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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Recently in legislation Category

As of last Thursday, August 1 2013, the Family Reunification Act went into effect. This law allows foster youth 15 and older who were never adopted to have the option to reunite with their birth parents.

The law stipulates that the birth parents must be able to demonstrate that they have resolved or addressed the issues that were the reason for the youth's removal. According to the Children's Law Center of Minnesota, only a county attorney may be able to file a petition for reunification under this act. There are some issues that would prevent restoration of parental rights to a child; for example, if a parent had a termination of parental rights due to sexual abuse, death of a minor, or was convicted of egregious harm/ specific crimes (see Minnesota Statute 260C.007, subd. 14).

Other restrictions include the length of time the child has been in foster care since the termination of parental rights has occurred as well as the following:

  • Both the responsible social services agency and county attorney agree that reestablishment of the legal parent and child relationship is in the child's best interest;
  • The parent is willing and has the capability to provide day-to-day care and maintain the health, safety, and welfare of the child;
  • The child has been in foster care for at least 36 months after the court issued the order terminating parental rights;
  • The child is 15 years of age or older at the time the petition for reestablishment of the legal parent and child relationship is filed;
  • The child has not been adopted; and
  • The child is not the subject of a written adoption placement agreement

For more on the Family Reunification Act, please check out MPR news story from February 26, 2013.


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.

The Family Reunification Act

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This guest blog post was written by Azeb Gebretsadik.

20130226_ramsey-county-attorney-john-choi_33.jpeg [Photo of County Attorney John Choi by Sasha Aslanian for MPR]

"The Family Reunification Act could restore parental rights in some lost custody cases" by, Sasha Aslanian Minnesota Public Radio.

The article discussed about how the Act would allow the option of reversing TPR, which before this act was impossible to do. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says county attorneys formerly opposed efforts to reunify families after parental rights have been terminated because they wanted to avoid creating false hopes for children to move on to permanent homes. But older teens face long odds for adoption and Choi said reunification with birth parents who have overcome their problems may be the best outcome for some of them. (MPR Sasha Aslanian)

I am interning at Ramsey County Permanent Connection Unit. The past week adoption workers have been asked to consider their caseloads to see if the youth over age 15 who have no interest in being adopted or their adoption fail for various reasons who fit the description of Family Reunification Act to help support the Act and maintain relationship with their biological family. The basic intent of the Act is that for any adolescent over age 15 who has been in foster care for over three years, has no prospect of being adopted, and maintained a relationship with his or her biological family, if Human Services and the County Attorney agree, Ramsey County could approach the court to reverse the TPR.

Youth in the foster care system deserve to have connection with their families who have been looking to be reunited once they leave the system. I am working with a youth who 16 and don't want to be adopted, but have contact with his birth mother. Mom lost custody over educational neglect. This youth is doing really well in his current foster home and they are supportive of his contact with his birth mom. I think now with Family Reunification Act may be there will be a chance for him to be back with his mother and older brother. The Family Reunification Act encourages parents who lost legal right of their children to have hope. There might be another chance if they are able to change and bring positive outcome to show the court that they are doing everything that is expected of them.

As Aslanian reports, "Gina Evans of Forest Lake is one mother who for six years has pushed for a chance at redemption. Evans, now 39, lost custody of her son and daughter in 2001 due to neglect. She left her children in the care of her parents, sometimes for long periods of time, when she was using drugs. Evans said the state had every right to terminate her parental rights. She went through treatment and has been clean for nine years. She was able to overcome her felonies to find work again, but when she talked to child protection workers, her county attorney and state lawmakers, she learned there was no second chance at parenthood." However now after this Act there might be a chance for some.

On the other had the Family Reunification Act has very strict guidelines. Even the biological parents who overcome their problems wouldn't be able to get the chance of reunification if the child is under age 15 or been in the foster care system for less that there years. I believe that while the act has strength in connecting families again, it also has limitations, which are the very strict guidelines hard to reveres. The Reunification Act addresses only some part of permanency issue in the system. Shouldn't all families who lost custody of their biological children get a second chance if they turn their lives around to be better parents? What is the best interest of the child?

You can read the article here.

