Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Provide Children in Foster Care the Right to Visit Their Siblings

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation to affirmatively give siblings separated by foster care the right to visit and contact each other.

“This action will allow some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers to preserve family bonds that otherwise would be severed due to no fault of their own,” Governor Cuomo said. “I’m proud to sign this compassionate legislation, which will bring us closer to a stronger and more humane New York for all.” Foster Care

Although children with active abuse or neglect cases in foster care may file motions for visitation or contact with a sibling, the current law was ambiguous and unclear on whether other children in foster care could petition for this right, creating unnecessary obstacles for siblings to maintain ties.

Under the bill (A.7553/S.4835), amendments to the Family Court Act and the Social Services law allow contact or visitation between siblings, including half siblings, that have been separated by foster care. This includes:

• Children who are in foster care as a result of voluntary placement by a parent or guardian;
• Children who are in foster care as a result of a court ruling and “judicial surrender” of parental rights; and
• A child who is in foster care and whose sibling is not currently in foster care.

Office of Children and Family Services, New York – October 24, 2017

Click here to read the entire release.

ALEC MAPA AND JAMIE HEBERT: FAME, FAMILY, AND FOSTER CARE

“I was booked to perform at one of her R Family Vacations cruises in 2007,” recalls actor Alec Mapa, telling Gays With Kids that he and husband Jamie Hebert were surrounded by so many LGBT families that they just knew fatherhood was in the cards for them, too.

“I met a social worker on the ship specializing in helping LGBT families find foster-adopt placement,” Mapa continues, describing how he got her card and promptly lost it back on land in the junk drawer that is his garage. What happened next was kismet.

“So, when I was finally ready to call this woman, I realized that card was in a box somewhere in that garage! And I reached into a box, and the first thing I touched on was that card. We went to meet her at the Extraordinary Families agency, we took the foster-adopt courses … and nine months later we had a kid living in our house.”alec mapa

If you don’t know “America’s Favorite Gaysian,” you know his face: Mapa’s resume is catalog of critically-acclaimed comedy, from “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty” (where he played the hyperkinetic Suzuki St. Pierre) to “Devious Maids” and “The Gossip Queens.” He met producer Hebert on the set of his one-man show “Drama” in 2002 and the two have been an item ever since, marrying in 2008.

But this journey to fatherhood differs from most. When Zion came into their lives, he was the kind of kid most prospective parents don’t touch: He was African-American, he was a boy, and, at age five, he was old. Moreover, he was a foster-child, meaning his birthmother had not yet signed away her parental rights. To top it off, he had already been placed with four other families before Alec and Jamie got a hold of him.

“And were like, ‘This is our kid! We’re not giving him back!’” Mapa, 51, laughs. “Three months into our foster placement, he had the TPR — termination of parental rights — and nine months later, he was ours!”

Foster care and adoption are two different legal animals. The latter completely and permanently signs over the rights and responsibilities of the child from the birthparents to the adoptive parents. The child takes the surname of their new family and loses all automatic rights of inheritance with the old. A foster child can, and often does, maintain ties with their biological family even while in the care of another, and the biological parents have the final legal say in decisions concerning their child. Additionally, fostering lacks the permanency of adoption; children often shuffle from one foster family to another until they reach the age of 18, whereupon they are effectively cut loose.

For all the good intentions, it is no secret American foster care is overburdened, with up to 250,000 children entering yearly. It’s not all doom and gloom; 33 percent are back with their families within 11 months, and only seven percent of foster kids remain in care for more than five years. However, the longer a child stays in, the harder it is to get out. Chances for permanent placement drop drastically for children over five, siblings, children of color, and for self-identified LGBTQ youth. Some leave the system only after “aging out” of it, and can face the possibility of being family-less.

“The children in foster care deserve better,” says Rich Valenza, founder and CEO of Raise A Child, Inc., a foster-adopt advocacy and education resource for prospective LGBTQ parents (and for which Mapa is now a spokesperson). “Given the numbers, the solution to the foster care crisis is within reach and the answer is right here within the LGBT community.”

The numbers to which Valenza refers come from a 2013 study conducted by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law, confirming no significant difference in children raised by straight and LGBTQ parents, and stated two million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people express an interest in foster parenting. That number dwarfs the 400,000 children in the American foster care system, 104,000 of whom are available for adoption as of this writing.

