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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

The power of word choice in child welfare policy: 'Forced Adoption' vs. 'Involuntary TPR'

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gavel and scales.jpgAn article grabbed my attention a couple of days ago: Child Protection Inquiry told that forced adoption of at-risk children should become 'an option'. I had to read it—"forced" adoptions? Of "at-risk" kids?

The article highlighted an increasingly-popular proposal affecting children and families in Queensland, Australia, "parendectomy of incompetent parents," whereby parents who are deemed "incompetent" would lose their rights to their children and be forced to relinquish them for adoption.

Supporters of this proposal are basing it on research showing the importance of early, healthy attachment to a caring adult. The Child Safety Director of Queensland Health discussed the possibility of using this approach with young teenage parents who had "no hope of being responsible parents." Another article specifically pointed to its possible use among drug-addicted mothers of drug-addicted newborns.

Supporters point to places like Canada, England, and the United States of America as examples in which this process occurs. In fact, the Commissioner, Tim Carmody, stated about the U.S.:

"I think the consensus in the US is you either fix the families quickly or find new ones."

After reading that particular portion of the article, it dawned on me that the proposal was regarding whether involuntary termination of parental rights should be utilized in certain child protective orders in order to allow those children to be adopted (hence, "forced adoption of at-risk children should become 'an option'"). Here is the power of adjectives and word choice: Involuntary TPRs in the U.S. are referred to in Australia as Forced Adoptions, which has a pretty intense negative connotation. (I wonder if this has something to do with Australia's past history of forced adoptions.)

What is the law in Australia concerning TPRs?

I attempted a brief search of the internet to determine if Australia (particularly Queensland) did allow involuntary TPRs; from my brief search, it appears the answer is no. Rather, the focus seems to be on keeping birth families together.

For example, in Queensland, birth parents must give their voluntary consent for adoption, even under a child protection order. There appear to be instances in which the need to obtain consent may be waived (such as non-adults and adults without the capacity to consent), although I could find nothing that explicitly states that parents may lose their parental rights involuntarily as a result of the child protection order.

Additionally, the birth parents must be given information on options other than adoption that they could seek, such as long-term care with other family members. Conversely, here in Minnesota, the legislature just recently revoked the practice of long-term foster care as a permanency plan, stating that adoption is the preferred option (if reunification fails), with a transfer of permanent legal and physical custody of the child to a relative as the next option.

Queensland also emphasized the importance of including children in these adoption proceedings, making sure that they had all the information they needed and that they received counseling and other help during the proceedings. The child's views regarding his or her adoption are also expected to be taken into consideration.

Importance of different perspectives

To me, it is important to understand others' perspectives on effective child welfare practice and policy, in order to ascertain the best plan of action in working with families crossing many different cultures: What works for one culture may not work for another. Also, by understanding others' cultural views on child welfare practice, we are then able to think outside our own child welfare practice box.

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