ENGLISH (832) 930-3059 | SPANISH (832) 356-7254
Daniel Albert Law FirmDaniel Albert Law Firm

Foster care bill could allow for faster termination of parental rights – North Carolina Health News

  • Attorney Daniel Albert

North Carolina Health News
News. Policy. Trends. North Carolina.

The way Rachel Lankford puts it, as a girl, she didn’t spend hours playing in the sandbox, hoping to become addicted to opioids, or alcohol, or marijuana.
But she did.
By the time she was 20, Lankford had lived hard. Her adolescence, in particular, had been hard. First came a divorce between parents who couldn’t be in the same room without fighting. She was separated from her mother because of her mother’s mental illness. Later, she was removed from her father’s custody after stepbrothers molested her.
By the time she was 20, she had spent years strung out on a combination of drugs, but mostly opiates. She was living out of her car, abandoned by her boyfriend, who was also her drug dealer.
By the time she was 20, she was seven months pregnant, too far along to have an abortion. She had felony charges against her for embezzling from her employer. Every member of her family was angry with her. By her own account she was miserable to be around. She was waiting for a referral to get into a drug treatment program and determined to give up that baby for adoption.
Then, she went to a prenatal appointment at the Orange County Health Department, where she had her first ultrasound.

“When I looked at the screen, there was this perfect little girl and she was doing her kissy face, she had 10 fingers and 10 toes and she was perfect,” Lankford recalls. “I walked out that hospital that day and I was having a baby and I was keeping her and I really needed to get help. I needed to do what I needed to do to be right and have this kid.”
But a new bill that’s been making its way through the General Assembly could affect women like Lankford. At issue is the tussle between the rights of children who have troubled parents to live less chaotic lives, in foster care, or with perhaps adoptive parents, and the rights of birth parents to take the time to get their lives in order, to win back their rights to raise those children.
It’s a brutal balance to strike. Currently, it can take years for a baby born to mothers using illegal substances to become eligible for adoption. Children living with a substance abusing parent or parents often end up in the custody of county child protective services, especially if they are deemed to be in danger of abuse of neglect. Those children go to foster care, sometimes with family members, if they can be found. Often, foster care is with people who are not kin, while the child welfare and family court systems grind their wheels.
Currently, there are about 11,000 children in North Carolina’s child welfare system, a number that’s exploded in recent years as opioids have taken their toll throughout all tiers of society.
Sometimes the outcome is a “termination of parental rights,” a process that currently takes several years.

House Bill 918 would create a provision to expedite that process to nine months, allowing foster parents to have standing almost equal to family members, treating them as “nonrelative kin,” so that they could petition for termination and expedite permanent placement of the child.
“Federal statute requires permanency within 18 months and we have children who have been in the system for five or six years,” said Karen McLeod, a lobbyist and advocate for children’s and family services. “These are young children who would be deemed very adoptable, that have been in the system for years and have families, foster families, and adoptive families that are willing to adopt them.”
McLeod said that without termination of parental rights, the children have been “languishing in the system,” and she called the bill drafters’ concerns valid. But she also worried about the process HB 918 would establish, especially the speed of the termination process and the short timelines to find a willing relative to care for the child.
Both the bill’s supporters and opponents cite an exploding body of research that points to the critical importance of early childhood years. More and more research emphasizes the critical  ages of 0 to 3, where bonding with caring, attentive adults helps to promote neurological development. Research is also showing how trauma during those years sets up children for a lifetime of psychological and physical challenges.

