend were manufacturing meth in the home. I'd like to point a couple of things out to you so as to help with your questions :Where were these relatives during the 120 day period following the child’s initial removal when they are by law given preference to come forward, express an interest in caring for the child, get their background checks turned in and home studies done? Furthermore, what kind of support..etc. Sister lives in AZ, as does another Sister and Mom...all of which have issues. I doubt there was much help from them and even if they had tried, Sister would not have been open to it. I think you know how those who are addicted have a tendency to cut out family members who attempt to help. My husband and I had not had contact with his sister for over 10years, this was by her choice..not ours. We did indeed contact DCS when we we became aware of the situation, several times..to this date we have had no response from them. That being said..please understand that we are NOT able to be foster parents to her children, even though we are already licensed foster parents. The reason is because we reside out of state which, of course, will not work in a situation where the parents have visitation rights and inter state cases are very difficult legally. So the only thing that we can do, is register our interest in adoption if TPR should take place. Now...this does not mean that we have decided to do so. Being foster parents ourselves, we see this a bit differently. If this should happen, we would take in to consideration..the depth and length of the relationship to the current foster parents, as well as, the inherit issues surrounding such an adoption. So, please take into consideration the relatives situation before passing judgement on this issue. I suspect that foster parents are not always informed of a possible relative connection at the time first contact is made, therefore it will at times appear that they have come out of the woodwork at the last minute, this is not always the case. On the flip side of the issue, as a foster parent..I completely understand the frustration that comes with long lost relatives when you have dedicated so much time and love to a child. Many Blessings, Rhonda

McMullin's said...

I am a foster parent in WA state and laws like this already exist here. In fact our state spends up until rights are terminated searching out relatives for the child. Even if it is a cousin of a cousin.

But I completely understand and have one our foster children we have had for a year now and they is a lot more talk of terminating parent rights and so I would HATE if one of the family members stepped forward now.