Russians march in support of ban on adoptions in US

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This guest post was written by Shannon Johnson.

Russians march in support of ban on adoptions in US

This article was published on The Guardian website on March 2, 2013 and written by The Guardian staff. Russia recently placed a ban on adoptions of Russian children by people from the United States. This ban was put into Russian legislation due to a recent death in Texas of a 3 year old Russian adoptee named Max Shatto. There were suspicions of child maltreatment causing his death and an investigation was initiated. This death was ultimately ruled accidental by the courts, however it has not stopped Russia from banning Americans from adopting Russian children, nor has it changed the opinion of Russian citizens. The announcement of the ban and ongoing tension between Russia and the United States sparked the rally of about 12,000 people in Moscow in support of the adoption ban. In the past 20 years about 60,000 children were adopted by Americans from Russia with approximately 20 deaths of those children post-adoption in the United States. There is no information on whether this ban is time-limited or if it is permanent.

This article gives some good statistics and factual information on what has happened in Russia leading up to this ban and the event that sparked the ban to be put into law. Another positive thing about this article is that it gives a nice picture to the reader about why Russians feel so strongly about this ban and it is clear and concise; it gets straight to the facts and relevant information. There are also some limitations this article has as far as the amount of information provided by the authors in several areas. First, there is little information on the actual ban of American adoptions in Russia and all of the events that led to the community outrage. Second, there is little information given about what will happen with the 650,000 orphans in Russia and how Russia will reform their child welfare to meet the needs of these children. This article also does not discuss any of the consequences of this ban on the children, Russia or America. Overall, there is a lack of in depth information and leaves the reader asking several questions.

It seems this article is promoting myths/misconceptions about adoptions in the United States in that adopted children "get abused" and does not show the picture of most adoptions in the United States that are safe and healthy. Also, it paints a further "ugly" picture of foreign adoptions and does not help American citizens' outlook for international adoptions in the future. Finally, it does not help Russia in that it points out how many orphans are currently in institutions and makes it seem like Russia is not taking care of their children.

For a video on the impact of the ban, see the video below:

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.

This guest blog post, also about the Family Reunification Act, was written by Colleen Doescher-Train.


On February 13th, 2013 five Minnesota State Senators introduced S.F.422; appropriately nicknames the Family Reunification Act of 2013. The Family Reunification Act, as currently written would allow parents who had their parental rights terminated at least 36 months ago to possibly be reunified with their child(ren). This bill requires certain criteria to be met in order for the county attorney to petition for a child to be returned to their parents. Children would need to be 15 years of age or older and never have been adopted. Parents would need to have the financial means and ability to take care of their child.

Following this, several articles emerged regarding this bill and what the potential effects are if the bill is passed. Specifically, Minnesota Public Radio published an article written by Sasha Aslanian on February 26th, 2013 titled Family Reunification Act could restore parental rights in some lost custody cases. Within the article, Aslanian appears to be a proponent of this legislation being passed. John Choi, who is currently an attorney for Ramsey County, unified with other supporters of the bill at a local addiction recovery center. He spoke regarding the proposed legislation and how it would affect children who are currently waiting in limbo in the foster care system to be adopted. Currently, there are about 35 children who meet all of the criteria to be reunified with their parents.

A positive aspect of this article is that it brings awareness that there is children who are currently aging out of the foster care system without being adopted. At the same time, a limitation of this article is that it does not go into full detail regarding the number of children who do age out of foster care. Nor does it discuss how the legislation differs from last year's proposed legislation that did not pass. The article briefly mentions the potential negative affects that aging out of the foster care system has on a child. Without a family to lean on for support, these children are at higher risks of homelessness, drug use, and other chronic problems.

Many current publications that are read by the general population on a daily basis do not depict the number of children who are aging out of the Child Welfare System without a permanent family. According to Minnesota's Child Welfare Report of 2011, there were 469 children who were under state guardianship who aged out of the foster care system during 2011. These children have no family and nowhere to call home. Children who have a permanent home when they reach the age of majority are more likely to become more productive members of society. Research has also shown that young adults who have aged out of the foster home system show a genuine want to return to their biological parents. Allowing a family to be reunified will have a lasting, positive impact on the child's life and on the parents.

