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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Recently in legal issues Category

In a case similar to the controversial "Baby Veronica" situation, another Oklahoma father is fighting to have his baby daughter returned. Baby Desirai's pre-adoptive parents have refused to turn the child over to the Absentee Shawnee tribe, despite an Oklahoma's court ruling last month in favor of the tribe, according to Oklahoma's News One 6.

The similarities to the baby Veronica are many; a father who wants custody, the involvement of a tribe, and the same attorneys - Raymond Goodwin in South Carolina also represented the Capobiancos who adopted Veronica and Paul Swain in Tulsa who also represented the Capobiancos.

For more about "Baby Desirai":

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Last week I came across a news article from the Times-Picayune. The LA senate approved a bill sponsored by Patrick Jefferson (D), HB219, that would prohibit the disqualification of a prospective adoptive parent based solely on past criminal history.

HB219 would require a judge to consider the type of offense and length of time since the offense was committed. The bill is now headed for debate in the Senate.

Opening up foster "cold cases"

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This guest blog post was written by Linda Gross.

MichelleBarclay3 300.jpg Photo of Michelle Barclay, Cold Case manager in Georgia

Youth Today recently published an article about a program in Georgia where "cold" foster care cases are being reopened to consider adoption options for children that have been otherwise left alone for multiple years. The project began a few years ago, and is managed by an attorney named Michelle Barclay who works under Georgia's Committee on Justice for Children.

The article serves to provide insight into the long-term experiences of foster care youth and resurfaces myths supporting the passive allowance of youth living and aging-out of foster care. One such myth is that during the child's initial case, all that could be done, was done. While ideally this would be true and could be assumed, given tight timeframes, limited budgets and the occasional bad worker, it could easily be that the child has never truly had the child welfare system work intensively on his or her behalf to find a new family for them to build permanence with. The second myth is that once all options are exhausted in the search for a permanent place for the child, they are exhausted for life. An important example of this are kin who at the time of the child's first need for placements, may have been under life circumstances that didn't allow them to feel they could take on caring for the child. However, several years later a more stable life situation combined with a child closer-aged to self-sufficiency and independence, could result in kin able to open their homes to another person.

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The article also brings to light the interesting collaboration between child protection and the hire of private investigators for the purpose of family finding. While several agencies have begun incorporating more formal family finding models, the use of investigators for the purpose of finding additional kin to broaden placement options, this is a collaboration we can only hope grows. In 2006, a 60 Minutes broadcast entitled Lost and Found featured Kevin Campbell, an expert on family finding. The episode demonstrated his field's ability to contribute to the connectedness these youth have, with one two-hour search providing enough for one young woman to have a virtual depiction of her own family tree.

Bringing these lost youth, discounted to becoming foster-care children for life, into new and resurged prospects for permanency is a true demonstration of hope and potential for the future of America's next generations.

To read the article at Youth Today click here.

To view Lesley Stahl discussing her 60-minutes feature, Lost and Found, click here.

Contested adoption pits family against foster parents

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This guest blog post was written by Emma Siebold.

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The article, Split the Baby: Two Sides of an Adoption Battle, was published in the Minnesota City Pages newspaper on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 and written by Olivia LeVecchia. It discusses the court battle between the Grossners and Dunnings, two families fighting for custody of two young African American girls, currently three and two years old. The two girls are the biological children of Princton Knox, the son of Dorothy Dunning. They were put into foster care with the Grossners after their births because drugs were found in their systems. The article mentions briefly their biological mother, Javille "Angel" Sutton, but does not comment on her current whereabouts and involvement in the case. The older of the two girls has been living with the Grossners since 2009 and the younger was born a year later. It was ruled by the lower court that the girls were to remain in the care of the Grossners. This decision was appealed by the Dunnings but the ruling was upheld; the case is currently being contested in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

A strength of this article is that the information is presented in a way that is easy to understand to the general population. It provides general legislative information pertaining to permanency laws such as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) and federal and state laws regarding race and permanency decisions. This tone is appropriate because this article is featured in a public newspaper, as opposed to a scholarly journal, which may require more scholarly language. The author seems to take on a sense of neutrality when discussing the viewpoints of the foster parents and paternal grandparents. The article does not seem to side with either party. One limitation of this article, however, is that it does not include very much information about the role of the biological parents in this case. The biological mother is mentioned briefly, the author mentions she has had several other children removed from her custody due to drug addiction. The author discusses the biological father's drug addiction, noting that he is no longer using drugs and has another family. In order to present a well-rounded discussion of all the parties involved in this case, including the foster parents, paternal grandparents and child welfare system, the article should include more of a discussion of the biological parents.

The article seems to take the position that the Child Welfare system fractured. It subtly comments on how the adoption process is very slow and provides a disservice to children and families; foster, adoptive, and biological alike. On several instances the article seems to critique the slowness in finding relative placements for children, citing federal and state mandated timelines that were not followed. The article also comments on the discrepancies in the federal and state laws around race considerations and permanency. The article seems to take the position that it is not as simple an issue to eliminate race completely in permanency decisions; race and culture are inevitably intertwined.

Investigation of Russian adopted child's death

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This guest blog post was written by Kari Torborg.

041B6153-1496-484F-80EC-45544EAF0BF9_w268_r1.jpeg [Photo of Max Shatto (Maksim Kuzmin) who died on January 21.]

The article which is the focus of this blog assignment is entitled "All eyes on Texas town at center of Russian adoption drama". It was published on February 22, 2013 by Richard Solash with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The topic of this article is of adoption. Most notably, the story of a young child recently adopted from Russia who died in January and is now the subject of an international media frenzy.