Currently, the law favors family members over non-relative foster families, and once a child is in the state system, a hunt can ensue for a relative who’ll care for him or her.
Chris Carr, an attorney with the Cumberland County Department of Social Services said that finding kin can be challenging.
“We’d love to think that every time a case gets filed, that mom and dad will call all family members and say please come in. We’d love to tell you that the DSS is always able to find family members to bring them to the table at the first nonsecure hearing within the 7 days that statute requires,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “But in the real world, sometimes even the relatives are somewhat reticent because they want to see the mother, the father or both do well and reunify.”
Carr also detailed how it can be challenging to find relatives who live in other states and detailed the byzantine paperwork trail that can take months, at best, to permit an out-of-state to take custody of a child.
Paula Reinhart, a clinical social worker from Wake County who supports the bill, told the judiciary committee this can be an injustice to the children, and to foster parents who care for the child in the interim, who may want to adopt.
“To see a child who is three or four years year old… who has lived with a family who has loved that child, included that child, wanted to adopt that child, those are his parents, ripped out of the arms of those people, and sent screaming and crying to somebody he hardly knows, that everybody knows in the picture really cannot care for him, but there’s a blood connection and that’s all.”
Lankford recalls her daughter months-old Marleigh screaming and crying too. Lankford was still abusing drugs and alcohol and struggling to parent when her father called child protective services after she stole her grandmother’s credit card.
Marleigh was placed into foster care and Lankford was allowed only an hour’s visitation each week.
“It was so painful to see her,” she said. “Having to give her back and then wait a week to see her again, it destroyed me, it was the worst thing I ever had to go through in my life. And having to put her back in her car seat and hear her scream and all because she didn’t want to lose me.”
Often, after those meetings, Lankford said she would go out and use, to dull the pain.
The bill would add several changes to North Carolina’s legal code. It would change the law to allow for removal of a child born to a woman who was using drugs that are “not medically based,” who a judge deemed “unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to a history of chronic drug abuse.” The bill also adds requires an assessment by a “licensed health care provider with substance abuse disorders experience,” that the mother would continue using substances “for a prolonged or indeterminate period” for removal of custody.
“These babies have an addiction because their mothers abused them while they were in the womb, in utero,” said Tami Fitzgerald, head of the North Carolina Values Coalition. “These mothers have already demonstrated a lack of responsibility to parent their child, because the child has to overcome an addiction when the child is born and they languish in NICU units and hospitals across the state for months.”
Others spoke against that same provision, including Evette Horton, a psychologist at the UNC Horizons Program, a substance abuse treatment program for women and their children.
“I have been doing this for 10 years,” she told the committee. “I have seen, literally, hundreds, thousands of women come through our program, and I’ve seen many women with opioid use disorders and other substance use disorders get better.”
But Horton said that it can be hard to predict who will be successful. Lankford, who eventually got to Horizons, was one of them, but it didn’t look that way at first. Even after her daughter was born, Lankford struggled, at times leaving Marleigh with her own parents. She was in and out of treatment, and relapsed several times. Eventually she landed in jail after her father called the police.
{{#label}}{{label}}: {{/label}}{{message}}
Something went wrong. Please try again later.

Lankford was remanded to Orange County’s drug court, where she encountered a handful of social workers and jurists doling out tough love and tough justice. It took her a couple months to get with the program.
“When Judge Buckner looked at me and told me I’ll take that kid and I’ll adopt her out, something snapped that day,” she said. At the time, Marleigh was about a year and a half old.
She wanted to go to Horizons’ program for inpatient treatment. Finally, in 2015, a place for her opened up, she graduated the program nine months later, spending almost six months without seeing her child. Later, she graduated from drug court and regained custody a few months later.
Reggie O’Rourke, the assistant counsel for the state’s guardian ad litem program. also objected to provisions in HB 918. He reminded the committee that termination of parental rights is considered the “civil death penalty.”
“It is the most serious thing we do in the law,” he told the judiciary committee members. “It needs to be the last thing we look at for children.”
Lankford has had custody of Marleigh for several years now, and she said that the hope of reunifying with her was one of the things that kept her going, even as she learned to love and forgive herself.
“If reunification had never been put on the table for Marleigh, I could honestly say that I’d be in a casket, buried right now,” she said. “If you take away anything that I have the will to live for, then why am I here?”
Jamie Hamlett, a DSS attorney from Alamance County, noted that parents have rights enshrined in the Constitution, and that if a child is not being abused or neglected, the state has to tread carefully as it intrudes on families.
“The parent doesn’t have to prove that they can parent as well as or better than a foster parent. They have to prove that they can meet a minimal level of care,” Hamlett said. “If you say ‘Okay, we’re going to allow this foster family or anyone to file a [termination of parental rights],’ you still have to develop the case and prove the grounds by clear, cogent and convincing evidence to terminate that parent’s rights.”
Carr pointed that the foster care system is not a simply pipeline to adoption, but rather a system intended to be a safe and nurturing haven for kids with troubled families.
“I have said to many of them, ‘I could not do what you do,’ because when they take the role on of a foster parent, they are trained that they’re taking care of that child and making it child healthy. But there’s a strong chance that it’s going to be returned to a parent or family,” he said. “That’s a hard thing for a foster parent.
“I don’t know that I could do it, and God bless them. And I understand why they feel this way. But that’s the role that they have.”
Lankford said she’s doing her best now that she’s been reunited with Marleigh. She’s been clean for four years. She’s a counselor at Horizons. She keeps in touch with the foster parents who cared for daughter when she was unable. This week, Marleigh starts kindergarten.
She said she wanted to be a mother when she was high on drugs, but she didn’t know how, and the idea of HB 918 bothers her.
“They’re saying women like me don’t deserve a chance,” she said. “They’re taking any type of chance we may have away.”
She argues that women like her are not disposable.
“Yes, it took awhile for me to get to where I needed to get, to love my child the way I love her now,” she said. “But if you take that away … there is no reason to try, there is no reason to want to fight this fight we have inside of us.
“We can’t survive and recover and heal.”
Members of the judiciary committee did not vote on the bill Thursday. Some members have suggested it be converted to a study, for further review. For now, the bill’s fate remains uncertain.