To read the bill and track it as it moves through the Minnesota Senate, click here.

Further reading opportunities:

Aslanian, Sasha. (February 26th, 2013). Family Reunification Act Could Restore Parental Rights in Some Lost Custody Cases.

Samuels, Gina M. (2009). Ambiguous loss of home: The experience of familial (im)permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds. Children and Youth Services Review, 31:12, 1229-1239.

Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2012). Minnesota's Child Welfare Report 2011 (DHS Publication no. DHS-5408D-ENG 8-12). St. Paul, MN.

Family Reunification Act

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Today's guest post was written by Kris LaFleur.

What to do with children reaching the age of majority has been an ageless problem since the inception of the foster care system. Many youth are considered difficult to place; older children, sibling groups, African American and American Indian children. These lost children are forced to leave, often ill-prepared and without a supportive network of family and friends, entirely on their own to face the realities of independent living. Singer and songwriter, Amanda Williams' performance, Nobody's Child, was written to create awareness of the plight of these children. Despite laws that mandate permanency, it is a sad truth that this is an unobtainable goal for many youth. They are abandoned by a system that failed to meet their most fundamental need; belonging to a family.

Reporter Sasha Aslanian writes about a proposed bill in her MPR News article, Family Reunification Act could restore parental rights in some lost custody cases. Her article discusses Bill S. F. 422, a proposed alternative to some Minnesota youth facing the fear and uncertainty of "aging out." Published on February 26, 2013 the article reports that the Family Reunification Act could give some kids and their parents a second chance.

Dismissing the dual misconceptions that parent's cannot recover and heal from the adversities that led to the loss of their children and that children who have been victims of abuse and neglect do not continue to yearn for the love of their parent, this proposed law allows some hope. Parents who are able to meet the specific criteria would be able to reunify with their children once they have proven their ability to provide a safe, permanent home. Retired Supreme Court Justice, Helen Meyer understands this most basic bond. She is quoted, "children -- even those who have been through terrible things -- want to return home." Both parents and children would be given another chance to be a forever family.

Ms. Aslanian supports the intent of the proposal. By granting the opportunity of reunification, youth would be given the prospect of transitioning to adulthood with nurturing and support. Without the stress of attempting to meet their basic needs and the isolation of navigating unfamiliar territory alone, these youth are given a fighting chance to thrive rather than face the all too common destiny of homelessness, addiction, incarceration and other fates common to those that are unsupported. Eleven states currently offer a process for parents to restore their parental rights. Minnesota youth should have the same opportunity to have their family returned to them. While it is estimated that only about thirty-five Minnesota children would be affected, that is thirty-five that could be saved from becoming a statistic. Instead their right to the love and security only family can offer, would be returned.

What is missing form Sasha Aslanian's article? The answer to the ever elusive question; what can we do for the remaining lost and soon forgotten children that are not given a second chance and must continue on alone?

View Nobody's Child by Amanda Williams below.

Supporting foster youth parents

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teen pregnancy.jpg

California Senator Leland Yee is sponsoring a bill that would help support foster youth who are parents in the state. The bill would help foster youth raising children with resources to help them stay in school, provide needed parenting and child care.

In the Pleasanton Weekly, Leland states that "parenting and pregnant youth are 200% more likely" to leave school without earning a high school diploma or GED and that impacts their ability to find work that enables them to provide financial stability for their children.

About 30% of pregnant and parenting youth experience a second pregnancy while still in foster care.

Documentary about former foster youth changing the system

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A wonderful resource for those interested in youth aging out of the foster care system, the documentary From Place to Place follows two young adults, Mandy and Raif, as they share their lives and travel to Washington DC to advocate for system change.

View the trailer:

Their story is also documented in this article featured on the National Foster Youth Action Network.


Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) along with bipartisan support from fellow members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth Reps. Tom Marino (R-PA), Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) saw their bill aimed at improving educational outcomes of youth in foster care pass both the House and Senate on January 1, 3013. The members of the CCFY were supported by their Senate counterparts, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

One of the most challenging issues facing youth in care is having to repeat courses when they enroll in a new school because their placement changed. Children and youth often had to repeat classes, or potentially miss important classes they need to graduate on time.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act will now allow child welfare agencies to access foster children and foster youth's education records to help with educational stability and to ensure that chlidren are not having to repeat classes as a result of placement moves. Under the current education laws regarding access to education records, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), social workers struggled in obtaining records that would help provide stability and smoother education transitions.

