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Thursday, June 20, 2013
All children need a safe, stable, loving and nurturing family. Too many kids, however, age out of the foster care system without a permanent home.
As a citizen member of the Virginia Commission on Youth, which studied this problem at length last year, I write with exciting news on a positive step in the right direction.
Foster care is generally a temporary safety net for abused or neglected children. Ideally, these children are reunited with their families. Services are provided to strengthen the family, eliminate the risk of future harm to the child and promote the child’s best interest. If this reunification cannot safely be accomplished within a reasonable time, a court has the authority to terminate the parental rights of the biological parents.
Termination, whether voluntary or involuntary, paves the way for adoption. Termination has extreme legal consequences. It severs the familial relationship between child and biological parent.
Unfortunately, the foster care system does not always locate an adoptive family for every child. In 2010, 25.5 percent of children who left the system did so by aging out — becoming emancipated from foster care at age 18 without a safe, permanent family. These teenagers lack moral and financial support. They legally have no parents or relatives. Often, they have no support system.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a campaign to promote foster care and adoption. These efforts should be applauded and encouraged.
Another recent legislative movement in a handful of states addresses the problem of orphans aging out of foster care by creating a mechanism to restore the terminated parental rights of a biological parent. This year, Virginia’s General Assembly created such a procedure.
Codified in the new Section 16.1-283.2 of the Code of Virginia, the process requires strict criteria: The child generally must be over age 14, two years must have passed since parental rights were terminated, and a court must find that restoration of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. Further, a petition to restore parental rights must originate with the local Department of Social Services or the attorney for the child (the child’s guardian ad litem).
While it is anticipated that the number of these cases will be few, Virginia has taken a small step in the right direction with passage of this innovative policy.
I am honored to serve as the only citizen member of the Commission on Youth from Southwestern Virginia and to report this exciting news. It is refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats coming together with creative ways to positively shape the lives of young people.
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