Adds Mapa, “When we were talking about adoption, I wanted a baby. And when we met Zion, he was five and that was a baby. When you are five, you still need your mommy, you still need your daddy. Or two guys with a really cute house!”

by GaysWithKids.com, August 1, 2016

Click here to read the entire article.

Gay Parents Adoption – New Possibilities

Gay parents adoption used to be unheard of.

While certain countries still struggle with the concept of our families being equal to all others, in America, the foundation for gay parents adopting has been set and the legal protections for these families are available and critical to creating security in these family structures.  There are several means by which gay parents adoption can occur. I will review the most common: private adoption, public adoption and second or step parent adoption.

Private Adoption – There are several reasons that parents looking to adopt a child may look into private adoption, sometimes referred to as domestic adoption. The availability of children is higher than most people expect.  In the most recent year for which accurate data exists, there were over 18,000 domestic non-relative adoptions of newborns within the United States. Although the number of people placing their children for adoption has fallen dramatically since the 1970s due to the stigma of single-parenthood thankfully decreasing, there are still many birth parents making the painful but loving choice to look for a family for their biological child.

The adoption of the child can be done in one of two ways. The first is to engage an agency to walk you through the process and to help you with paperwork and the emotional upheaval that such a big life decision will inevitably bring. The benefits to involving an agency are numerous; for example, having your own ‘Adoption Specialist’ who will help you communicate with the various other professionals who need to be involved in the process such as social workers, physicians and lawyers. Financial assistance may be available to help cover legal fees, and agencies often do not charge to process the adoption.

lesbian family law

drawing of a happy couple of lesbians and adopted child

The second is a private arrangement whereby a birth mother and prospective parents arrange the adoption between themselves. They will have to hire lawyers and meet the legal requirements of adoption such as age, ability to care for the child and other important aspects. Parents who want to adopt are able to ‘advertise’ for a birth mother, and mothers who have chosen adoption for their child are able to do the same for an adoptive family.

Public Adoption – Foster children are in the legal custody of a commissioner of a social services district. That district may give responsibility for the care of the child to a voluntary authorized agency. When a child is in foster care, decisions must be made regarding the long-range permanency plan for the child. If the social services district decides that it would not be in the child’s best interests to return home and that the child should be adopted, steps must be taken to legally free the child for adoption.

There are three ways a child can become legally free for gay parents adoption: 1) the birth parents can sign a voluntary surrender agreement; 2) the social services district responsible for the child can bring a case in court asking the judge to terminate the parental rights of the birth parents; or 3) if both birth parents are deceased, or one parent is deceased and there is no other parent whose consent to the adoption is required, the child is automatically free for adoption.  Read more at the NY State Office of Children and Family Services, the source of this information.

Second or Step Parent Adoption – One increasingly popular methods for gay parents adoption is when one parent has a biologically related child of their own and their partner or spouse adopts that child.  If the couple is not married it is referred to as a “second parent adoption” and if they are married, it is referred to as a “step parent adoption.”   For both gay and lesbian couples, securing the legal rights of a non-biological parent is crucial to create the kind of emotional, and legal, security that most other families take for granted. The legality of both parents relationship to their child is often assumed. Parents are parents, regardless of the biological connection to your child.

While recent case law is catching up to our families, it is still lagging in the ability to create complete security without adoption, or a birth order from a competent jurisdiction.  Whichever path you choose to having your family, It is critical to speak with an attorney with experience in the field.  When you consider gay parent adoption, please consider me a resource. For more information on family estate planning, contact Anthony M. Brown at Time for Families and speak to a specialist family lawyer to secure your and your family’s future.

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Family Time With Frank, John and Zachary

John and Frank live in Oakland Park with their four-year-old son, Zachary. In 2012, the couple fostered Zachary right out of the hospital after he was born and then 18 months later, Frank adopted him as a single father and they became a gay family.

John is from San Francisco. He recently graduated from college and works in human resources. Frank is from New York. He is a registered nurse at Broward General Medical Center and a former New York firefighter. In fact, he was one of the initial responders on 9/11. The couple met eight years ago playing softball.