The strengths of this article include that Mr. Solash provided necessary and unbiased background information regarding details available about the child's death, communication with the police department and medical examiner's office, and about the family who adopted the young child. Mr. Solash detailed both positive and negative character descriptions of the adoptive mother and did not paint a picture of her character that would lead the reader to be persuaded either that she was guilty or was not guilty of her son's death. Mr. Solash also provided available information confirming that the adoptive mother completed necessary steps of the adoption process but also included the factual detail that child protection has since become involved.

The limitations in the article include the inherent negative connotations in regard to the information provided which related to the accusations from the Russian officials. Although the information coming from Russian officials appears to be potentially prejudiced and perhaps unfounded, Mr. Solash's communication style could leave the general audience feeling as though the Russian officials were defiant, oppositional, or unreasonable. Also, Mr. Solash only briefly mentioned (in one sentence) the current ban on Russian adoptions by U.S. citizens with respect to this case. The general population would benefit from additional information regarding the federal law signed into law on January 1, 2013 banning adoptions from Russia to the United States.

A common myth about adoption that was mentioned in this article was described in the following statement by the county sheriff, "I understand they think these things get covered up, get thrown under the rug, and nobody investigates, but this is not investigating a Russian kid. This is investigating a Texas kid that has died" (Solash, 2013). This statement speaks to the myth of cover ups and the subsequent or anticipated mistreatment of adopted children. This statement dispels the myth that internationally adopted kids are seen perhaps as unworthy of due process due to their status as someone originating from another county. What the sheriff is trying to say is that this child who has lost his life, although he is from Russia, he was adopted in the United States and the jurisdiction is on Texas' authority to investigate. This article also encourages the myth of adoptive children who have the potential to be exploited in the media. It also brings up the question and common misperception regarding whether or not biological parents are able to get their child back after an adoption. Although the article does not take a stance on this topic, it does present the information that the child's biological mother is asking that her surviving son be returned to her care.

This article provided very useful information regarding the current state of this case, the United States and Russian response, and future implications depending on the outcome of the investigation.

To read the article, click here.

A custody battle headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

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This guest post was written by Faiza Ali.

A Custody Battle Headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

EP-130119670.jpeg [Veronica with her father, Dusten Brown. Image courtesy of Post and Courier]

This article (above) is about an adoption case involving a 3 year old Native American Child that is set to start trial in April at the U.S. Supreme Court.

After two years of waiting, Dusten Brown who is of Cherokee Indian Heritage, won a custody battle in a South Carolina Supreme Court involving his daughter Veronica who was living with her adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco. Veronica's mother, who at one point was engaged to Brown, is non-native and has two other children from previous relationships. Not being able to afford to care for a third child, and due to lack of financial support from Brown, she contacted and gave him an option of paying child support or give up his parental rights. Through a text message he chose the latter.

During the adoption process, she informed the adoptions attorney about Brown's Cherokee Indian Heritage. She also misspelt his name and did not know his birthdate, which made it hard for the welfare division of the Cherokee Nation to confirm his membership in the tribe.

Four months after Veronica was born, Brown was served and signed a legal document that stated he was not going to contest the adoption. He immediately realized what he had done and tried to take the paper back but it was too late. He decided to request a stay of the adoption and also establish paternity after he consulted with an attorney. It took two years before the case was heard.

Being a member of Cherokee Nation and the paternity confirmed, a family court judge granted him custody of his child. After adopting and raising Veronica for two years, the Capobiancos' were asked to hand her over back to her biological father who took her back to Oklahoma.

The strength in this article is the Judge's consideration when making his decision of the "Federal Indian Welfare Act of 1978, which not only protects the best interest of the child but also promotes the stability and security of Indian tribes and families". The supporters of ICWA and many Native American law scholars argue, "ICWA is the most important American Indian Law ever enacted". Taking away a child from the only home and only family that she knew for two years and the continuous long custody battle is not in the interest of the child and might later affect her development and her ability to form long-term relationships.

Lisa Blatt, who was named one of the most powerful women in Washington, is the attorney who will again represent the adoptive family in their appeal. Charles Rothfield will represent Veronica's biological father and he also has argued over 200 cases in front of the high court.

This will be the second case involving a native child to be heard at the U.S Supreme Court and, therefore, a lot of people are interested in the outcome which will affect how other future cases will be decided.

The Capobiancos have filed an appeal at the U.S. Supreme court, which will be heard in April.

Information about the court decision is here.

This guest post was written by Tracy Neil.

la-oe-bass-roybal-allard-immigration-20130211-001.jpeg (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / February 8, 2013)

The Los Angeles Times ran an article on February 11, 2013 that was written by Karen Bass and Lucille Roybal-Allard that are both members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Care. This article brought attention to the issue of what happens to immigrant children when their parents are detained or deported due to federal immigrations enforcement. The article goes on to talk about how immigrant parents or guardians, once arrested are usually not given time to make arrangements for their children. With no one to look after them, these children then enter the foster care system. Due to the distance between where the parents are held and where custody hearings for their children take place, parents often do not have a say in what happens to their children and trying to remain in contact with their children is very difficult. If the parents are released, they face a difficult time trying to work a case plan showing they are capable of meeting the health and welfare needs of their children as they do not qualify for most services that would be provided to assist them and they cannot get a job due to their immigration status. These issues often lead toward the permanent loss of their parental rights. If the parent is deported, the odds of getting their children back are even less and requires the parents to get the support of consulate and have the consulate advocate on their behalf. Often times the judge or social workers feel it is in the child's best interest to remain in foster care in the United States rather than return to the country their parents were sent back to. Last year, the Help Separated Families Act was introduced to Congress by Roybal-Allard and this year Representative Bass will help co-sponsor and reintroduce the act to the upcoming Congress. This act would make it "more difficult to terminate parent's rights based only on their immigration status.....it would also allow the children to be placed in the best home for them regardless of the immigration status of the potential guardian" (Bass & Roybal-Allard, 2013).

