The New York Times published an article regarding the controversial ‘Preserving’ Family Bonds Act on the front page. Originally called “They Lost Custody. Should They Still Be Able to See Their Children?”, the title later morphed to ‘2 Officials Who Were Both Adopted Clash Over an Adoption Law’. It can be found online at the New York Times site or accessed as a PDF.
I am the Executive Director of the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York. I am also an adoptive parent of a child (now a young man) formerly in foster care. I was interviewed by Nikita Stewart as she was working on this article.
At the Coalition, we understand and promote a child’s right and ability to know and understand the breadth of their family. This includes biological family members. We actively support collaboration between the adults involved in a child’s life. We know, from our personal experience as adoptive parents, birth parents, adoptees and those formerly in foster care, that this is what is best for children. We also know that the solution is different for each family.
If this was a bill providing support for collaboration and relationship-building (to include mediation when necessary) between foster and adoptive parents and biological parents from the moment a child comes into foster care, we could and would be behind it. However, to paraphrase Mr. Baccaglini in this article, this bill now before the Governor goes too far, too fast, without proper support.
The article also contains several misunderstandings or misleading conclusions:
- The article states that judges are currently banned from allowing any contact after ending a parent’s rights. This is not true. Judges do not play a role in visitation post-adoption. In many families, adoptive and biological parents work together to come to their own agreements — agreements that are responsive to their child and their family.
- In the article, it is stated that parents have their rights terminated because of their abuse or neglect of their children. This is not true. Parents have their children placed in foster care because of the abuse or neglect of their children. They have their rights terminated years down the road because they did not comply with the court’s orders to correct the issues that led to their children’s abuse or neglect. It is non-compliance with these court orders over an extended period of time that leads to an order of termination.
- Termination of parental rights is raised in Family Court only when all other steps to reunify parents or seek other resolution (such as placement with a relative or potential adoption by a known family) have failed. While bias remains part of our system, New York affords parents of children in foster care both more support and more time than most states. The most recent statistics available indicate that it takes almost five years on average for a child in foster care to achieve “permanency” – return to parent, placement with a relative or adoption. This demonstrates the reality that much time elapses before parties move toward court-ordered termination. Additionally, only a fraction of cases involving children in foster care end through a court-ordered termination of parental rights.
- David Hansell, Commissioner of the New York City Administration for Childrens Services (ACS), makes several good points about potential problems with this bill – and potential solutions. These concerns speak to the need and value of stepping back, bringing stakeholders together and working toward a more appropriate, sustainable and child-friendly solution. The Coalition, in a letter to Governor Cuomo last month, called on him to do this. The Governor used a similar approach in 2017, when a poorly-constructed bill regarding the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates was placed on his desk for signature. In that case, the Governor did not sign the bill and asked for a convening of stakeholders to work toward a stronger bill. This stronger bill, an outgrowth of this convening, passed the legislature in June. We again ask the Governor to proceed in a similar manner with the bill now before him
In my interview with Ms. Stewart, I explained all of this. Raising these points is part of a balanced discussion about this issue and the best possible resolution. At the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, we continue to advocate and hope for a real, sustainable, supportive answer to this issue.