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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 10
    PUBLICATION YEAR 2006

    Document Title
    Study of Virginia's Adoption Laws and Policies

    Author
    Joint Subcommittee

    Enabling Authority
    SJR 331 (Regular Session, 2005)

    Executive Summary
    SJR 331 Study of Virginia's Adoption Laws and Policies

    Introduction

    The Joint Subcommittee met four times during the 2005 interim. On May 24, 2005, the members of the committee elected Senator Jay O'Brien as Chairman and Delegate McQuigg as Vice-Chairman of the Joint Subcommittee. Senator O'Brien stated the purpose of the study is to examine current adoption laws and polices as they tend to be cumbersome and confusing. The members heard from various organizations and interest groups and also heard from members of the public. The members met again on June 22, 2005, September 12, 2005 and conducted a final meeting on November 14, 2005. In June, the members were introduced to legislative proposals submitted by Stan Phillips. In September, the members heard from Professor Mary Beck from the University of Missouri School of Law regarding putative father registries. In November the members discussed all the issues presented during the course of the meetings and considered some tentative legislative language. During the final meeting, the members voted on recommendations.

    Recommendations

    The members voted to recommend, at least in concept, administrative changes to the adoption laws, the creation of a putative father registry, changing the adoption laws to allow a birth mother to recommend adoptive parents and still use agency placement adoption procedures, and to amend the background check statute to allow a person who was convicted of felony drug possession to adopt a child as long as ten years have elapsed since conviction.


    Summaries

    Below are the meeting summaries for the May 24, 2005, September 12, 2005, and the November 14, 2005 meetings.

    May 24, 2005

    Chair's opening remarks

    Senator O'Brien introduced himself and explained the Joint Subcommittee's charge to study Virginia's adoption laws and policies and he stated that input from the public and subcommittee members would be welcome and vital to identifying ways to improve the adoption process in Virginia. He also iterated that this was an extremely important and worthwhile cause. He then allowed for the other subcommittee members to introduce themselves.

    Overview of adoption laws and review of recent studies and legislative trends

    Jeff Gore, staff attorney with the Virginia Division of Legislative Services presented an overview of Virginia's adoption laws and a review of recent legislative and executive branch studies and recent legislation. Virginia has essentially two types of adoption processes: agency adoptions and parental placement adoptions, the former allowing for more anonymity, and the latter requiring more openness. The majority of Virginia's adoption laws are set out in Chapter 12 of Title 63.2 of the Code of Virginia. Step parent adoptions are the most common in Virginia, followed by agency placements, and other parental placements. Numerous executive and legislative branch studies have been conducted over the past 30 years, most of which looked at protecting the best interests of children, streamlining the adoption process, or reorganizing adoption statutes. Adoption-related legislation has been increasing recently.

    Child and Family Services Review

    Vickie Johnson- Scott, Director, Division of Family Services at the Virginia Department of Social Services briefed the subcommittee on the status of the Child and Family Services Review. Department recommendations regarding the adoption process include shortening the length of time that agencies are permitted to submit their report to the court from 90 to 60 days, and adding provisions regarding birth parent responsibilities.

    Adoption agencies' presentations

    Linda Cullen from Catholic Charities, Kevin Broderick of LDS Family Services, and Rebecca Ricardo of Coordinators2inc., were all on hand to represent their respective private adoption agencies. They suggested ways to improve Virginia's adoption laws, focusing on the areas of openness of adoption records and openness during the adoption process, including alternatives to the current system that allows for either closed (agency) adoptions or open (parental placement) adoptions. The rights and responsibilities of birth fathers were also discussed in depth, in addition to the need to streamline the Virginia birth certificate process for foreign adoptees.

    Legal process

    Rodney Poole, Esq., a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys gave historical background on his experience as an adoption attorney in Virginia for the past 20 plus years, and the problems and improvements he has seen relative to Virginia's adoption laws and policies during that time. Mr. Poole urged the subcommittee to hold as many public hearings as possible (time and appropriations permitting) around the state in formulating its recommendations - a process that Tennessee recently undertook over a two year period with apparent success. He stated that much confusion could be eliminated by centralizing all adoption laws in one title of the Virginia Code. Currently, relevant provisions are spread among Titles 63.2, 16.1, and 32.1 among others.

    Public comments

    Stanton Phillips, Esq., an adoption attorney in Vienna, spoke briefly during the public comment period. Mr. Phillips is a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, is active in this area for the Virginia State Bar, and has participated in a number of the previous adoption studies conducted in Virginia. He offered his assistance to the subcommittee throughout the study process, as did the other presenters.

    Member discussion of work plan

    The members discussed the possibility of holding a meeting outside of Richmond in order to gain more public participation. This remains a possibility, however no conclusion was reached. The next scheduled meeting is June 22 at 10am in the General Assembly Building. Staff was instructed to compile recommendations from the May 24 meeting and circulate them among the subcommittee members in advance of that meeting. The final two (of the allotted four meetings) will most likely be in early and late fall, taking into consideration November elections.