This article was very well written in regards to explaining the issue very clearly for those who are not familiar with foster care or immigration. It brought to light a very real problem in our country that needs attention but that many readers have probably never thought about nor heard of. However, I felt that more specific information explaining the Help Separated Families Act was left out; leading someone with no foster care experience to think this act is going to solve the issue. The article did not address the issue that some of these children grow up in foster care and upon them aging out of the system; they are deported just as their parents were. If these children are not deported upon aging out of foster care and they do not become U.S. citizens for some reason prior to aging out, they face the same obstacles their parents did in regards to finding a job, getting medical insurance and they cannot apply for financial aid to attend college all due to their immigration status. If they do seek to become a citizen after age 18, how do they maneuver through the system and pay the fees associated with gaining citizenship in addition to trying to keep a roof over their head and food on the table? These are all questions that these children and the system will face, and hopefully as this act moves forward these issues will be addressed.

To read more see the entire article here.

The Baby Sehwa case

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This guest blog was written by Jill Melaas.

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Lisa Black, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, has been following a court case for the past few months involving an Evanston, Illinois couple and the country of South Korea. Christopher and Jinshil Duquet went to South Korea to adopt Baby Sehwa a few days after her birth. The child has been raised by the Duquets ever since, and now at 9-months old, the court has decided that the baby must return to South Korea.

The reporter did a good job chronicling the case and presenting the details that led to the court's involvement. Christopher and Jinshil were accused of circumventing South Korean adoption laws. The couple decided to use a private lawyer instead of a South Korean adoption agency to complete the adoption. Years earlier the couple had adopted a daughter from South Korea through an agency, but were told they were now too old under South Korean law to follow the same procedures. However, South Korean law requires that children be placed through a licensed adoption agency. The couple reported that they received bad legal advice and believed they were participating in a lawful adoption. Jinshil is a South Korea native who moved to the United States as a child and heard about Sehwa through a pastor with connections to her family. Jinshil proceeded to contact local immigration lawyers, who put her in touch with a South Korean lawyer who said he could arrange a private adoption. The Duquets claimed they did not realize there was a problem with the adoption until they returned to the United States with Sehwa and were told by officials at O'Hare International Airport that she did not have the appropriate adoption paperwork.

The Duquets were unsuccessful in attesting that, despite their error, it was in Sehwa's best interest to remain in their care. On February 28, the court sided with the South Korean government and determined that the child must be deported. Baby Sehwa returned to South Korea on March 6, where she is to be placed with a South Korean family for adoption. The Chicago Tribune article lacked further detail on how the court came to its decision.

The articles chronicling this case provide a tragic example of the complications that can arise with intercountry adoption. Intercountry adoption can become quite complex as it incorporates family law, criminal law, and immigration practices of both countries involved in the adoption process. Numerous countries have attempted to alleviate these complexities by creating a treaty with other nations that establish common provisions regarding intercountry adoption. The Hauge Convention (or http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php) is a treaty agreement that establishes safeguards and a standardized approach to guarantee that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. While the United States is a signatory to the agreement, South Korea is not. If South Korea had been a signatory, and the adoption had followed the Hauge Convention's provisions, Baby Sehwa may not have been subjected to this unfortunate situation. Either way, this case illustrates the importance of obtaining advice from specialists in intercountry adoption and understanding the laws of both countries involved before proceeding with an adoption.

Are embryo adoptions the same as other adoptions?

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This guest blog post was written by Min Hae Cho.

I am interning at the Children's Home Society and Family Services. Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to join a domestic adoption case consultant meeting. During the meeting, an embryo adoption issue was brought up. A client applied for domestic infant adoption and at the same time was trying embryo adoption, which really intrigued me because I had never heard about embryo adoption before. I did know the term "embryo" but I was not able to match "embryo" with "adoption." After that, I looked up lots of websites and literature to learn about embryo adoption. The more information about embryo adoption I obtained, the more confused and complicated I feel. Still, it is difficult for me to stay grounded and focused because of too many ideas flowing in mind.

I first watched news titled "Local family among first to try open embryo adoption arrangement" by Heather Graf on KING 5 News website (KING 5, 2013). It describes that the family who adopted embryos and their adopted child all have been faring well. The news talked about Rachel and Diony Victorin's embryo adoption story. They tried IVF for four times but failed to get pregnant. At that time, they heard about embryo adoption, which made their dream come true. They got an embryo donation and nine months later gave birth to their daughter, Esther Victorin. After that, they decided on open adoption, so have been contacted by genetic family.

It is certain that embryo adoption creates an opportunity for infertile couples to have a baby from gestating a pregnancy through giving birth. Moreover, being pregnant provides the prospective adoptive mothers with the opportunity to bond with their unborn children in utero. Given that attachment is one of the most important issues in adoption, embryo adoption enables the relationships between adoptive parents and their children to begin far more smoothly and easily. The mass media is filled with these positive aspects of embryo adoption.

Despite such advantages of embryo adoption, many questions crossed my mind and made me confused. First, gestating through embryo implantation is also risk-taking. For example, there are many risks factors such as the possibility of multiple pregnancies, very low success rates in thawing embryos and transferring embryos into the woman's uterus (Moore, 2007). In addition, it is extremely costly.

