Senate Weighs ‘Best Interest Of The Child’ In Adoptions

November 21, 2015

Backed by the sometimes-tearful testimony of foster parents, a state Senate panel Thursday approved a bill that would allow judges to place the best interests of children in adoption cases above the wishes of their biological parents.

The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee unanimously passed a measure (SB 590) by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, that she said would resolve a conflict between two laws dealing with children in dependency cases.

Currently, Detert said, a law requiring judges to rule based on “the best interests of the child” is in conflict with a law that allows private adoption agencies to intervene in open adoption cases where parents’ rights have not yet been terminated. In such cases, the adoption agency typically names the person that the biological parent prefers to adopt the child.

“This sounds like a good idea,” Detert said. “But the current law also permits even a parent who has murdered a spouse, committed egregious acts against their children or who wishes to punish a foster parent that has provided a caring home for their child for a lengthy time to choose who their child should be placed with — without requiring the court to consider what is in the best interest of the child, as it would for any other dependency case.”

The bill would create an exception to the part of current law that allows agencies and parents to influence who adopts children. The exception would apply in cases where petitions to terminate parents’ rights have been filed and qualified adoptive parents have been identified.

The measure drew widespread support from foster parents and children’s advocacy groups.

“Virtually all of the judges who are experienced dependency judges have indicated that this has become a serious problem in our courtrooms,” said Judge Daniel Dawson, who handles juvenile cases in the 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties.

Dawson said that in every such case he has encountered, “there has been spite on behalf of the parent wanting to remove the child from a relative or a foster parent,” or, in some cases, parents arranged for a person to adopt a child “that they knew was going to return the child to their custody.”

The judge also said he has never seen such an intervention early in a dependency proceeding, when the child is typically placed in a foster home. Rather, he said, motions to intervene come when biological parents are about to lose their parental rights — even if a child has been in a stable foster home for years.

Several foster parents who had lost custody of children urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

Amy Wragg, who is from the Palm Beach County community of Tequesta, described the son she’d fostered for a year, from the day she picked him up at a neonatal intensive care unit where he’d been for two months, “going through drug withdrawal because of what his mother had done to him.”

At that point, Wragg said, the biological mother was happy for the baby to be with her family. He’d bonded with Wragg, her husband and their four other children. “He called us Mama and Dadda,” she said.

But the judge made his ruling based on the law allowing the biological mother to intervene. Wragg and her family were given 10 days for the transition, which the baby could not begin to understand.

“He started banging his head on things,” she said. “He stopped laughing. …These are not children without feelings, just because they cannot verbally express what their desires are.”

The current law, she said, allows parents to re-traumatize their children “on a whim.”

Allen Walker, who with his wife Eve has been a South Florida foster parent for eight years, described losing a foster son in the same way. The boy didn’t get to say goodbye to his friends or his extended family when he was forced to leave, Walker said.

“What we’ve been trying to do as foster parents is heal them from the initial trauma of coming into care, because they lose everything,” he said. “No matter what their home life is like, they’re losing their families, their friends, their schools, their pets, their toys. …”

After four years with his family, Walker said, the boy had been healing — and then he was placed with someone who’d shown no interest in the boy before.

Other speakers noted that the current laws allow biological parents with severe mental illness or substance abuse issues to make adoption decisions rather than judges.

“We want to protect parents’ rights,” Detert said. “But the Legislature and the courts and most of the people in the audience, our main focus is the protection of the children in the state of Florida and what’s best for them, because they don’t have anybody other than us.”

The Senate bill faces two more committees. The House companion, HB 673 by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, has not been heard.

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida


2 Responses to “Senate Weighs ‘Best Interest Of The Child’ In Adoptions”

  1. jen on November 22nd, 2015 11:53 am

    In some way I agree. But on they hand I don’t. If the no I mom and dad. Do everything. Thir are spouses. To do and the one who fosters. The kids wants them then the case worker and her supervisor. Plush. For the Foerster. Mom and dad. To keep them then what happens. When the case. Plan. Is complete. The real mom and dad lose but their. Not drug addicts. Or abused the kids only grew loving bonds and what happens. Then to the kids the system. Rip. Apart of a loving family all fuzz the Foerster. Mom wanted them. But the system. Is quick. To put abused kids with their. Real. Mom and dad and the kids are dead really this is the way the system. Works wow

  2. Susan on November 21st, 2015 4:43 pm

    Finally some common sense laws. I hope everyone will support this and hope it passes.

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