The Uninterrupted Scholar Act, along with the emphasis on educational stability outlined in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, strengthen the resources child welfare agencies need to improve educational outcomes for youth in care. While the Fostering Connections emphasizes the importance of keeping children in the same schools to lessen school interruptions that are so difficult on a child's educational success, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act helps when those transitions and placement moves do occur.

As reported in the Huffington Post, Representative George Miller (D-CA) stated,

"Throughout their young lives they may change care placements multiple times. Each placement means adjusting to a new family; often to a new community, new friends and a new school. Each move can put their educational success in jeapordy that's because the caseworkers who advocate for them as they move from one school to another often do so without critical information. Though current law rightly requires foster care workers to move children's educational records in their case plans, another federal law limits the ability of caseworkers to access those records in a timely manner."

This video from Fostering Media Connections provides a good summary of the issue.

Russia bans international adoption to U.S.

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To the distress and dismay of many Americans, it was announced at the end of December that Russian president Vladamir Putin signed a law banning international adoptions to the U.S. This act is being considered retaliation for the Magnitsky Act passed by U.S. Congress in response to Russia's human rights violations.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 23adoptee-graphic-articleInline.jpeg [Graphic from the New York Times].

Many are calling this a political move using children as political pawns, amid concerns about the fate of the thousands of children currently in Russian orphanages. Although the numbers of Russian children adopted by Americans have declined in recent years, last year just under 1000 children were adopted to the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department.

Although Russia named the ban after Dima Yakolov, a Russian child adopted to a Virginia family that died in their care, and state this ban is driven in part by the 19 deaths of Russian adopted children and the return of Artyem by adoptive parent Torry Hansen, the ban ends the bilateral agreement that the U.S. and Russian recently implemented that would provide for greater protection and oversight of Russian adopted children.

In reading the many news articles, op-ed articles and blog responses to the ban, I had the following thoughts:

  • While this ban is directed toward the U.S. and means that children will no longer be able to be adopted by American families, this ban is not a wholesale ban on international adoption. Russian children will still be able to be adopted by families in other countries. Some are mistakenly stating that these children will be considered "unadoptable" - they are not, they will no longer able to be adopted by Americans but they can still be adopted by others.
  • Russia has been working on improving their domestic adoption programs and while they have many issues they need to address, they are at least working on it. They are - like the U.S. - trying to figure out how to encourage their families to adopt children that are older, part of sibling sets, and who have disabilities. While the U.S. is right to be concerned about these Russian children, we should keep in mind that there are over 100,000 children waiting for adoption in the U.S. foster care system that are older, part of sibling sets and with disabilities. Globally, we ALL need to improve our domestic adoption programs.
  • Some are saying the ban on U.S. adoptions is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified. That may be true, however I think it is interesting because the U.S. has not ratified the UN CRC.
  • Global adoption programs are constantly changing. In the future it might not be unexpected if other countries close their adoption programs as well.
  • Russia needs to put resources behind supporting their domestic adoption programs if they want to increase adoptions and reduce the number of children in orphanages. As with the U.S. and other countries that have large numbers of children in care, we also all need to work on the underlying issues that cause children to be in care in the first place.

To read more about the ban:

Adoption bill passes the Senate

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This story did not make national headlines, but the story is an important one to understand for anyone working in international adoption.

On December 7th, 2012, the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act passed the senate. The bill was sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu, John Kerry, Dick Lugar and James Inhofe in a bipartisan effort to increase the accountability of adoption agencies facilitating international adoptions.

Currently adoption agencies who facilitate international adoptions do not have to be accredited, leading to inconsistent practices and opportunities for misuse and fraud. U.S. agencies that work with Hague countries (that is, those countries that have signed the Hague convention) must be accredited; however many small agencies work with non-Hague countries and are not accredited through the Council of Accreditation (COA) in the U.S. The new legislation will require that all adoption agenices facilitating international adoptions will need to be in compliance with the accreditation requirements necessary for working with Hague countries even if they facilitate adoptions with non-Hague countries.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international treaty that aims to protect children involved in intercountry adoption from abduction, kidnapping, sale, exploitation and trafficking for the purpose of adoption.