Second, if the embryo adoption is not confidential, all the issues related to adoption are still there. According to Silverstein & Kaplan (1986), there are the seven core issues in adoption including loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy, and control. In case of embryo adoption, the adoption triad members cannot avoid these issues either. They have no choice but to go through the same lifelong issues. For example, adoptive parents grieve the many losses involved in their infertility regardless of how their children were conceived. Also, adopted children might deal with the arbitrary nature of embryo adoption, which means that they were transferred to their adoptive parents because a physician chose their embryos. Even for genetic parents, the loss of a genetic child might never go away completely unless they keep their donation secret. Concealing such issues does not make it go away themselves because there might always be reminders like questions from doctors they will see about adopted children's medical history, and talks with others about who they look like. In this sense, what is better in embryo adoption than traditional adoption? Unless the adoption triad members are free from the adoption issues, it seems like that the mass media sugarcoats the reality of embryo adoption.

Third, I pondered over the purpose of adoption. The Child Welfare League of America Standards for Adoption Service (1998) states that "the primary purpose of adoption service is to help children who would not otherwise have a family life, to become members of a family that can give them the love, care, protection and opportunities essential for their healthy personal growth and development. The placement of children for adoption has as its main objective the well-being of children." Personally, I feel strange about extending the use of the term "adoption" to embryos. Specifically, when I am concerned about the number of children waiting to be adopted now. In 2011, 400,540 children were in the foster care system and approximately 25% of these children (104,236) were waiting to be adopted (The AFCARS Report, 2012). At this point, I hold that embryo adoption puts the children awaiting adoptions at a disadvantage. Also, I even feel like that embryo adoption is biased toward adoptive parents' interests rather than the child's best interests.

Last, regarding laws regulating embryo adoption, many states have been tackling this issue (Dostalik, 2010). Embryo adoption agencies in many states have used the same procedures used in traditional adoption case. Understandably, the current embryo adoption procedure leads to some legal issues such as invalidating consent to adoption given by the genetic parents.

Besides whether or not the current legal status of embryos is considered as human beings, significant and complicate practical obstacles still remain, so I think that it is premature to extend the term "adoption" to embryo donation.

References

  • AFCARS Report. (2012). Retrieved March 9, 2013 from this link.
  • Dostalik, M. P. (2010). Embryo "adoption"? the rhetoric, the law, and the legal consequences. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from this link.
  • KING 5. (2013). Local family among first to try open embryo adoption arrangement. (2012). Retrieved February 18, 2013 from this link.
  • Moore, A. K. (2007). Embryo adoption: the legal and moral challenges. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from this link.

This guest post was written by Brittany Kellerman.

FOSTER-1-articleLarge.jpeg [Photo: Mark Holm for the NYT]

The New York Times published an article on January 26, 2013 entitled "Focus on Preserving Heritage Can Limit Foster Care for Indians" by Dan Frosch. The article discusses the impact that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 continues to have today on Native American children and families. It highlights the fact that Native American children are highly overrepresented in child welfare systems around the country, including in Minnesota. It also points out the extreme shortage of licensed Indian foster families in particular states, such as in New Mexico, where in Bernalillo County there are 65 Indian children in state custody, but only 5 Indian foster homes. This discrepancy leads Native American children waiting in shelters for significant amounts of time while searching for relatives or native foster homes and in many cases ultimately placing the children in non-native foster homes.

While the article provides important facts around disparities that are beneficial to dispelling myths, it does not dig deep into why these disparities continue to exist. It is however quick to point to the poverty and the substance abuse endemic in American Indian communities as being the reasons for low rates of Native foster homes, while the issues of institutional racism and historical trauma are simply skimmed over.

As an example of a case where ICWA impacts the outcomes for native children, the article discusses a highly publicized case of Baby Veronica. In this case, a judge ordered a white couple to return a 27-month-old girl they raised since birth to her biological Indian father. In this case, the father was estranged from the mother and was unaware that his daughter was going to be put up for adoption. The facts of the case demonstrate that the father engaged in seeking custody as soon as he was notified of the request for adoption. The decision to return the child to her father was based upon the child's tribal status and the ruling that the birth mother tried to conceal the father's tribal affiliation.

The case of Baby Veronica, while governed by ICWA in this case due to the father's tribal affiliation, brings up questions around all fathers' parental rights that were not addressed in the article. If this case were involving a non-native father, would the child be returned to the biological father? If a biological father is willing/able to provide a loving home for the child, it only seems right to keep the child connected to their biological roots. The case of Baby Veronica will be held before the Supreme Court in April 2013 and the court will be asked to consider the constitutionality of ICWA.

In summary, ICWA has made a significant impact on the Native American population by keeping many children connected to their heritage. Clearly, Native American families continue to face significant challenges and discrimination in their interactions with child welfare agencies and cases such as Baby Veronica's demonstrate a continued need for additional protection for Native families.

For more information on the Baby Veronica case, click here.

Two sides of an adoption battle

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This guest blog post was written by Ryan Lewsander.

Right now the Minnesota Supreme Court is tasked with making a tragic choice: who will they rip two children away from, their prospective adoptive family, or their biological grandmother and extended family in Georgia? The sad drama of this case is documented compellingly in Olivia LaVecchia's City Pages article "Split the Baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" published on January 13th, 2013.