The two got married in Broward County just after midnight on Jan. 6.2nd parent adoption, second parent adoption, second parent adoptions, second parent adoption new york

In addition to the legal benefits, a huge motivating factor for the couple getting married was so John could join Frank as Zachary’s legal father on his son’s birth certificate. In many cases, unmarried gay couples were not allowed to adopt in Florida, with single fathers having to pass off their significant other as a “roommate”.

“(Before) If something happened to Frank, I wouldn’t have (had) a place to live and I would (have) lost Zachary,” John said.  Meet this gay family!

Visit gayswithkids.com.

Foster Families Share Their Stories of Love and Loss

Foster families tell their personal stories of what it is really like to have a foster child.

 

“Foster care changes a person,” wrote Stephanie Bennington, a former foster child from Fremont, Neb., after we asked readers to send us their foster care stories. The stories came in response to “Losing a Foster Child,” the most recent essay by Meghan Moravcik Walbert, who chronicled the time her family spent with the foster child she nicknamed BlueJay.

Many readers worried that BlueJay’s new family wouldn’t be able to offer him all the love, attention and resources she could. But from another perspective, his story was a success: He is being reunited with his biological siblings and members of his extended family.parent adoption

With over 400,000 children in the foster families system nationally, there’s been a movement toward such placements, known as “kinship care” — placing children whose parents cannot care for them in the homes of grandparents or other extended family members. Kinship care is believed to preserve family ties and support a continued relationship with parents, siblings and other relatives, providing children with family roots. It is also a way for strapped foster care systems to save money — according to a 2007 report, more than $6.5 billion annually.

One reader, Claudia Tracy, whose grandchildren had been in a loving foster home, wrote to say that she and her husband had decided to bring the children, whom they scarcely knew, to live with them.

“I am that relative from a town hours away that you fear,” Ms. Tracy wrote. Her absence stemmed not from lack of interest, she said, but from factors in the parents’ lives that may have been what led to the children’s being placed into foster care in the first place.

“It took us several months to find out where they were, and as soon as we did we headed out to find them,” she wrote. She worried about moving the children again, but knew that the foster families system might move or separate them. She wrote:

As family, we know we will support them as long as we are alive. We are a permanent home for them. We know that we are the connection to their parents. Our grandchildren know their parents; they love their parents. We will always honor this love even if our son and his ex lose their parental rights. While with us they will always be in contact with the rest of their extended family, their half siblings and cousins, aunts, uncles and other grandparents. And they will stay together. Never will we be in a position where we can’t take three children, they will never have to schedule visitation with a sibling. And yes all this is new to them, but my grandchildren, like BlueJay, did not know their foster family when they moved in. They had spent exactly zero days with them, and they were able to form a strong and loving attachment. This gives me hope, and I am grateful to their foster family for helping them build this skill.

Laura Scarborough, Manteca, Calif.

I am forever grateful to my foster parents. I was 3 years old when I came to live with Uncle Matt and Aunt Betty, as I called them. With them I came to know love without any conditions whatsoever. I was 6 and ready to start first grade when my mother came back into the picture and the judge reunited us. I wish I could conclude that we all lived happy ever after when the judge reunited us with Mom. Sadly, the chaos of mental illness, alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse that was my reality that led to our placement into foster care never went away.

Years ago I managed to reconnect with my foster mom. She told me that after my brother and I left they stopped fostering. Their hearts were broken after we left, she told me. I never realized the loss they must have felt until then.

Stephanie Bennington, Fremont, Neb.

When I was 3 years old, my parents were incarcerated for running a prostitution service out of our home. Almost all the homes we had were full of hatred, except one. Her name was Jan and she desperately wanted me to call her mom. I never did, and I’m sure that hurt her. The rest of the time was a blur of abuse and neglect until my mother got out of jail and got clean, and we went back to her. Ten years later, when I was 17, she relapsed and put herself into heart failure. She died six months later. She hurt me, again.

Life is really hard sometimes. Reading this essay by Meghan Moravcik Walbert, I cried. I cried for her, but most importantly I cried for BlueJay, because life will always be harder for him. Foster care changes a person. I’m 28 now and going into my third year of medical school. I’ll be a physician soon. I have a 3-year-old son. Sometimes I look into his eyes and I see me, the day I went into foster care. I’ve almost quit medical school multiple times in fear of putting him in day care. I can’t explain in words how much this hurts.