Creative Commons License
Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
by Rose Hoban, North Carolina Health News
August 27, 2019
This <a target=”_blank” href=”https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2019/08/27/foster-care-bill-allows-faster-parental-rights-termination/”>article</a> first appeared on <a target=”_blank” href=”https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org”>North Carolina Health News</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src=”https://i0.wp.com/www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/cropped-favicon02.jpg?fit=150%2C150&amp;ssl=1″ style=”width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;”><img id=”republication-tracker-tool-source” src=”https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/?republication-pixel=true&post=25422&ga=UA-28368570-1″ style=”width:1px;height:1px;” width=”1″ height=”1″>
Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees…
If your children get taken away they can be adopted out after 15 months. Look up the CAPTA law. When your in “the system “ your kids can be adopted out before you even get a trial. The court are so backed up ! I don’t know what you article is talking about because the laws today let kids be adopted out so fast!
I’m involved in it all now and I’m fighting the corruption, you have no clue !
This is a far better take than most on issues involving child welfare and drug use, showing rare care and sensitivity.
It’s not unusual to see stories about the effects of opioid use on children in which reporters consider parents too subhuman even to talk to. In contrast this story begins with such a parent, brings out her humanity, and shows her successful reunification with her child. Hoban goes to unusual lengths to present all sides.
But (paragraphs like the one above are almost always followed by “but…”) I do disagree with one central premise of the story. I explain why, and discuss why this is such a bad bill in this post to my organization’s child welfare blog.
Richard Wexler
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
www (dot) nccpr (dot) org
Note: Our comments policy does not allow links in comments. We have made an exception in order to direct readers to an interesting response to our story.
It is a myth that willing kin are rare or even considered by DSS as alternatives for parents who need temporary help. (Even though the law requires that DSS place a child with an appropriate willing family member). In fact, based on my own experience and that of many NC parents and grandparents with whom I have communicated, DSS looks for EXCUSES to deny a grandparent or other perfectly capable and willing relative to take care of a child while a parent is in recovery or for other reasons the parent might need assistance. And, I have observed, that if DSS doesn’t HAVE an excuse, the agency will make one up – ie fabricate, distort or otherwise misrepresent the circumstances and/or the character or capability of the willing kin, often requiring the willing kin, who has no history of mental illness or abuse to be evaluated by a DSS-paid psychologist, even though the law requires such scrutiny only when the person has a history of documented abuse. DSS is creating its own foster care crisis. However, as I understand, federal funding supports foster care placement, but not kin placement. THIS is the law that should be challenged and any law that favors separating a child from a biological parent who loves and wants that child. The current system is one of cruelty, based economics – not necessarily what is in the best interest of the child.
Swift TPR is not the answer. Losing connection with a biological parent can and often does create a more profound, life altering trauma impact on the child. Addiction doesn’t mean the parent is a lost cause. They’re just sick. Passing a bill that inflicts a permanent solution for what can be a temporary, treatable sickness is wrong, dangerous and harms kids and our society in many ways.
Many women loose their health insurance when they do not have custody of their children. In rural North Carolina if a woman needs residential treatment for her substance use disorder and is uninsured, she may have to be on a waiting list for up to six weeks before an opening is available to her. Then she would have to find someone to give her a ride to more than 100 miles away. Most women become discouraged long before then. We need more treatment centers for women. Recovery is possible when given the opportunities. I see miracles happen every day!
As a former licensed foster parent in NC, I have witnessed the trauma that being separated from their families causes young children. (Separating children from their parents isn’t a new issue that started at the US border. It happens everyday in this country.)
If the money spent on children while they are in foster care was instead spent on strengthening families and keeping them whole BEFORE removal, we would all be better off. (Of course, in many cases the needed services do not exist–which is part of why families are struggling with poverty, substance abuse, etc. in the first place. )
If we expanded Medicaid along with substance abuse and other behavioral health services, then more women in the child-bearing years would be healthy–physically and emotionally– when they became pregnant. We would all be better off.
I have also worked and volunteered in the field of substance abuse for decades. Women deserve our support. Addiction is a chronic condition that utilizes something, illicit drugs in this case, to escape pain–physical, emotional, spiritual. Many, many women who are addicted to substances experienced sexual abuse as children or young adults. Keep our girls safe in the first place. We would all be better off.
It appears that the people who would be better off under this bill are caseworkers (even less reason than now to do the difficult, messy work of family reunification) and prospective adoptive parents who want to adopt infants (who–not coincidentally–can no longer adopt children from low-income families from foreign countries as easily as in previous years.) Children are not better off. And their mothers certainly aren’t.