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The story begins in October 2009 when Javille "Angel" Sutton gave birth to a baby girl, Princess, born with cocaine in her system. Hennepin County Child Protection Services (HCCPS) responded by placing the four-day old infant with foster parents Liv and Steven Grosser in Plymouth, Minnesota. Upon learning that her granddaughter was in the system, Dorothy Dunning, of Mississippi called HCCPS on December 2nd, 2009 and expressed that she wanted Princess with her. In April 2010, HCCPS sent Mississippi an Interstate Compact in the Placement of Children (MICPC) to approve Dorothy Dunning's home as a placement for Princess. This process was bungled, and after a year and a half HCCPS withdrew its' MICPC and told the Grosser's to move forward with their plans to adopt Princess and her baby sister, Hannah. Not long after that, Mississippi sent a completed home study of Dorothy Dunning to Minnesota, and in March 2011 HCCPS reversed itself and supported Dorothy's claim for the children in court. Now the Minnesota Supreme Court will decide the fate of the children after hearing the case this January.

Lavecchia's article does a good job of presenting the details of the timeline of the case, and the injustices done to both the Grosser family and Dorothy Dunning. The complexity of this contested adoption depicted in the article enables the reader to feel empathy for all parties in the case, as is appropriate. What's more, the article does not shy away from illuminating an important element of the dispute: race. The Grosser family is a White suburban family and Steven, the father, works as a Corporate Financial Officer. Dorothy Dunning is African-American who cleans homes professionally and whose son's crack addiction was a reason for the children's removal upon birth. The article provokes the reader to think about how race should be considered in cases of permanency. More specifically, it challenges many readers to wrestle with their prejudice that white affluent families are better caregivers for their children than poor black families, and should therefore be privileged in these kinds of disputes. A key question this article provokes is how would this case be different if Dorothy Dunning was white and middle-class and the Grosser family was black and working-class?

The article also hits on the widespread perception of permanency in child welfare as a confusing mess, and excessively bureaucratic. In this case, it appears that HCCPS made major mistakes by not searching out Dorothy Dunning as an option for the children, and by encouraging the Grosser family to adopt only oppose it three months later. Not to be outdone, Mississippi demonstrated extreme incompetence by taking a year and a half to complete a home study to approve Dorothy Dunning as a fit placement for the children. It is these kinds of mistakes that lead people to believe that the system does more harm than good for vulnerable children.

To read the article in full, click here.

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[Photo by Al Hartman, for the Salt Lake Tribune]

Terry Archane, the father whose daughter was placed for adoption without his knowledge and consent, will be able to move forward as the sole guardian for his daughter after the adoptive parents who lost custody last month decided not to appeal the ruling.

Archane's ex-wife moved from Texas to Utah to place their daughter for adoption while Archane was in South Carolina preparing for a job transfer. Archane was never informed of the placement and upon learning that the child had been placed, attempted to get custody of his daughter. The agency that facilitated the adoption refused.

The adoptive parents appealed the ruling that placed the baby with her father, but dropped the suit after considering that a prolonged custody battle would ultimately not be in the child's best interest.

More on the story from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Believing that parents who abuse are able to change

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An innovative initiative by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Helen Meyer helps to support parents who have been accused of abusing their children.

According to Myer, repairing the relationship between the parent and child is worth the effort and resources if it prevents the child from having to be placed in out-of-home care or adopted.

Myer's program will train law students on how to represent parents subject to child abuse investigations. According to Myers, these parents in particular need skilled attorneys who can represent them well. In the KSTP report, Myers says, "More often than not our clients are vilified," said Courtney Allensworth, a Mitchell law student who's working in the clinic. "But I think to say that somebody can't learn how to parent, or be an effective parent, sort of defeats the idea of the child protective system."

In addition, Myers states that removal is "a traumatic event. And so you should do it very cautiously. And you should do it only when necessary."

For more, see the video from KSTP 5 below.

What happens when adoption fails?

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Two weeks ago the City Limits newspaper published a series by Rachel Blustain on what she termed, "broken adoptions" - that is, adoption dissolutions.

adopt2.jpgPhoto by Marc Fader for City Limits.

The numbers of how many adoptions fail is a tough statistic to obtain, in part because many adoption dissolutions occur years afer an adoption has been finalized; families move, they may not seek help, and the agencies that facilitate the adoption do not always know when the adoption is dissolved. In addition, there is no centralized mechanism for obtaining adoption data.

The series began with the story, "Growing Concerns over Broken Adoptions" in which featured one young woman who was adopted at age 7, only to be abandoned and put back into the foster care system by her adoptive mother at age 13.

The difficulty in obtaining solid numbers about adoption dissolutions is the focus of the second article, "Adoption Numbers in Question." Social service agencies that serve children report that anywhere from 5 to 25% of the kids they serve involve adopted children re-entering out-of-home care.

The third article, "From an Option to a Mandate" explores what happens when adoption is the permanency emphasis without the needed post-adoption services to support the families.

In "Solutions to Broken Adoptions May Lie in "Gray" Areas," a discussion of a different conceptualization to permanency is introduced - one that is flexible, allows children to stay connected with biological family in one way or another, and focusing on the needs of the child rather than agencies, workers and parents.

Finally, the story of one child, S.D., and her attorney who advocated against her adoption, is told in "One Foster Child's Choice: Not to be Adopted." I found the most compelling statement in this piece to be the last paragraph.

When Zimmerman went to court to argue against adoption for S.D., he had no fantasy of a happily ever after. "It was not a slam dunk," he recalls. Still, Zimmerman says, when he convinced the judge to let S.D. remain in foster care for the remainder of her childhood, he felt that he had done the best he could for his client as an individual, not as a permanency statistic.

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Last week a local news organization, The City Pages, published a feature article about a contested adoption case that the Minnesota Supreme Court is reviewing. As with many of these cases, this story highlights systems issues in child welfare, the tension between biological family and foster families, racial differences, interjurisdictional placements between states and the differences in state's proceedures regarding adoption, and much more.