For more information see Senator Landrieu's site here.

For a list of current Hague-accredited agencies, see the Department of State's website here.

Hear Me Now - the 2012 CCAI Foster Youth Internship Report

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The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Foster Youth Internship Report, Hear Me Now, has just been released.

The Foster Youth Internship program, created in 2003, provides opportunities for formerly fostered young adults to become congressional interns, where they learn about policies and the legislative process on foster care and adoption. The Foster Youth Internship program enables formerly fostered young adults to learn how to get their voices and policy recommendations heard. As part of the program, interns produce a policy report that they present at a congressional hearing.


The 2012 report, titled Hear Me Now, includes the most recent cohort's policy recommendations. The chapters and authors are:

  • Preventing Crossover from Foster Care into the Criminal Justice System / R.J. Sloke
  • Educating Congress: The Value of Investing in Post-Secondary Education for Foster Youth / Maurissa Sorensen
  • Age of Accountability / Tawny Spinelli
  • Care for Youth in Care: The Need for High-Quality Foster Parents / Ashley Lepse
  • Transitional Foster Youth, Post-Secondary Education, & Mentor Programs / Michael Duvall
  • Life's Transitions Do Not Occur Overnight / Briana Dovi
  • Foster Youth for Sale / Talitha James
  • An Information Database for Foster Youth / Marchelle Roberts
  • Putting Home Back in Group Home / James Williams
  • Leaving No Indian Child Behind / Daryle Conquering Bear
  • Having Options Provides Empowerment / Cristina Miranda
  • Lifelong Connections: You Determine My Fate / Dashun Jackson
  • A Pill for Every Problem: Overmedication and Lack of Mental Health Services among Foster Youth / Cassandra Cook

Executive Director Kathleen Strottman writes in this year's forward,

"For far too long we have let the voices of those in care go unheard...It has been my experience that the voices of foster care alumni are the ones we should be listening to more than any others. When they speak, things actually stand a chance of getting better. Not because their stories remind us of how far we have yet to go, but because their ingenuity and passion for making a difference show us just how far we can reach."
Listening to those who have been in care - the children that were in foster homes, institutions, and adopted - should be a top priority for any organization or agency that takes the title "child welfare" seriously. For all the lip service given about "the best interests of the child," it is the rare child welfare organization that asks those that were the children about their experiences or, even more rarely, what needs to be done better.

According to the CCAI website:

  • 100 former foster youth have used this experience as a foundation to go on and pursue a variety of distinguished careers
  • 60 Members of Congress have heard the voice of former foster youth and are now educated about issues affecting their lives
  • 10 Congressional briefings have provided firsthand knowledge to policymakers
  • 125 policy recommendations have been presented to policymakers
  • 37% of FYIs have gone on to pursue graduate, law, and doctoral degrees
  • 47% of FYIS enter careers in social service

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.

You can download a PDF of the report from the CCAI blog 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.

New foster care legislation in Minnesota, part 2

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On Monday, we highlighted some of the changes to the foster care statutes that were passed in the 2012 legislative session in Minnesota. This post will continue the focus on the foster care changes that were made.

Thumbnail image for 90x60-05.jpgMany of the changes impact relatives. Changes to the law regarding relative search include:

  • The court may now order an agency to reopen its search for relatives at any time during the juvenile protection proceedings.
  • Previously, it was required that paternity for the father had to have been adjudicated in order for paternal relatives to be included in a relative search. That requirement has been eliminated.
  • The new law now allows for internet or other electronic means of identifying and locating relatives.
  • Agencies may now ask a child in an age appropriate manner who they consider to be family.
The agencies must document their efforts to locate relatives within three months of the child's placement into foster care, and the report must include documentation of the agency's efforts to:
  • Identify maternal and paternal relatives,
  • Engage with relatives to provide support for a child and family, and
  • The agency must document its decisions regarding relative placements.

