The revolving doors of family court: confronting broken adoptios | Pound Pup Legacy

The revolving doors of family court: confronting broken adoptios

By Dawn J. Post and Brian Zimmerman / clcny.org
27 June, 2012

In the last few years, headlines have gripped the public, highlighting dramatic failures in international adoption cases. Who can forget the Tennessee woman who abruptly placed her adopted son from Russia alone on a plane back to his native country with a note that he was “violent and ha[d] severe psychopathic issues”? Similarly, there is a recent focus on domestic cases in which parents have sought to dissolve their relationship with their adopted children, alleging extreme behavioral, psychological, or medical needs, only to return them to the state foster care system to receive treatment and care.

Acknowledging that while “the last thing adoptive children need is to be rejected by another family,” these middle-to-upper class families argue that their children’s mental health needs are so great that they cannot financially, emotionally, or physically afford to continue to care for them, and that “loving [them] means letting [them] go.”

This problem was highlighted in 2008 when Nebraska became notorious for being the one state in the country with a unique safe haven law. The safe haven law was intended to allow parents to leave unwanted infants at the hospital; however, the law did not identify an age limit, allowing parents to abandon children up the age of eighteen without legal consequences. In the first four months of the law’s existence, before this loophole was corrected, twenty-seven parents or guardians left thirty-six children at hospitals (none of them infants). About half of these cases involved adoptive parents or guardians, and six children were transported into Nebraska from other states and abandoned in hospitals. Americans have vilified these adoptive families, comparing their decisions to return children to the system to that of returning a defective product to a store. Revictimizing an already vulnerable and innocent child is certainly difficult to justify.

However, the actions of the adoptive families and the reactions of many Americans raise very different questions for the authors who practice as attorneys for children in one of the busiest family courts in the country. Unlike these adoptive parents, who were publicly vilified, very little attention has been paid to the many children who are a product of the foster care system and who return to family court through its revolving doors after achieving so-called “permanency” through adoption. In the field of child welfare, changes in policy goals and objectives to achieve permanency for children in foster care have, in practice, resulted in an increase in adoptions.

Although there are no federal standards for data collection to track broken adoptions, attorneys for children who regularly practice in family court frequently see cases in which children who were previously adopted return to family court or to the foster care system as subjects in subsequent cases, whether in abuse or neglect, custody or guardianship, voluntary placements, “persons in need of supervision” (PINS), or delinquency cases.

Related factors associated with broken adoptions may include: age of the child or adoptive parent; behavioral and emotional issues of the child; prior placement history; sexual abuse history; attachments of sibling groups; attachment to the birth parent; prenatal drug and alcohol exposure; and the lack of services and resources to properly address these issues.

They may also include organizational and institutional failures in the child welfare, mental health, education, health care, and legal communities.

As the authors of this article thought about the revolving doors of family court and the seeming lack of reported numbers on this issue, they began to make local inquiries into whether anyone in New York City or the state could provide data on cases involving children who had returned to care after being adopted. The Office of Court Administration, the Department of Probation, the Mental Health Clinic, and attorneys for children groups, including The Children’s Law Center (CLCNY), all indicated that they did not have a statistical field to capture these numbers.

Some of the difficulty lies in the fact that children’s names may be changed, and that they are assigned different case numbers after they are adopted and return to court.

Frequently, a broken adoption only becomes known if volunteered by the adoptive parent or child or if it is included in the text of the filed petition. Survey results suggest that in perhaps over 50% of the cases, the displacement becomes known when the adoptive parents state their relationship as such at the beginning of the appearance to the family court.

Indeed, it appears that only a few states now keep track of children returned to the system during or after the adoption.

The desire to obtain statistics on broken adoptions was multifold in purpose. In part, the statistics might confirm what the authors had already surmised based on anecdotal evidence: that broken adoptions are a significant and unspoken issue, not only for the children whose lives are disrupted time and again but also for the system as a whole. In addition, the statistics could inform a meaningful policy discussion that could minimize the number of cases where children come back into the system as a result of broken adoptions. Unless one can identify the characteristics of these cases, one cannot determine what might have been done to avoid the broken adoption. Thus, while statistics only reveal part of the picture, the authors believed it was critical to see what numbers could be uncovered, even on a smaller scale.