In "Split the baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" reporter Olivia LaVecchia's story delves into many of these issues but the main attraction, as is often the case, revolves around race. The placement of the two young sisters at the center of this story has been presented as one in which the African American paternal grandmother has been denied custody in favor of a white foster family.

Our executive director at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, Traci LaLiberte and I met with Ms. LaVecchia to provide background context for adoptions and child welfare practice in Minnesota and a few of Ms. LaLiberte's comments are featured in the article.

Among the issues we brought up include:

  • The pendulum swing in child welfare as the profession emphasizes relatives and kin over "new resource" adoptions, a change from the past when many thought that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"
  • The interjurisdictional mistakes that were made in this case
  • The MultiEthnic Placement Act and Interethnic Provisions and how that legislation differs conceptually with the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • The difference between "active efforts" and "reasonable efforts"

While both parties in this case are arguing issues regarding race - that the children need to be raised in their cultural community according to the grandmother, over the argument by the foster parents that they are the only parents these children know and that race should not trump the relationship and bond they have with the girls.

This story, as with the baby Veronica case, pits the contested adoptions as matters of race, which often becomes the story and illustrates the very divided opinions people have about race and culture in America. However, what is often not as considered is that these issues are almost always about much more than race alone - they typically involve intense differences in opinions about whether biological families are more entitled to raise children than new resource families; the issues of class is often unspoken but foster families in these legal cases are almost always white and middle class while the relatives are often from communities of color and are working class; and finally in most of these cases one or more significant practices required by law were either not done properly (in the baby Veronica case, for example, the workers did not follow the procedures of ICWA) or they were not done to the effort they should have (such as following through with the state of Mississippi in the case of the Dunnings).

Some things to think about:

  • If the relatives, the Dunnings were white, do you think they would have been more likely to receive the children?
  • If the Dunnings had lived in Minnesota instead of Mississippi, do you think the case would have been ruled as it was?
  • If the foster family, the Grossers, were African American, how do you think this case would have been resolved?
  • Can race really be taken out of it, as the attorneys argued before the Supreme Court?

Supreme Court to hear Baby Veronica case

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Last Friday it was announced that the Supreme Court would hear the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, also known as the Baby Veronica case.

This highly contested and controversial case may be a watershed moment in determining the strength of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

For a detailed summary of the case from the perspective of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), click here. Along with a summary, NICWA has included a timeline and many resources on ICWA and the details of the case.

Meanwhile, the adoptive parents went on the Dr. Phil show to tell their side of the story.

While race is being cited as a major factor in this case, those siding with NICWA point out that this is about the tribe's position as a semi-sovereign nation, not about race. If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision that Veronica's biological father should have custody it will be a devastating blow to ICWA.

It appears no one is arguing that the adoptive parents love Veronica. However, the issue was that ICWA was not followed in the adoption of Veronica and as a result, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that ICWA had been violated.

Adoption Tax Credit update

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The Adoption Tax Credit was included in the last-minute legislation passed to prevent the "fiscal cliff" but it falls short of what many had hoped for.

The tax credit was initially conceived to help support foster care adoptions. Many families who adopt from foster care are relatives, foster parents or families of modest financial means - and the tax credit will not help these families since the version that passed is not refundable for those whose tax liabilities are lower than the credit.

Thus the tax credit may end up being unavailable for those families who need it the most - modest income families who adopt special needs children from foster care.

For more about the tax credit:

Woman denied right to adopt partner's child

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A same-sex couple in Alabama lost an appeal to allow the non-biological parent to adopt her partner's child last Friday.

The couple, who were married in California in 2008, currently lives in Alabama which does not recognize same-sex marriage and does not allow the adoption because, according to the court, the woman "is not the spouse of the child's mother."

The full story is available here.

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One of the ways adoptive families are supported are through the adoption tax credit. The adoption tax credit, first enacted in 1997 as a means to help offset the costs incurred to adopt children from foster care, the tax credit has since become available for all types of adoptions. However, the tax credit is soon about to expire.

So far the tax credit has never been successfully legislated to be permanent. The tax credit has been extended several times and along with the extensions or renewals, has included changes over the years.

House Bill H.R. 4373, which has bipartisan support, aims to renew the adoption tax credit, and even more significantly make the tax credit permanent, a flat rate for special needs adoption and inclusive for all types of adoption; however with the upcoming elections it is unlikely that Congress will review it until after the elections. The Senate version is S. 3616 and like the House bill, has bipartisan support. If the propsed bills do not pass, then the credit will be reduced to $6,000 for a limited number of special needs adoptions.


For more information about the Adoption Tax credit, see the following resources:

North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
Save the Adoption Tax Credit (NACAC)
IRS Adoption Benefits FAQ
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

Concern about adoption assistance fraud

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On July 9th, 2012, the American Bar Association published a story about fraud in adoption subsidies. According to the report, hundreds of millions of the $2.5 billion paid in adoption subsidies may have been collected by adoptive parents who do not support their adopted children.

The likely scenario, according to this report, is that an adopted child is no longer living with his or her adoptive parents. There are many reasons for this; for example, in the case of divorce, a child may be living with a parent in a state that is not paying the subsidy, or a a child may not be living in the home because he or she ran away or were kicked out by his or her parents.

From the report:

Available data suggest that the number of adopted children who do not live with their adoptive parents until they turn 18 is significant. Nina Williams-Mbengue, program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, found that 10-25 percent of pre-adoptive placements disrupt before adoption proceedings are finalized, and 10-15 percent of adoptions dissolve after they are finalized. Some practitioners believe that the numbers are much higher.

The ABA directs the blame on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which prohibits states from investigating possible adoption subsidy fraud. Furthermore, states are not allowed to suspend or reduce the adoption subsidy payments "without the concurrence of the adoptive parents."