Strengthened policies regarding working and engaging with relatives include:

  • Amending language to require placement consideration with relatives any time a child moves from, or is returned to, foster care;
  • Clarifying the agency's responsibility to engage with relatives who respond to a notice of a child in care. This section now includes activities that may be considered "participation in the care and planning for a child" including:
  • Relatives must be notified that they have the right to be notified of any court hearings and that they have an opportunity to be heard by the court.
  • Agencies must do one of the following at the permanent placement hearing:
  • Send notice to relatives,
  • Ask the court to modify the requirement to send notice to relatives, or
  • Ask the court to relieve the requirement to send notice to relatives.

Placement decisions based on the best interest of the child:
One of the requirements for placing children for foster care and adoption is that the placement is based on the best interest factors (previously eight, now ten). The amended law now requires this same requirement for any placement into a permanent legal and physical custody home.

The court must now review and determine findings regarding the agency's competence in:

  • Conducting diligent efforts regarding relative search,
  • Conducting individualized determination of the child's needs, and
  • Assessing a home that is best able to meet the needs of the child.

Other major changes:

  • A court may no longer order a child into long-term foster care.
  • Eliminates the option for a private agency to be appointed guardian for a child whose parents are deceased.
  • The option to separate guardianship and legal custody has been eliminated. Previously a court had the ability to grant one person or agency guardianship and another person or agency legal custody.
  • Foster parents may no longer be appointed guardian for a non-adopted foster child age 14 years or older.
  • The commissioner is no longer guardian of a child past the age of 18 years. If a youth 18 or older continues or re-enters foster care, the social service agency has legal responsibility for the child.

Summary of 2012 Foster Care Legislation in MN, part 1


Significant changes were made to the foster care statutes in the last legislative session. This post will summarize part of the new legislation changes, and more will come in a future post.

Several definitions were amended:

  • "Child" was amended to include references to other statutes allowing youth to remain in foster care to age 21.
  • "Sibling" was amended to "one of two or more individuals who have one or both parents in common through blood, marriage or adoption, including siblings as defined by the child's tribal code or custom."
Juvenile Court
Amendments were made regarding juvenile court to include its jurisdiction for youth up to age 21 in child welfare and permanency, and to include adoption proceedings in juvenile court.

Emergency protective custody hearing amendments include:

  • Reasonable efforts to prevent placement are NOT required if a parent has committed sexual abuse against their child or another child, or is a registered sexual predator.
  • The court may order chemical dependency, mental health, medical or parenting assessments/evaluations as the court deems necessary as a means of supporting the development of a reunification plan.
  • Out of Home Placement plans must be based on the results of the emergency protective custody hearing, and the agency must make reasonable efforts to engage both parents (including paternal) in case planning.
Out of Home Placement Plan
The term "residential facility" was replaced with "foster care" and includes
  • family foster homes (both relative and non-relative),
  • group homes,
  • emergency shelters,
  • residential facilities (not otherwise excluded),
  • child care institutions, and
  • pre-adoptive homes.
Agencies are now required to document their efforts to keep the child in the same school if a placement change occurs.

Duties of the commissioner and the child-placing agency
Changes to the legislation include:

  • Training for prospective foster and adoptive parents now must specifically include preparing parents to care for the needs of foster and adoptive children.
  • Home studies must follow the commissioner's designated format.
  • The home study must provide the information needed for agencies to determine the family's capacity to meet the needs of a child based on the best interest factors.
  • Licensing agencies may provide the updated adoption home study for their foster families who want to adopt.
  • Prospective adoptive parents with approved home studies may have their foster care license applied through the same agency.
One of the aspects of the new legislation that struck me in particular was the following section. Chapter 260C was amended to broaden child protection to include juvenile protection. This includes adding juvenile protection proceedings including CHIPS, permanency, TPR, post-permanency reviews and adoption. Juvenile protection proceedings are intended to ensure permanency planning.

