The bureaucracy of the child welfare system can easily overwhelm anyone forced to enter it. Parents facing dependency cases are particularly vulnerable to succumbing to its complexity due to their sudden involvement in the system and how quickly guardianship shifts to various parties as their child works through the process. While the stated public policy goal is to reunite parents with their biological children, there is also a competing push to obtain permanency for dependent children as soon as possible once they enter foster care. This desire for permanency can often result in the severing of parental rights and the child being put up for adoption. A recent article in The Daily Beast examines the incidence of “broken” adoptions where the adoptive parents return the child to the foster system because of behavioral issues. It also considers the financial incentives foster parents have to adopt children, due to the subsidies paid to help provide support, and how that may influence them to adopt more children than they should. The losers in all this are the children and their biological parents, who typically lose the ability to contact one another. Given the high stakes involved with finding permanency through adoption, the guidelines established under Florida law for how long a child may remain in the foster system before adoption or some other permanent arrangement must be pursued will be outlined below.Permanency Determinations by a Court
With permanency being the goal, a court must hold a hearing on this issue for children in the dependency system either no later than 12 months from the day the child was removed from the home or within 30 days of a court determination that efforts to return the child to the biological parents are no longer necessary, whichever occurs first. Additional permanency hearings are held at least every 12 months a child remains in the dependency system or is awaiting adoption. The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the permanency goals are achievable or should be modified. The court also determines if the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has reasonably attempted to facilitate achieving the current permanency plan. The best interests of the child is the driving factor behind permanency goal decisions, but courts will also consider the child’s preference if he/she is mature enough to form a reasonable preference and recommendations from the guardian ad litem.Post-Adoption Contact
Dependent children of parents whose parental rights were terminated, and with a pending adoption petition in the courts, have the right to request post-adoption contact with family members. Specifically, the court can permit, if it is determined to be in the best interests of the child, continuing communication with siblings and, with the adoptive parents consent, the biological parents or other relatives. When deciding this issue, the court will base its decision on the following factors:
- court orders related to the termination of parental rights;
- recommendations from DCF, the adoptive parents, the guardian ad litem and the foster parents, if this is someone other than the adoptive parents; and
- statements from the adoptive parents.
If this communication is permitted, the adoptive parents have the option at any time to request a review of the communication order and argue it is not in the child’s best interest to continue contact. The court can terminate or modify the communication with biological family members based on this request. In addition, a court is unable to increase contact with biological family members without the consent of the adoptive parents.Speak with a Lawyer
If your child is a dependent of the state and facing potential adoption as part of the case plan, it is essential you consult with an attorney to prevent the termination of your parental rights. Stok Kon + Braverman, offer legal services in the Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach areas in dependency cases and can assist you. Contact us to schedule a free consultation*.