Opposing the Poorly Written, Over Reaching Preserving Family Bonds’ Act
We know how important it is for a child to have ongoing contact with their biological family whenever possible. We also know that the solution is not the same for every child or every family. Open adoption contracts, conditional surrenders and loaded orders all provide legal pathways to incorporate ongoing visitation and contact while allowing adoptive parents (the parents with legal responsibility) to decide what is best for the child in their care.
Though New York State bill S4203A / A2199A seemed well-intended and artfully named, the Preserving Family Bonds’ Act, if passed into law, would allow family court judges the ability to order continued, prescribed visitation and/or contact between children and their birth parents after a parent’s rights have been terminated. Not only would this bill wrongly shift the focus from the best interest of the child to the wishes of the court-terminated biological parent, it has the potential to unfairly subject adoptive families to years of ongoing legal expense and undeserved intervention as parents could petition the court at any time for modification of the order, even after the adoption is finalized. Adoptive families would have no choice but to hire and pay for legal representation for themselves.
We believe in a solution. We believe in adults working together to preserve a child’s connections. There is nothing to prevent this from happening after adoption. Nothing. Forcing it via court order, however, is not the answer. Mediation, supported, collaborative relationship-building from the moment a child enters foster care is the answer. This bill offers none of this.
For these reasons, the Coalition has opposed the Preserving Family Bonds’ Act since its inception.
Stopping the Bill Progress
We had a feeling it would come to this.
Back in May, we sent out a Call to Action about opposing the pending legislation, conveniently called the “Preserving Family Bonds Act” in the New York Senate. We knew that despite the Coalition’s strong opposition to this legislation since its inception, there was a strong push – that was elevated by some creative marketing, false information and a sympathetic name – to move this bill.
- On June 14th, it was passed by the New York State Senate.
- On June 18th, it was passed by the New York State Assembly.
At this point, ONLY A VETO by Governor Andrew Cuomo can prevent this overreaching bill from becoming law in New York State.
Please join us in demanding a Veto from the Governor. We need EVERYONE to help stop this from happening right now!
We CAN Do This! We CAN Stop The Preserving Family Bonds’ Act!
We do not know when the THIS bill will be transmitted to the Governor. We don’t know when he will sign it, but it’s vitally important that we get the message to him ASAP! Once he signs it into law, it’s practically impossible to undo it.
We KNOW that we CAN MAKE THIS HAPPEN!
Here are some steps you can take right now:
Sign the Petition!
We have created a petition on Change.org with a public message to Governor Cuomo to VETO S4203A | A 2199A. Please sign on and then use the sharing tools at Change.org to email friends and family about the call to veto. You can also share on Facebook and other social media sites. Please do use the email feature to email it to your contacts! With petitions, the more the merrier as it is quantity that matters, so share with everyone and anyone- signatures do not need to come only from our families!
Send a Postcard!
We have created VETO postcards (see image at top) and will send them out to you! Just click on the link below and fill out the form and we’ll get them in the mail ASAP! Fill them all out yourself or share with friends and family. Order a bunch and share with a parent support group or church. Like the petition, quantity is key! The more postcards we can get to the Governor the better the impact it will be!
Contact the Governor!
While you wait for your postcards to arrive, send an email to Governor Cuomo! Follow up with a phone call. Call his office at 1-518-474-8390. Our advice is always to be concise and respectful.
Let his office know that you implore the Governor to
VETO S4203A | A 2199A
Share This Message!
Help us spread the word!
The more folks that contact the Governor, the better an impact we will make and a better outcome can be expected, so please take one final action and share this important message. Use the buttons on the bottom of this post to share on Facebook, forward via email or Tweet the message below!
More Issues and Concerns on S4203A|A2199A
- Click here to read the full text and sponsor memo of the bill.
- Click here to read the Coalition’s Memo of Opposition.
- Click here to read the New York Public Welfare Association’s Memo in Opposition.
- Click here for the Coalition’s letter to the Governor.
- Click here for a sample letter to send to the Governor.
- Click here to read the New York Public Welfare Associations Veto Request.
- Click here to read the Saratoga Springs attorney James Montagnino 7/24/19 Opt-Ed in the Albany Times Union. James has more than 30 years’ experience in the New York Family Courts. Click here for a PDF version.
- Click here to read the 8-7-19 New York Times article and the Coalition’s response.
The overwhelming majority of adoptions performed in New York today already provide for some level of openness and post-adoption contact. This varies greatly based on the particular situation and the individuals involved. This bill speaks only to those cases in which a level of cooperation and collaboration in the best interest of the child is not possible. Mandating visitation in these most entrenched and calcified of cases will not make children safer.
Even with all of the support and restorative opportunities New York affords to parents who have abused or neglected their children, we know that some will not be able to parent their child, to provide them with the day-to-day stability and safety children and youth need. Adoption is the best option in these cases.
- This bill speaks to the ability of judges to order visitation with the biological parent after the parent’s rights have been severed as the result of a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) proceeding. In New York, TPR proceedings occur in Family Court only after all other options have been considered and only after several years. Our foster care is properly oriented on reunification whenever possible – the safe return of children from foster care to their biological parents. It is only after repeated attempts at support to remedy the parent’s issues that results in foster care placement, and after attempts to explore a conditional surrender of rights (in which the parent can outline post-surrender visitation and contact with their child) have failed that courts engage in the resource and time-intensive termination of parental rights proceedings. Generally, TPR is invoked only when a parent has been repeatedly unable to meet the conditions for their child’s safe return. These are often the most challenging cases, in which the parent is confrontational and non-compliant.