Additions to section 260C also include permanency planning for children in foster care that includes both a primary plan for reunification with parents and a secondary plan for an alternative permanent legal home in the case that reunification "cannot be achieved in a timely manner." Reasonable efforts include:

  • Locating and assessing both parents,
  • Identifying and notifying relatives, and
  • Placement with a caregiver that supports concurrent permanency efforts.
The new legislation also includes the expressed prioritization that adoption is the preferred permanency option, whether by a relative or non-relative. The next best option if adoption is not possible or in the child's best interest is a transfer of permanent legal and physical custody to a relative.

**What are your thoughts about adoption being prioritized in statute as the preferred permanency option? What are the political and/or social biases that led to this expressed change in the law? What are the potential outcomes for families?****


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

Summary of MN DHS 2012 Adoption legislation bulletin

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A few weeks ago, we updated you on the new Adoption Assistance legislation that will go into effect in August 2012. Today we will summarize some of the other child welfare legislation that was enacted in the same legislative session.

We will cover adoption policies in this post and in an upcoming post we will summarize foster care policies.

Previously most of the adoption rules and regulations were housed under Chapter 259. The rules and regulations pertaining to children under the guardianship of the commissioner (also referred to as state wards) will now be moved to Chapter 260C. This move means adoption is now included as part of the overall continuum for children in public child welfare. Guidelines for children who are NOT under the guardianship of the commissioner will continue to be in Chapter 259.

Some of the highlights and changes to the adoption of children under the guardianship of the commissioner are:

  • The new legislation reiterates and reorganizes language around "reasonable efforts" to finalize an adoptive placement, emphasizing concurrent permanency planning.

  • There is added emphasis that children under the guardianship of the commissioner may not refuse or waive "reasonable efforts" to recruit, identify or place said child into an adoptive home. This does not change the consent needed by any youth 14 or older to the adoption of a specific parent - this only means that children/youth may not refuse efforts on behalf of the agency to find them an adoptive placement. Youth ages 14+ still need to consent to a specific adoptive placement.

  • Relatives or foster parents who want to file a motion to adopt once a chlid has been placed with another family for adoption has 30 days after receiving the required notice of the adoptive placement to file. The relatives or foster family must have an approved adoption home study and prove that the agency has been unreasonable in responding to their request to adopt.

  • Previously, the home study requirement could be waived for a relative. The relative waiver is no longer an option. All relatives who wish to adopt a child under the guardianship of the commissioner must now have an approved home study.

  • The court is no longer able to order a child that is under guardianship of the commissioner into long-term foster care.

  • Previously, the commissioner was required to consent to the adoption. Under the new policy the commissioner is a signatory to an adoption placement agreement but is no longer required to give consent.

  • Previously, all requests to separate siblings for adoption had to be approved by consent from the commissioner. Under the new policy, the courts will now provide approval for separating siblings for adoption.

  • There will no longer be any exemptions to the requirement that the identified adoptive parent must have a fully executed adoption placement agreement in order to file an adoption petition.

  • The adoptive parent petitioner must be a minimum of 21 years of age, unless the adoptive parent is related to the child.

  • Previously, the court had to waive a requirement that an adoptive parent had to reside in the state of Minnesota of one year prior to filing the adoption petition. With the new legislation, the Minnesota residence has been eliminated.

  • The new law requires a petition for adoption to be filed no later than 9 months after the date of the adoption placement agreement. Previously, the filing requirement was 12 months.

  • If a married couple petitions to adopt, both spouses must sign their willingness to adopt. Exceptions may be made by the court in cases when spouses do not live together or for other reasons the court deems reasonable.

  • The child placing agency must provide testimony in support of the adoption petition during the finalization of the adoption in court. The testimony may be in person, by telephone, or by affidavit.

  • The requirement that a child live at least three months with their pre-adoptive parent prior to the court's order of an adoption decree has been eliminated.
For a more in-depth review, please read the full bulletin.

Minnesota's Department of Human Services has issued a bulletin that summarizes the changes made to the adoption assistance program from the 2012 legislative session. Some of the major highlights and changes are noted below. For a more in-depth review, please read the actual bulletin.