New York Times, April 12, 2016 by Kj Dell’Antonia       

Click here to read the entire article.

Lesbian Couple to Keep Foster Child Utah Judge Shifts Ruling

Utah Judge Reverses Ruling in Favor of Lesbian Couple

A Utah judge on Friday reversed his order to take a foster child away from a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation, state officials said. The judge, Scott N. Johansen of Juvenile Court, had issued an order on Tuesday saying that the child, a 9-month-old girl, had to be removed from the home of a lesbian couple by the end of the day next Tuesday, and placed with a heterosexual couple.

The foster parents, Rebecca A. Peirce, 34, and April M. Hoagland, 38, and the state Division of Child and Family Services, both filed motions Thursday asking the judge to reconsider, and said they were prepared to appeal his decision. The couple, who are married, lives in Price, southwest of Salt Lake City.A Utah judge on Friday reversed his order to take a foster child away from a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation

The clash is the first of its kind, said Ashley Sumner, a spokeswoman for the state agency, because Utah only recently began approving foster child placements with same-sex couples, after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on gay marriage in June.

Under fire from critics including gay rights activists and the state’s Republican governor, a judge in Utah on Friday reversed, at least temporarily, his order that a foster child be taken away from a lesbian couple because it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.”

While the child may remain with the couple for the moment, Judge Scott N. Johansen signaled that the matter might not be settled. He continued to question the placement of children with same-sex parents, a matter that will be taken up at a Dec. 4 hearing on what is in the best interests of this child, a 9-month-old girl.

The judge’s actions, coming after the Supreme Court this year established a right to same-sex marriage, put him at the center of another front in the nation’s legal and culture wars: the question of whether gay men and women can get, and keep, custody of children under various circumstances.

LGBT Advocates Outraged at Utah Judge

LGBT Advocates Outcry: Rights Violation!

Utah Judge Takes Foster Child From Couple Because They’re Lesbians

LGBT advocates and even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were outraged and April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce of Carbon County, Utah, were stunned when Judge Scott Johansen ordered their foster child removed from their home. The judge said the baby would be better off with heterosexual parents.

The couple, who legally wed in October 2014, have taken care of the 1-year-old girl for three months, and her birth mother has asked them to adopt the child. The Utah Division of Child and Family Services has been forced to find new housing for the child, but officials say they will appeal the judge’s decision.

utah-lesbians

“We love her and she loves us, and we haven’t done anything wrong,” Peirce told the Salt Lake Tribune. “And the law, as I understand it, reads that any legally married couple can foster and adopt.”

Attorneys for DCFS are currently reviewing the decision. “If we feel like [Johansen’s] decision is not best for the child, and we have a recourse to appeal or change it, we’re going to do that,” DCFS director Brent Platt said. “For us, it’s what’s best for the child.”

“Any loving couple if they are legally married, and meet the requirements, we want them to be involved,” he added.

The child’s state-appointed attorney supports the couple. The birth mother’s lawyer, who was in court with the couple when the decision was handed down, has said the mother is upset and wants her baby to stay with the women.

Judge Johansen, who the Tribune reported has repeatedly been reprimanded by the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission for “demeaning the judicial office,” claimed to have research proving children are better off when raised by heterosexual parents. In reality, all credible major studies show that a parent’s sexual orientation has no effect on a child’s social development and mental health.

Click here to read the entire article.

Advocate.com, November 12, 2015 by Bill Browning

Same Sex Families Foster Parenting Victory

Same Sex Families Foster Parenting Victory in Nebraska

Yesterday, a Nebraska District Court ruled that a discriminatory policy that barred same sex families from becoming foster parents was unconstitutional. The two-decade-old policy, Memo I-95, barred same sex families from obtaining state foster parent licenses.

This change will finally allow child welfare agencies to expand the pool of foster and adoptive families for Nebraska’s children.
“Nebraska’s motto of ‘Equality before the Law’ rings out more truly for all of us on this thrilling day,” Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of ACLU of Nebraska, said in a release. “This is a special victory for thousands of children in Nebraska who now have more options to find loving and stable
homes.”
Earlier this year, Nebraska child welfare officials announced they would stop enforcing the law.
Click here to read the entire article.

 

HRC.org, by Hayley Miller, August 6, 2015