We have all heard the adage that justice delayed is justice denied. There are few places where this is more true than with the children in our child welfare system. Without placing blame on any one person or any one entity, it is crystal clear for many decades now that the public sector and the quasi public sector are ill-equipped to shoulder the exclusive task of creating permanency for our children. They simply cannot do it alone and many states are partnering with and utilizing the private sector—attorneys and agencies alike that specialize in the field of child welfare and adoption—to find homes for children mired in the system.
In Florida, for example, a birth parent may place her child for adoption through a private Florida child-placing agency, even if the child is in foster care and under the jurisdiction of the juvenile dependency court, as long as there a final judgment terminating parental rights has not been entered. The tangible upshots and positives of this private adoption plan are many, including the following: the child obtains a permanent adoptive home almost immediately; the birth parents, shut out at least in their perception from having a role in the child's placement through a state run court proceeding over which s/he feels powerless, now have played a legitimate role in the child's future; and the system reduces its case load and can devote more energy and resources, both human and machine, to those cases where attention is needed.
Significantly, the time frame to permanency when the private sector is used dwarfs the state run system by a considerable margin. Achieving permanent stability for children in an expeditious manner should be at the forefront of the minds and hearts of child welfare experts. Too often, children that languish in foster care age out of the system with no place to go, devoid of lasting relationships with responsible adults that assist them move toward independence. The outcomes of former foster youth transitioning to adulthood are sobering: 37% do not complete high school or receive a GED; they more often suffer from mental health problems; they more often become involved in crime or are victims of crime; and they are more frequently homeless. Private adoption options help eliminate and mitigate these problems.
Acknowledging the birth parent’s right to have input in the choice of adoptive parents also bodes well for the parent’s present and future peace of mind and ability to accept the termination of his or her parental rights. Recognition of a private adoption option honors the parent’s constitutional right to choose a private placement option for her minor child and determine an appropriate placement. Respect for the parent’s constitutional rights and a willingness to encourage parental participation in placement decisions fosters sound social welfare policy. It has long been recognized by the courts that state intervention concerning matters such as those involving fundamental parental rights should be the least restrictive, and private adoption options enhance that objective.
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In addition, allowing a private adoption plan to proceed removes a child from the active caseload of the State and, in so doing, frees up the court, court personnel, foster care costs, case workers, lawyers, and support staff to concentrate on other cases. With a private adoption involving a foster care child, the adoption agency is responsible for pursing a termination of any non-consenting parent’s rights, all at great savings to the state and its taxpayers. The adoption agency is also responsible for supervising the placement, and advocating as to the best interests of the child, subject to court oversight. Guardian ad litems can and are appointed to advocate for children involved in these proceedings.
Please take a moment to explore placement and permanency options for children in state care, to promote the private option to birth parents, to guardians and Departments of Children and Families, and to consider private adoption of foster care children. There is phenomenal potential for success. Our children need you.
Jeanne Trudeau Tate, adoption attorney
Adjunct professor, University of Florida College of Law