In preparation for this article, the CLCNY conducted a six-month case study to examine cases of broken adoptions and the children who return to family court in guardianship cases. The authors also surveyed the New York City Family Court (N.Y.C. Family Court) bench and several attorney groups through anonymous surveys. In sharing the results through this article and facilitating the discussion, the authors seek to work toward finding a solution to limit the revolving doors of family court. They recognize that it is the shared responsibility of the many service providers and disciplines involved in these children’s and teenager’s lives, both pre- and post-adoption, to acknowledge the large number of children and teenagers who are returned to the system through the revolving doors of family court, as well as each party’s role contributing to children returning. Only then can a commitment be made to modify or eliminate the conditions which lead to the broken adoptions.

Originally, the presentation which led to this article was entitled “The Revolving Doors of Family Court: Confronting Failed Adoptions.” However, after reflecting upon the results of the trend study and unique stories and circumstances of each case, the authors decided to change the term to “Broken Adoptions.” The term “failed” imputes blame and the purpose of the article is not to engage in finger pointing and accusation. Rather, the purpose is to encourage discussion about these issues and to identify and implement possible solutions. While the term “broken” means, in part, that something is not functioning properly, it suggests that it is also repairable. Accordingly, the term broken seemed more in keeping with the purpose of this article, which is to provide a view from the trenches of N.Y.C. Family Court; to identify some of the more prevalent issues and associated factors in broken adoptions; to introduce the data from CLCNY’s six month case study; and to provide recommendations concerning the child welfare and legal community’s response to this trend. Understanding the revolving doors of family court with respect to broken adoptions requires an acute understanding of not only the legal context of the cases but also requires a grounding in psychological terms such as attachment, bonding, identity, resilience, trauma, loss, and grief; social service related concepts such as stretching, commitment, and open Originally, the presentation which led to this article was entitled “The Revolving Doors of Family Court: Confronting Failed Adoptions.”

However, after reflecting upon the results of the trend study and unique stories and circumstances of each case, the authors decided to change the term to “Broken Adoptions.” The term “failed” imputes blame and the purpose of the article is not to engage in finger pointing and accusation.

Rather, the purpose is to encourage discussion about these issues and to identify and implement possible solutions. While the term “broken” means, in part, that something is not functioning properly, it suggests that it is also repairable. Accordingly, the term broken seemed more in keeping with the purpose of this article, which is to provide a view from the trenches of N.Y.C. Family Court; to identify some of the more prevalent issues and associated factors in broken adoptions; to introduce the data from CLCNY’s six month case study; and to provide recommendations concerning the child welfare and legal community’s response to this trend.

Understanding the revolving doors of family court with respect to broken adoptions requires an acute understanding of not only the legal context of the cases but also requires a grounding in psychological terms such as attachment, bonding, identity, resilience, trauma, loss, and grief; social service related concepts such as stretching, commitment, and open Originally, the presentation which led to this article was entitled “The Revolving Doors of Family Court: Confronting Failed Adoptions.”

However, after reflecting upon the results of the trend study and unique stories and circumstances of each case, the authors decided to change the term to “Broken Adoptions.” The term “failed” imputes blame and the purpose of the article is not to engage in finger pointing and accusation.

Rather, the purpose is to encourage discussion about these issues and to identify and implement possible solutions. While the term “broken” means, in part, that something is not functioning properly, it suggests that it is also repairable. Accordingly, the term broken seemed more in keeping with the purpose of this article, which is to provide a view from the trenches of N.Y.C. Family Court; to identify some of the more prevalent issues and associated factors in broken adoptions; to introduce the data from CLCNY’s six month case study; and to provide recommendations concerning the child welfare and legal community’s response to this trend.

Understanding the revolving doors of family court with respect to broken adoptions requires an acute understanding of not only the legal context of the cases but also requires a grounding in psychological terms such as attachment, bonding, identity, resilience, trauma, loss, and grief; social service related concepts such as stretching, commitment, and open adoptions; policy concerns such as fiscal incentives, the fact that that biological connections remain alive for children in actuality or as an ideal; and the changing world that includes social media as a connecting device. Part II of this article focuses on the legal aspects, including CLCNY’s trend study, case studies, and related issues. Part III focuses on the related psychological and social services issues

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