January 15, 2008
Case Law Development: Can Delays Caused by Child Protective System Provide Basis for Adoption Outcome?
Justices of the California Court of Appeals disagreed over the effect of a two-year delay in terminating a mother's parental rights and in preventing the child's transfer to Florida to reside with her aunt. The majority opinion provides a detailed summary of the delays and difficulties in the case, summarized thus:
This is a dependency case in which a drug-addicted mother was arrested in California and extradited to Florida. Her nine-month-old daughter, who tested positive for opiates and cocaine because her mother was breastfeeding her while using drugs, was placed with foster parents. At the mother's request, her sister did everything she could to have the child placed with her in Florida, but the Florida child welfare authorities refused to expedite the process and almost a year elapsed before the Florida family obtained a foster care license. Meanwhile and inevitably, the child (now almost three years old and a complete stranger to her Florida family) bonded with her foster parents who are eager to adopt her. The dependency court, placing the child's best interests first, terminated the mother's parental rights and designated the foster parents as the child's prospective adoptive family.
The majority noted that the possibilities for mother's reunification were slim given her three-years sentence for her drug conviction. The majority also noted the aunt's reluctance to adopt the child, her limited financial ability to secure health care for the child, and concerns regarding Florida's child protection system's ability to monitor the case. The fact that the child had lived with the foster family in California for over two years and had never met the aunt was equally significant in the majority's analysis.
The dissent's opinion was sharply critical of an approach that did not give greater weight to parental rights and family-preferences in foster placement. The dissent opined that, "The majority's approach gives far too much weight to the amount of time that a child resides with a foster parent, gives inadequate weight to facts that warranted placement of [the child] with her aunt's family, and ignores the insidious effect on the child welfare system of using the failure of the system itself as justification for the termination of parental rights." On the issue of the Florida system's ability to monitor the aunt's care, the dissent sharply noted, "DFCS cited as an additional ground for denying placement with [aunt] and her family that the Florida child welfare system was not up to the job of monitoring [child's] placement with them. Although as Californians, we are confident that we do things better here than anywhere else, we doubt the citizens of Florida would share that view."
This case is a good read for any student studying the dynamics of the child welfare system.
In Re Lauren Z, California Court of Appeals, January 11, 2008
Opinion online (last visited January 14, 2008 bgf)
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