It’s commonly reported that kids get trapped in foster care systems for years and years. Before I became a foster parent, I had pieced together a vague hodgepodge of reasons why I thought this happened, but in reality I didn’t actually know. My guesses included too few people willing to adopt children from foster care (true), case workers were overburdened (totally true) and that cases get slowed by red tape and government bureaucracy (very true). What I didn’t expect was how much scrutiny a foster agency, specifically the case worker, has to endure in court before being able to free a child for adoption.
I didn’t figure it out during my experience with my first, second, third or even fourth foster child. In fact, it wasn’t until I began reading foster care court case summaries online that it sunk in.
So let me take you straight to it. In the state of New York, a foster agency must have exercised “diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship” (Social Services Law § 384-b  and more) before attempting to free a child for adoption. This is known as terminating parental rights (TPR). A bachelor’s level case worker has to provide evidence in a court of law that they have done their job well. And then be cross-examined. Can you imagine having to prove in court that you’ve doing your job correctly and “diligently?” I can’t. Not at 22-years-old, the age of many case workers, not at 32-years-old, and not even at 42-years-old. That takes a lot of self-confidence. Personally, I’d probably err on the side of giving a child’s parents an extra 6 months.
The NYC Partners For Families site has an excellent explanation of the ins and outs of TPR for the state of New York. Also, you can view Virginia’s new quick and dirty TPR appeals table here that spans 1996 to 2013. Frankly, if I were a mother losing parental rights of my child, I sure as hell am going to ask my attorney to argue that the case worker wasn’t diligent. And this is exactly what happens. There’s a lot of wiggle room in there.
To read through TPR cases in your state, do an internet search that includes the name of your state and of the following: “matter of” “family court” and “Termination of Parental Rights.”
Photo Credit: Istopckphoto
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