Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Child Protection--Part III
After a child has been in foster care for a year, the State will make a decision on whether or not reunification with the parents is a realistic possibility or whether it believes that termination of parental rights and adoption is the best course of action. The guardian ad litem makes a recommendation to the Court as well and if the parents do not agree with the State's position and/or the guardian ad litem's recommendation then a hearing is held.
Obviously, if the plan is to send the child home, there is usually not a hearing but if the decision is termination of parental rights then there often is a hearing. The parents have the option of consenting to the termination and many do recognizing their inability to meet their child's needs.
In order for a court to terminate a parent's rights it has to find two things by clear and convincing evidence. First the court has to determine the unfitness of the parent and if the court finds that that is true, it must determine whether or not the termination is in the best interest of the child. Usually, if the court finds that the first part is true then the second falls into place but sometimes, especially with older children who have an attachment to the parent and who might not be candidates for adoption, the court may find that while the parent is unfit and the child should remain in state custody termination is not in the child's best interest and in those cases the court will not terminate parental rights. There are some long-term options for these older kids who remain in state custody. In Maine, we have Good Will Hinkley where my favorite nature writer, Bernd Heinrich, spent many years. There are other options, including independent living programs, group homes and sometimes family members, who were reluctant to get involved during the reunification phase, come forward late in a case after chances of reunification are over.
I hope that this series has helped answer some questions for readers--it's been interesting to try and summarize the process in a succinct manner but it is by no means a comprehensive description just an overview. I am looking forward to going back to stories about the beaver family, books and nature tomorrow.
Beckie asked me if I could change one thing about the system, what would that be. My list of changes for the system is quite lengthy, but if I could wish one thing for children, it is the one thing that I wish for everyone--to know that they are loved, cherished, cared for and valued.