Due Process, Civil Rights, and Rights of Children and Parents are violated in Foster Care adoption. Social Workers in DSS are not required to have proper training to be able to evaluate every case correctly. Positions require minimal training. Unfortunately, bias opinions and false accusations can determine a child’s fate. Foster Care needs to look into keeping families together, not how to get more money. Opiates is an excuse to raise more funding cost and explain the increase of Foster Children.
I don’t know if my opinion counts but as a former licensed foster parent I see things on both sides. It was many years ago that I fostered but in my experience the delay in removing a child from parental custody was problem #1. When they came to me it was because of a string of reports and investigations their entire childhood. They were pretty damaged by the time I got them. I did find the great divide to be true on the child’s ability to bond and learn to function normally between the preschoolers and the kids over 6. To understand, I had to teach a 8 year old to sit when eating dinner. Had to teach him that three meals and snacks were coming each day. Teach him that we don’t just live on cereal and happy meals. Teach him to sleep on sheets, the bed and to use covers. Teach him that we don’t hate him.
Most of the children I had did go to a family member or close family friend. I feel this is best except in one instance the other parent came around to his siblings home and visited his kids and molested them.
I felt very supported except by two social workers I dealt with. I think that was pretty good considering the delicate issues we dealt with but it did seem if they had looked a tad bit harder they could have placed the child with someone they know 8 times out of 10. Instead they just placed within the system and months later, after attachment, they pulled them to a friend or relative. I can say part of that may have been that much time was needed to have them (family and friends) step up realizing this was a serious, potentially long term things. Also, it may have been so the family or friend could be deemed suitable to care for the child.
There are failures and reports, repeatedly for many, I feel swift termination after placing in foster care is a good idea. I don’t mean less than 12 months but that is a really long time in a young child’s life and just as that time is critical for development, it is impressionable for serious damage. If the removal is the first time the family has been involved with DSS then more time would be in order to see if things turn around. But if it is the 3rd, 4th, 5th time they have investigated and DID remove the child then I say move towards a new life for this child. Thank you to all who still foster. Our job is to love them, teach them to love, to bond and to prepare them for life, family and inner peace. It’s tough but equally rewarding.
Most of the children I had did go to a family member or close family friend. I feel this is best except in one instance the other parent came around to his siblings home and visited his kids and molested them. How would you have known that would happen though?
I felt very supported except by two social workers I dealt with. I think that was pretty good considering the delicate issues we dealt with but it did seem if they had looked a tad bit harder they could have placed the child with someone they know 8 times out of 10. Instead they just placed within the system and months later, after attachment, they pulled them to a friend or relative. I can say part of that may have been that much time was needed to have them (family and friends) step up realizing this was a serious, potentially long term things. Also, it may have been so the family or friend could be deemed suitable to care for the child.
Back to my first paragraph, being that there are failures and reports, repeatedly for many, I feel swift termination after placing in foster care is a good idea. I don’t mean less than 12 months but that is a really long time in a young child’s life and just as that time is critical for development, it is impressionable for serious damage. If the removal is the first time the family has been involved with DSS then more time would be in order to see if things turn around. But if it is the 3rd, 4th, 5th time they have investigated and DID remove the child then I say move towards a new life for this child. Thank you to all who still foster. Our job is to love them, teach them to love, to bond and to prepare them for life, family and inner peace. It’s tough but equally rewarding.
One of the points buried in the article was how painful the way the system worked was was for the mom and that caused her to backslide. For those that have not been in the system, you have NO IDEA!
Imagine you’re struggling and your kids are placed in foster care. The CPS worker obviously dislikes you and has all but promised the fosters that TPR is a given and the child is theirs. Imagine seeing the fosters post on FB what a piece of garbage you are and how they are praying for TPR. Imagine going to court and knowing that the deck is stacked against you.
The current CPS model does much to destroy parents and drive them into hopeless and despair.
For those that say the child has bonded with the fosters, well that’s all well and good but what about tomorrow? What about when the child grows up? The suicide rate of adoptees is 4 times that of the general population. Now the attitude is that it is better to have the rich fosters adopt the child and get them away from the awful poor parent. But please explain how that is not genocide?
Or for that matter, how is foster to adopt not coveting and stealing?
Comments are closed.
{{#label}}{{label}}: {{/label}}{{message}}
Something went wrong. Please try again later.

source

Leave A Reply

Subscribe to our newsletter and promotions