However, federal laws allow for states to investigate and/or request proof of support that they are not allowed to do for adoptive parents receiving adoption subsidies. Therefore, relatives that qualify for relative guardianship assistance for becoming legal guardians to relative children may have their subsidies withheld or reduced if the state discovers they are not supporting a child.

For more about this issue, read the report here.

Couples sue state for right to adopt partner's children

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FOX Carolina 21

The ACLU is assisting six families in North Carolina in filing a federal lawsuit against the state for discrimination. North Carolina currently prohibits a partner from adopting his or her partner's biological or adopted child. This law affects both same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Until 2010, North Carolina recognized second parent adoptions. In 2010 the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state could prohibit second parent adoptions for both heterosexual and LGBT families. Some states prohibit adoption only by same-sex couples while other states ban a partner in an unmarried, or cohabiting, relationship.

The ban against allowing second parent adoptions puts familes at risk, according to the Center for American Progress. For example, if a child is hospitalized, a parent that is not the biological or adoptive parent cannot visit his or her child or make decisions about his or her care.

The harm to children, according to the Center for American Progress report, All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequities Hurt LGBT Families, also includes:

  • Risk to children's health and well-being, by restricting access to health insurance and the abovementioned inability for parents to make full medical decisions and visit their children in the hospital;
  • Risk of not being able to have joint custody with both parents should the parents' relationship dissolve;
  • Risk of child welfare involvement if the legal parent dies or becomes disabled;
  • Possible denial of disability and survivor benefits if the non-legal parent dies; and
  • Possible denial of inheritance from the non-legal parent.

See our blog post in Child Welfare Policy for more details related to policy on this topic.

For a copy of the full report, click here.

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One of the long-held myths about adoption has been that children become confused about the concept of having more than one set of parents. This became one of the rationales used to amend birth certificates identifying adoptive parents as birth parents once an adoption finalization has occurred in the United States, and to justify closed adoptions.

However, it is untrue that children can be confused about who their parents are, and it is untrue that children cannot love more than one set of parents. We don't expect parents to be incapable of loving more than one child. And children whose parents divorce and re-marry often end up having more than one "mother" and "father" figure. The onus is on the parents and adults to be secure in their parenting role and to communicate well with children about the parental figures in their lives.

In California, a bill has been introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D) that would allow for more than two legal parents for a child. That bill, SB1476, does not change the definition of a parent, but it eliminates the requirement that a child may only have up to two parents.

According to the article in the Sacramento Bee, examples of three-parent relationships that could be affected by SB 1476 include:

• A family in which a man began dating a woman while she was pregnant, then raised that child with her for seven years. The youth also had a parental relationship with the biological father.
• A same-sex couple who asked a close male friend to help them conceive, then decided that all three would raise the child.
• A divorce in which a woman and her second husband were the legal parents of a child, but the biological father maintained close ties as well.

The law was created to expand the possibilities of caregivers for children without having to place children in foster care, the situation that occurred for one girl when her two mothers (in a same-sex relationship) were both unable to care for her and her biological father could not be deemed the legal father because of the law limiting the number of parents to two.

Leno's website states:

This bill would reaffirm a family court judge's ability to recognize parent-child relationships based on the evidence and what is in the best interests of the child. The bill modernizes state law by giving courts the flexibility to protect children who have parent-child relationships with more than two

As expected the legislation is opposed by many groups, including the Association of certified Family Law Specialists. The organization's president stated in an interview that this law would "create confusion in the minds of children and in the legal system."

For more information:

MSN: Bill would let children have more than 2 parents
Sacramento Bee: California bill would allow a chlid to have more than two parents

I've mentioned before what a wonderful resource the Child Welfare Information Gateway Library subscriptions are to professionals, researchers and families.I subscribe to a number of their "Libraries" - adoption, permanency, prevention, well being, etc. Each month the CWIG gathers the newest research articles, practice guides and policy updates on a number of child welfare topics, and sends the subscriber a list with links to these resources. (Want to subscribe? Click here.)

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It was on the adoption library link that I came across this journal article by Annette Ruth Appell for the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy.

Appell writes from the perspective of a legal scholar and as a former attorney working in family and juvenile court systems in Illinois, South Carolina, Nevada and Missouri. Appell's major argument in this paper is that the child welfare system has created a "myth of separation" - that parents are "fungible" (that is, replaceable in whole or in part for another of like nature or kind) and that the separation of children and their parents improves children's lives.

Appell argues that parents aren't just "replaceable" in the minds and hearts of children, that separating children from their parents ends up being a systematic way of blaming parents in a way that "individualizes and pathologizes deviations from middle class norms" rather than addressing systemic and social problems such as poverty and violence.

It's an intriguing article that challenges a lot of beliefs about adoption. Read the article here and let us know what you think!

When multiple caregivers fight to adopt

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for siblings3.jpgA story by Gail Rosenblum was published today in the StarTribune that is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon a scenario in the child welfare system these days.

Tomorrow, the MN Court of Appeals will hear arguments on behalf of two families that want to raise two young girls that have been in foster care.

We often say that a child can never have too many adults in their lives who love them, but what if these adults are fighting over who gets to claim parenting rights?

This case brings up many issues that permanency workers and families struggle with when making permanency decisions. When I read this article, I had the following questions:


  • Was the grandparent given the opportunity to be the foster parent?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward the extended relatives of these children? (I once had a county worker tell me, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" regarding placing children with extended relatives)

  • Whose responsibility was it to ensure the grandparent's information was being submitted, particularly since it turns out Mississippi did not send her information to MN?

