Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi with the Stakeholder Coalition to announce his support for the Family Reunification Act legislation as a Bill that would provide a mechanism to reunite families in select circumstances.
ST. PAUL (Feb. 26, 2013) — Ramsey County Attorney John Choi joined with a coalition of stakeholders from across the Twin Cities Metro area to announce landmark legislation that would provide select children and parents a process to legally be reunited after a previous court-ordered termination.
The Family Reunification Act of 2013 (SF422/HF704) creates a mechanism to reunite select foster children 15 years old and older who are typically within three years of “aging out” of the foster care system without ever being adopted.
“We need to change the way we – as a community – think about second chances and expanding our role as County Attorneys in bringing parents and children back together when it is appropriate,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “I strongly believe this is the right thing to do. It will enable us, as prosecutors, to ensure that justice is done throughout the course of a lifetime.”
“Legal Aid represents children in the system who often bounce from foster home to foster home,” said Diana Hamilton, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Youth Law Project. “For parents who have turned their lives around, there isn’t currently the option of a second chance to legally reunite with their children who remain in foster care. The Family Reunification Act provides that second chance.”
Under the legislation as introduced, multiple conditions would need to be met for reunification to be considered:
· Only select children – who are 15 years old or older, desire to reside with their parent, have been in the foster care system for at least 36 months, and have not been adopted or currently have an adoption pending – would be eligible.
· The parent would have to have to have corrected the initial conditions that led to the termination of his/her parental rights, and be willing and able to provide day-to-day care and maintain the health, safety, and welfare of the child.
Procedurally, in order to reunite certain foster children and a parent after parental rights have been terminated, The County Attorney and the County Social Service Agency would have to agree that reunification is in the child’s best interests. The County Attorney is the only one that could then petition the court to reunify the parent and child.
At the end of 2008, there were 1,241 children still under state guardianship. The cost of maintaining a state ward is greater than the cost of a Reestablishment of the Child/Parent connection. In extreme cases, the state is forced to intervene when circumstances require the state to terminate parental rights. Yet, a number of these parents then take control of their lives via sobriety, employment and accountability, and there is still no legal means for them to regain the one thing in life they cherish most.
“Because of my addiction, I lost the two most important things in the world to me – my kids. For me, it was a wake-up call that started me on the path to sobriety,” said Gina Evans, a parent whose parental rights were terminated over a decade ago. “Once I regained control of my life, I began researching avenues to get my kids back and learned that there weren’t any. I am here today to fight for parents like me who have gotten their lives back together and deserve the right and privilege to parent their own children.”
In addition to strong bipartisan support, this bill is supported by Children’s Law Center; Legal Aid; Minnesota Adopt; Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge; Minnesota Association of County Social Service Administrators (MACSSA); Minnesota Department of Human Services; Ombudsperson for African American Families; Ramsey County Human Services and Public Health Department; Second Chance Coalition (representing 53 organizations).
The Family Reunification Act of 2013
To establish a uniform statewide statutory procedure for reunifying select children in the foster care system with a parent after parental rights have been terminated.
Background and Summary
· There are about 1,200 children in foster care. Many are never adopted and remain wards of the state until they age out.
· 12 other states provide a process to, where circumstances warrant, bring parents and children together after the parent has rectified the conditions that led to the loss of parental rights and is now once again fit to parent.
· The County Attorney and the County Social Service Agency would have to agree that reunification is in the child’s best interests. The County Attorney is the only one that could ask the court to reunify a parent and child.
· An extremely high bar would be set to allow the court to approve a request for reunification. The County Attorney would be required to show — by clear and convincing evidence – that the parent has corrected the conditions leading to the removal of parental rights and that the child would be returned to a safe and nurturing environment.
· Other states’ experience shows the number of cases of reinstatement each year would be small, but the impact on the affected children and families is incalculable.
This bill has strong bipartisan support at the Capitol and is also supported by MN Adopt; MN Adult & Teen Challenge; and MN Second Chance Coalition (which represents 53 organizations).
For more information, contact Ron Elwood, Legal Services Advocacy Project, at 612-842-6909 or [email protected]