- In New York, Family Courts will generally not discuss or consider TPR until the above conditions are met and a prospective adoptive parent is identified.
- This bill does nothing to either secure or deny the right of adopted children to have contact and visitation with their biological siblings who reside with other families. That right was already secured as the result of legislation passed in the 2017-18 legislative session and subsequently signed by the Governor.
- This bill was conceived of and advanced by attorneys representing biological parents. Despite press coverage to the contrary, the primary thrust of this bill was not the best interests of children, but rather the concerns of biological parents who, as outlined above, have missed several opportunities to remedy their situation and regain custody of their children.
- This bill does not consider the rights of children, especially youth 14 and older, to voice their wishes in regard to visitation with their biological parents. As written, this bill seems to mandate that a young person previously abused by their biological parent (who in turn lost their rights when they could not remedy the situation) would be forced to visit with their biological parent – and that the adoptive parents, the very people our state vetted and chose to provide safety and security to this young person, could do nothing to prevent this continued contact. This has the potential to re-victimize children and youth.
- This bill sets up a scenario in which a parent who, having lost their legal rights to their child, can re-petition Family Court for modification of visitation multiple times until the child reaches the age of 18. Adoptive parents would be subject to appearing in court and responding to each petition – and would have to secure legal representation at their cost. For biological parents deeply aggrieved at their circumstances, the ability to repeatedly petition for expanded and modified visitation will give them another way to exorcise their anger. In these most difficult of cases, anger is often directed at the adoptive parents. Some aggrieved biological parents already use the ability to make repeated reports of alleged abuse by the adoptive family to the State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment as a way to harass the adoptive family. This would give the most aggrieved biological parents yet another tool and would set the child up for years of continued stress. For example, a child could be called to testify in these modification proceedings.
- New York state already ranks very low in terms of the time it takes for a child in foster care to achieve permanency – that is, leave foster care to return safely to their parent’s care or be adopted. Statewide, it takes almost five years on average. In New York City, the average is over five years. This costs the state more and means that the children and youth spend years without certainty. This legislation has the potential to make the situation worse, as prospective adoptive parents are scared off by the prospect of having court-mandated visitation.
- For a period of time, the circumstances this bill seeks to put in place existed in the fourth department of our state court system (centered on Rochester). During this period, until the practice was successfully appealed, attorneys reported a downturn in adoption (resulting in children spending more time in foster care) and in adoptive families feeling coerced into agreeing to mandated visitation they knew was not in the best interest of the children they sought to adopt.
Practical Problems Posed by This Bill
This doesn’t even speak to the practical problems posed by this bill:
- There is no precedent for limiting or removing a legal parent’s ability to make decisions for their child (in these cases, the adoptive parent) when they have done nothing wrong.
- Who pays the adoptive parent’s legal bills as they have to defend requests to expand visitation, as this bill will allow?
- How will job transfers that force a move out of state be handled?
- How can we take a legal parent’s decision-making power and still hold them financial responsible for their children up until the age of 21, as state law does?
- With substance abuse at the heart of so many foster care and termination cases, how will an adoptive parent be able to protect their child (in the child’s best interests) if the parent relapses?
There is a Better Solution!
The alternative: Instead of signing this bill into law, the Governor could call for a workgroup committee of stakeholders (youth, adoptive parents, biological parents, child welfare professionals and legislators) to explore and discuss better alternatives as a path to more appropriate practice and legislation. The reality is that the family situations present in extended foster care are complex. Adults and children need sustained support and guidance in working through difficult and sometimes conflicting issues. Our state already recognizes this in cases of divorce and related custody/visitation. State-funded mediation, for example, is available in these cases.
This approach, which the Governor employed after the 2017-2018 legislative session in which another flawed and poorly written bill was passed, was successful. In that case, the Governor called on the Department of Health to form a workgroup committee of stakeholders. Out of this workgroup came new, improved legislation which successfully passed in this most recent session.
The foundation for the type of collaboration, of continued connection and contact this bill seeks needs to happen way earlier – when kids enter foster care. With mediation and support, adults can work together to support a child whether that child returns home, is placed with relatives or is freed for adoption. It has to happen from the beginning. It cannot be mandated at the end. A workgroup committee could explore an improved legislative measure that would actually meet the needs of the children involved.
For all of these reasons, we implore you to ACT to DEMAND a VETO of S4203A / A2199A!
Instead, we urge New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo to work with us at the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York and with others to create and fund real systemic change that can bring adults together in partnership from the moment a child enters foster care. Mediation and support for collaboration are the answers. A court order is not.
We Can Stop This If We All Work Together!
Again, your calls and emails DO matter. We know we can get the Governor’s attention. We did it in 2017 with the BAD Adoptee Rights bill. This year New York successfully passed the GOOD adoptee rights bill!
Don’t forget to send your postcards and share the VETO S4203A | A 2199A campaign with others!