    September 12, 2005

    Chair's Opening Remarks

    Senator O'Brien thanked everyone for their attendance and welcomed guest speaker Professor Mark Beck from the University of Missouri School of Law. She is a preeminent national expert on putative father registries. The Chairman further stated that after the discussion of putative father registries that he would invite comment on designated adoption language and then allow time for Andrea Gaines to voice her concerns regarding barrier crimes.

    Overview of Administrative Changes and Designated Adoption

    Greg O'Halloran, Staff Attorney with the Division of Legislative Services, introduced himself as the new staff attorney for the study and gave a brief summary of the first two meetings as well as possible avenues of pursuit prior to the next meeting.

    Discussion of Putative Father Registries

    Professor Mary Beck discussed putative father registries ("PFR") on the state level and the Proud Father Act which would provide for a nationwide PFR. She stated that 35 states have a PFR and 15 of those states recognize sexual intercourse as notice to the putative father of pregnancy. If the putative father registers, he has to be provided notice of all adoption proceedings and he has the right to object and to establish legal paternity. If the putative father does not register his rights are terminated and he cannot impede the adoption process. The only exception to this is fraud on the part of the mother. (Mother tells putative father that she had an abortion or that she is not pregnant, ect.)

    Ms. Beck also stated that if Virginia were to adopt a PFR it would have to conduct and finance a media campaign to publicize the registry and secure cooperative agreements between hospitals, courts, law enforcement and the Health Department. Ms. Beck suggested that a surcharge on all adoptions would cover the cost of the registry. Potential adopting parties would be willing to pay this additional charge because it would result in a more secure adoption.

    Public Comments

    James Stansel, an attorney from Washington, DC and an adoptive parent, relayed a personal anecdote where he and his family were blocked from adopting children because Virginia does not allow designated adoptions. Joan Richwine of Bethany Christian Services, Chuck Johnson of the National Counsel for Adoption and Rebecca Ricardo of Coordinators/2, Inc. expressed support for a change in Virginia's law to allow designated adoptions. Rodney Poole and Stan Phillips, both members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, expressed support for current law regarding designated adoption.

    Andrea Gaines spoke regarding barrier crimes and her particular situation where her husband was convicted of felony attempt to possess an illegal substance nearly fifteen years ago. Since then he has turned his life around yet they are not able to adopt under the current law.

    Member Discussion

    The members, by way of an informal vote, agreed to pursue a Putative Father Registry and a change in Virginia's adoption laws to allow designated adoption.


    November 14, 2005

    Chair's Opening Remarks

    Senator O'Brien stated that the members would vote to recommend legislation to be introduced during the 2006 session. He encouraged comments from the public to assist the members as they prepared to vote.

    Overview of Administrative Changes to Adoption Laws

    Stan Phillips of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys reviewed proposed legislative changes that are designed to facilitate the adoption process and improve the procedures involved with adoptions. The members voted unanimously to adopt the legislative changes with the caveats that if the putative father registry was approved that the language necessary to enact it would override the administrative language and that the language in the handout would have to be revised.

    Discussion of the Putative Father Registry

    Barbara Jones, a member of the committee and of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, briefly reviewed the concepts and mechanisms of the putative father registry. It will require any man who has had sexual intercourse with a woman and who is not a presumed, adjudicated or acknowledged father to register with the putative father registry in order to protect his rights should the mother decide to place the child up for adoption. If such man does not register, all his rights to oppose the adoption will be terminated.

    Recommendation to pursue the putative father registry was approved by the members with that caveat that some of the language in the draft would have to be revised.

    Vote on the Hybrid/Designated Adoption

    Greg O'Halloran from the Division of Legislative Services summarized the impact of the hybrid adoption legislation. The proposed legislative changes would require a child-placing agency or local board of social services to consider any adoptive parent recommended by the birth parent. It also would allow a birth parent, whose recommendation regarding an adoptive parent was followed, to choose parental placement adoption procedures (which are open and encourage meetings and exchange of information between the adoptive parent and the birth parent) or agency adoption procedures (which afford the birth parent much more privacy throughout the process). The changes also require that the child-placing agency or local board notify the birth parent of the right to independent legal counsel and to meet with a social worker.

    The members voted to recommend these proposed changes with the caveat that the language in the handout would have to be revised.

    Modification of the "Barrier Crime" Law as it pertains to Adoption

    The Chairman cited the previous testimony of Andrea Gaines regarding her husband's situation and how the barrier crime of felony drug possession related to his ability to adopt a child. Greg O'Halloran from the Division of Legislative Services summarized the proposed legislative changes as allowing a potential adoption applicant to be considered 10 years after a conviction for drug possession or distribution.

    The members voted to recommend such a change with the caveat that the language would have to be revised.

    Public Comments

    There were many comments from the public and all objections were heard. There was also a great deal of support expressed from the audience regarding the concepts stated above.

    Conclusion

    The legislation recommended by the Joint Subcommittee makes many changes to the adoption laws with the purpose to make the adoption process easier for all involved and to facilitate navigation thorough the process for both sophisticated and unsophisticated parties.

    [No report to follow as of this time.]