Road to adoption should be easier

It’s hard not to juxtapose the adoption stories of Nashua’s Carol Boudreau and New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas.

Both were in Concord this week to mark the state’s observance of November as National Adoption Month, and both are adoptive parents.

A striking difference, though, is how long it too each to accomplish that feat.

Toumpas’ daughter, now 26, was 5 months old when the adoption became final.

Boudreau spent 11 years in and out of courtrooms before she was finally able to adopt her granddaughter.

No wonder that, when she was called to the microphone to recount her experience as one of the state’s adoption success stories, one of the first people Boudreau thanked was her attorney.

The Toumpas and Boudreau cases point out the two extremes of the adoption process: It can be relatively smooth in a private adoption in which parents willingly give up their rights; or a roller coaster ride when parents fight state efforts to terminate their rights.

New Hampshire claimed 109 successful adoptions from October 2012 to September 2013, and state officials are seeking to increase the number of adoptions by children’s relatives.

We wonder what that number could be if the process didn’t require good-hearted people like Boudreau to spend 11 years in the state’s legal system.

Battles with biological parents who fight to retain custody in abuse and neglect cases – where the state intervenes – are the most common complications and can lengthen the process considerably.

Our laws make it hard to take away a parent’s rights and assign them to someone else, a reflection of society’s view that children belong with their biological parents, and that parents ought to be given every opportunity to raise their children whenever possible.

Maggie Bishop, the director of the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, said state law requires DCYF to spend at least a year trying to reunite families in abuse and neglect cases. Most of the time, she said, the parents correct their behavior and keep their children.

Sometimes, though, the break between child and parents need to be permanent and the state will petition a court to terminate parental rights.

The 11 years Boudreau spent in adoption purgatory are a lot, but between reunification efforts and the termination and appeals processes, it’s not uncommon for three or four years to elapse from the time the state first intervenes to when the last appeal is exhausted. And that’s if everything goes relatively smoothly.

If there are complications – multiple parents in multiple states, for instance – it can take even longer, Bishop said.

Increasingly, in instances where parental rights need to be terminated, the state views adoption as a preferable, more permanent solution than foster care. Frequently those doing the adopting are grandparents, like Boudreau, or other relatives.

Unlike foster parents – who can make relatively few decisions on a child’s behalf – adoption gives parents the same rights as if they were a child’s birth parents. Both scenarios can offer children a stable, nurturing environment, but adoption gives the adoptive parent legal standing and the child the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the adult’s commitment to them is permanent.

We think lawmakers should look into what they can do to speed the process along. It ought to be possible to expedite adoption while also preserving due process for biological parents.

Frankly, when people are willing to step forward to help children, the last thing our legal and bureacratic systems should do is stand in the way.


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