4-better-service

May is Foster Care Month: Fostering and Adoption Both Great Ways to Care for Children in Georgia

By J. Ashley Sawyer, Hedgepeth, Heredia & RiederAshley Sawyer hhr

May is National Foster Care month, and an annual reminder that there is more than one way to build a family. I’ve always admired my grandmother for her commitment to foster care, as she took in children who needed a loving home. Some of those children would eventually be reunited with their own families, while others would go on to be adopted by a new "forever" family.

President Reagan established May as National Foster Care Month in 1988. More than 400,000 children and youth in the U.S. are involved with foster care. Resource families include foster parents, foster-to-adopt families and relative/kinship caregivers.

The general goal of foster care is to provide a safe place for children to live until the family can be reunited in safe circumstances. The state acts as temporary guardian for the child while the parents make necessary life changes. 

  • While more than 75% of children in foster care will eventually be reunited with their families, in some cases this is impossible.
  • Sometimes the state terminates the birth parents’ rights to protect the children, and sometimes the parents have passed away.
  • In either case, the state then searches for a new, permanent family for the child.
  • Many foster children are eventually adopted by their foster parents.

 

In my own work I find great satisfaction in working in the complex but rewarding field of adoption.

There are six types of adoption recognized in Georgia:

  • Agency Adoptions (private adoption agency or state agency, DFCS)  
  • Independent Adoptions for Non-Relatives
  • Stepparent/Spousal Adoptions
  • Relative Adoptions
  • Adoptions based on a Foreign Decree
  • Adult Adoptions

 

Who May Adopt?
Any adult over the age of 25, who is a bona fide resident of the state for six months preceding the filing of the petition, and who is “financially, physically and mentally able to have permanent custody of the child” may petition the Superior Court to adopt a child.

Agency Adoption
In an agency adoption, the child is in the custody of the agency prior to being adopted. In a private agency adoption, there is either a voluntary surrender of rights by the parents or a surrender by one parent and termination of the second parent’s rights.

In a state agency adoption, the process by which a child in foster care is adopted, the parents have typically had their rights to the child terminated by court order, and the child has been placed in care of the state for the purposes of adoption. 

Step-Parent Adoption
Step-parent adoption can occur in three scenarios: 

  • A biological parent has passed away
  • A biological parent has consented to surrender his or her parental rights
  • The biological parent’s parental rights have been terminated by Court Order

 

In each of the three scenarios, the adopting spouse must have his or her spouse’s consent to the adoption.

When a step-parent wants to adopt a child and there are no obstacles, a step-parent adoption is a straightforward way to strengthen family bonds. Sometimes a biological parent willingly surrenders parental rights because they believe it is in the best interest of the child to do so.

Many parents, however, will fight hard to keep their parental rights intact regardless of their real relationship with the child, which can make it a very challenging process. Understandably, courts are reluctant to sever parental rights without very good reason.

Third Party / Independent Adoption
A person filing an independent adoption is generally a non-relative or at least not a close-order relative. These type of adoptions are generally the most scrutinized by the Court due to the fact that an agency is not involved and that there may be no familial relationship between the adoptive parent and child.

The requirements of an independent adoption blended with certain requirements of a step parent adoption (which practitioners often term “a second parent adoption”) has been frequently utilized by unmarried same-sex couples to adopt a child. After the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry in any state, it is unclear whether courts will continue to grant adoptions to unmarried same sex couples in this manner.

Additionally, because the legality of second parent adoptions has been scrutinized by courts in neighboring states, judges are recommending that any same-sex couple who while unmarried completed a second parent adoption, but has now married his or her partner, complete a step-parent adoption to provide additional security to legal effect of the adoption.

Relative Adoption
The adoptive parent must be the child’s grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle or sibling. The relationship that determines qualification for an adoption under this code section is between the adopting parent and the child, not the adoptive parent and the child’s biological parent.

Domestication of Foreign Adoptions
This process is utilized when a child’s adoption was finalized in the child’s birth country and acts to domesticate the adoption so that the family can obtain a certificate of foreign birth from Georgia Vital Records, similar to a Georgia birth certificate.

Adult Adoptions
Adult persons may be adopted upon giving written consent to the adoption and so long as the court is “satisfied there is no reason why the adoption should not be granted.”

Both fostering and adoption are so important in securing a legal status for a family, and in making children feel safe and loved. Either option can truly change their lives for the better.