  • All statutes and rules pertaining to adoption assistance can now be found in Chapter 259A:
    • "Unless otherwise stated, the content is largely a restatement and clarification of existing policies and procedures."
  • Eligibility requirements have been clarified in order to comply with federal regulations;
  • The age of a child is removed as a barrier to adoption;
  • Parents must be asked if they are willing to adopt a child without Adoption Assistance;
  • Parents with "barrier crimes" are no longer eligible to receive Adoption Assistance;
  • Stepparents & relatives are now excluded from Adoption Assistance (with exceptions);
  • Eligibility & reimbursements for special nonmedical expenses have changed slightly;
  • Children must be 21 (not 22) or less now in order to obtain a termination or extension of an Adoption Assistance Agreement;
  • New policies related to reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses have been added, such as the ineligibility of children who are not U.S. citizens or residents and who were part of an international adoption;
  • Adoption services reimbursable by the commissioner will no longer include those involving children under guardianship of a private agency; and
  • Reimbursements may only be made for child-specific adoption placement services, which do not include recruitment services.

If you are interested in learning more about this new legislation, DHS staff will provide a VPC (virtual presence communication) training on this topic on Monday, July 23, 2012, from 9am to 12pm. Registration is through TrainLink, and handouts will be available prior to the training date.

To subscribe to future MN DHS bulletins, visit their bulletins webpage.

Timeline of adoption legislation

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Cross-posted on the Child Welfare Policy Blog

Tomorrow, several states and counties across the United States will finalize adoptions as part of National Adoption Day 2011, the day designated each year to bring awareness and recognition of foster care adoption in the United States (for more information about Adoption Day events in Minnesota click here).

Over the past month, two bills have been introduced to support the adoption of children and youth in foster care into adoptive homes. On Wednesday, November 17, 2011, SR 302, introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) was passed (the House version, H Res 433 was introduced by Senator Bachmann (R-MN)). Senator Landrieu's speech about the passage of the resolution is below.

In honor of National Adoption Day, the following is a list of major adoption-related legislation that have had huge impacts on the lives of adoptive families (click on each law for more information):

New adoption legislation - Every Child Deserves a Family Act

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Last Friday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced plans to introduce the Every Child Deserves A Family Act, an anti-discrimination bill that would prohibit child welfare agencies receiving federal assistance from discriminating against prospective foster or adoptive parents based solely on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or marital status. In addition, this bill would prohibit agencies from discriminating against the sexual orientation or gender identity of foster youth.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), Patty Murray (D-WA.), Al Franken (D-MN.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, currently in review in the Congressional Budget Office. So far 76 Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors in the bi-partisan House version, H.R. 3827, led by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Earlier efforts at passing this legislation, including a version of the ECDF introduced in the 111th Congress (introduced by Rep. Stark), were unsuccessful.

While many states take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach towards their acceptance of LGBT prospective adoptive parents, Mississippi, Utah, Louisiana, Michigan and N. Carolina outright prohibit same-sex couples from adopting (although individuals identifying as LGBT may be approved if adopting as a single parent). Several states prohibit the second-parent adoption of a partner's child for LGBT couples (see this map for more information on state by state comparisons).

However, even for those other states without outright legislation prohibiting the adoption by LGBT individuals or couples, agency bias in practice often results in delayed or denied placements of children into LGBT homes such as in Arizona where heterosexual married couples receive placement preference over same-sex couples. Only six states (California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey and New York) currently prohibit discrimination against LGBT prospective parents.

According to a recent Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute report, Expanding resources for children III: Research based best practices in adoption by gays and lesbians (2011):

  • Lesbians and gay men adopt at significant rates, with over 65,000 adopted and 14,000 foster children in the U.S. residing in homes headed by non-heterosexuals. Children growing up in such households show similar patterns of adjustment as those raised by heterosexuals.

  • At least 60% of U.S. adoption agencies accept non-heterosexual parental applicants, and almost 40% have knowingly placed children with them - meaning almost any lesbian, gay man, or same-sex couple can find a professional to work with them

  • Over 50% of lesbian and gay parents adopted children from the child welfare system, and 60% adopted transracially. These findings demonstrate that non-heterosexual individuals and couples are important resources for children who linger in foster care

The Family Equality Council has created a helpful web site with information about the Every Family Deserves a Family Act, as well as maps for state-by-state comparison regarding adoption legislation for LGBT individuals and couples.

LGBT state map.jpg

More links: