2016: Reuniting or Terminating?

The first few days of the New Year are supposed to be for setting goals, but all I can think about is termination of parental rights (TPR).

Where we live, the Department of Family Services generally gives parents one year to remedy whatever caused their children to enter foster care. If parents are successful, kiddos go home. If parents have made some progress, but need more time, they’ll get another six months to fix things. If the Department determines that the parents have not been making progress or does not think the parents will be able to successfully solve what needs to be solved, then parental rights will be terminated and the kiddos will either go to other relatives or be placed for adoption.

Early 2016 will be a year for 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful. What will the Department decide for them?

In January, the Department will hold meetings to start assessing progress. One big area for assessment is whether dad can meet the kids’ emotional and psychological needs. I really have no idea where the Department will come down on that issue.

Personally, I am very conflicted about his abilities. I see how he comes faithfully to every visit and hear him express concern for his children in group meetings. I also hear him say that the kids made up the allegations and deny that their behaviors are a result of trauma. And there is a lot that I wouldn’t know anything about – like any personal therapy, parenting classes, or interactions inside the visitation rooms. God, I really want dad to be able to meet the kids needs so the kids can go home!!

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The debate rages on in my head. The physical danger has been removed, so the kids will go home. The emotional care won’t be sufficient, so it’ll be TPR. The academic aspect of parenting is there, so the kids will go home. The financial support isn’t happening, so it’ll be TPR. He obviously loves his kids, so they’ll go home. He loves his kids, but misunderstands parenting, so it’s TPR.

What I want is just not to think about it. But it keeps creeping up on me.

My sister wants to know who all will be coming for summer vacation. The kids display a certain behavior, and I wonder how their dad would handle it. People outright ask me how long the kids will be with us.

So say a little prayer with me that no matter what happens in 2016, Joyful and Watchful will be safe.

When are Parents’ Rights Terminated?

Ever hear of the 15/22 Rule? There’s a federal law called the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), which requires state agencies to ask a judge to terminate people’s rights to parent their children when their children have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. Of course, there are exceptions…

When can termination of parental rights (TPR) be faster than 15 months?

Under ASFA, parental rights can be terminated sooner if a court decides that:

  • Children were abandoned as an infant
  • The parent murdered their child’s sibling, or attempted to kill their children
  • The parent committed a felony assault that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or another child of the parent

Some states have passed state-level laws that require parental rights to be terminated sooner than 15 months out of the past 22 months.  Also, some states have other types of exceptions.

When does the 15/22 rule not apply?

About 60% of states have exceptions to the law that the state agency must seek termination if children have been in foster care for 15 months out of the past 22 months. These exceptions depend on the state and can include:

  • The child has been placed under the care of a relative.
  • The State agency has documented in the case plan a compelling reason to believe that terminating the parent’s rights is not in the best interests of the child.
  • The parent has not been provided with the services required by the service plan for family reunification.

Why do parents lose their rights to their children?

The list is long and depends on the state. Find Law has summarized the major reasons why a court may decide that a parent no longer has the right to their children:

  • Severe or chronic physical abuse of the child
  • Any sexual abuse of the child
  • Severe psychological abuse or torture of the child
  • Extreme emotional damage to the child inflicted by the parent
  • Child neglect by failing to provide shelter, food, or other needed care as is required by parental obligations
  • Abuse or neglect of other children in the same household
  • Abandonment of the child or extreme parental disinterest
  • Long-term mental illness of the parent
  • Long-term alcohol or drug induced incapacity of the parent
  • Failure to support the child
  • Failure to maintain contact with the child
  • Failure to provide education
  • Felony conviction of the parent for a violent crime against the child or another family member
  • Felony conviction of the parent when the term of imprisonment is long enough to negatively impact the child and the only other source of care for the child is foster care
  • The child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, and the parent is still not ready for reunification.
  • Failure of reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family
  • Failure of the parent to comply with a court ordered plan
  • The child would be at risk if returned to the parent’s home.
  • Risk of substantial harm to the child
  • Inducing the child to commit a crime or crimes
  • Unreasonable withholding of consent to adoption by the non-custodial parent
  • The child’s need for continuity and care
  • The identity or location of the father is unknown after a reasonable attempt to determine or find him
  • The child was conceived as a result of rape or incest
  • The putative or presumptive father is not the child’s biological father
  • A newborn child is addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • Giving birth to three or more drug affected infants
  • Other egregious conduct or heinous or abhorrent behavior by the parent either to the child or others in a way that affects the child
  • The child has developed a strong and healthy relationship with his or her foster or other substitute family
  • The preference of the child
  • Voluntary relinquishment of rights by the parent

For more information about termination of parental rights, check out Child Welfare Information Gateway.