  • Why was Minnesota allowed to withdraw its request for the grandparent to adopt based on "frustration over lack of communication?" What follow up could or should the agency have had when this happened?

  • What recourse do families have when agencies fail to communicate and/or advocate on their behalf?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward moving the children across state lines?

  • Was there racial bias, as the foster parents are white and the grandparent is black?

  • Was the county agency afraid of violating the MultiEthnic Placement Act/InterEthnic Provisions?

  • Have all the adults in this issue (foster parents and biological grandmother) discussed what an open adoption and/or open relationship would look like? Would the foster family, if they adopted, be willing to facilitate having the grandparent in an active role in the girl's lives?

  • Why wasn't there more effort to emphasize an open relationship that truly shows that there are never too many adults who can love a child?

For the full story, see the Star Tribune's article here.

In-depth report on the family court system in New York

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If you haven't had a chance to visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website and subscribe to their news feeds and links, I would strongly recommend it. This is an invaluable resource for child welfare workers, supervisors, foster and adoptive parents, students, researchers and policymakers. Click here for the list of email subscriptions for which you can sign up.

Each week I receive newsletters from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, and they are full of links to news stories, research articles, and other online resources. The following is a great example of a story I would likely have missed otherwise:

Reporter Helen Zelon from City Limits, an independent investigative news organization, spent several months observing and speaking with people involved with family court in New York state to understand how the family court system works. Her work resulted in an in-depth report that addresses many of the issues that child welfare workers know intimately - working with families in crisis, children adrift in the foster care system, the juvenile justice system, overburdened case workers and court dockets.

This entire series is worth reading. Here are descriptions of each of the chapters in Zelon's report along with the link to the story:

  • From Mom to Not in Seven Minutes: Inside Family Court - City Limits spent months observing Family Court and found an overburdened system where delays were endemic, legal help was scarce and the approach to solving family problems was divided.
  • When Delays Dominate, Kids Lose: Chapter two of our Family Court investigation focuses on the courtrooms that handle custody and child support, where many people try to navigate complex legal lingo without a lawyer, and where running out the clock can be a weapon in warfare between parents.
  • Blurred Lines Between Advocates and Adversaries: All parties in Family Court are supposed to be fighting for the welfare of the child. But chapter 3 of our Family Court investigation finds that in the adversarial format of a courtroom, players sometimes take on conflicting roles.
  • Juvenile Justice System Excludes Many Youthful Wrongdoers: New York's juvenile justice system is the target of reform efforts. But to some critics, it's the fact that New York State tries so many teens outside of juvenile court that most needs reform. Chapter 4 in our Family Court investigation.
  • React, Reform, Repeat: A Round of Change Faces Family Court: In chapter 5 of our investigation of New York City Family Court, we look at past reform efforts and survey judges, lawyers, advocates and parents on how they think the system could be improved.
  • A Separate System with Special Rules: A lower threshold for judgment, different standards of evidence, a shift in the burden of proof and no Fifth Amendment protection--these and other features of Family Court set it apart from the rest of the legal system.
  • Kinship Approach Shows Promise: New York recently began trying to get more children who were removed from their homes placed in guardianship relationships with other relatives. While there are potential pitfalls, the approach can save time and money.
  • Q&A with Family Court's Top Judge: A conversation with Edwina Richardson-Mendelson a one-time lawyer and then a courtroom judge in Family Court who now oversees the city's system.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

An article published in Pediatrics by Jones et al (2011) assesses the impact of missing or altered birth and medical information on internationally adopted children's health care in the United States. Among the chief concerns mentioned in the report is the tendency to alter the birth certificate once the child is in the United States based on American pediatric assessments, which doesn't always allow for time for the child to "catch-up" on developmental delays that result from pre-adoptive experiences. MedPage Today describes the report here. To read the article abstract, click here.

The Arizona Daily Star published an interesting article on how family courts struggle to respond to "changing definitions of family." From the article, ""We're redefining what constitutes a family," said McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. "It's a whole new way of thinking about this." Read the full article here.

A perennial discussion in child welfare permanency is whether children are better off in relative placements or in a foster home where they have formed attachments to their foster parents. The Tampa Bay Times published an article that discusses one family's story and the tensions between two families when case workers do not do a diligent family search for placement. Read the article here.

fanciershawl_250x.jpgA controversial ruling by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding an Indian Child Welfare Act case has been brought to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation is asking the U.S. Supremem Court to determine whether the tribe has the jurisdiction to define their members regarding Indian Child Welfare Act cases.

As this MPR news story (originally aired November 30, 2011) reports, American Indian children have high rates of removal and are much more likely to be placed into out-of-home care. In Minnesota, that rate is 14 times higher than white children. The Indian Child Welfare Act was created to give tribes jurisdiction over the placement of their children. Prior to the enactment of ICWA, American Indian children were placed in non-Native foster and adoptive homes and boarding schools where the goal was to strip them of their culture. Today, many of those who experienced these placements are speaking out, as in this article, The Adoption Era, defined: Native Americans expose a forgotten period in their history.

The question raised by the Cherokee Nation is whether the courts violated ICWA because of the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act that grants tribal membership to all infants up to 240 days after birth. The 10th Circuit Court ruled that ICWA does not apply to the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act because by definition, an Indian child under ICWA must be already enrolled in the tribe and in this particular case the child's mother was not an enrolled memeber of the Cherokee tribune until after the placement.

For the full article, Supreme Court Approached on ICWA Issue, click here.

You can also listen to the NPR story by reporter Sasha Aslanian below:

or at the MPR website.

For more resources on Indian child welfare and the Indian Child Welfare Act, here are some resources:

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