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San Diego County To Examine Adoptions Process

June 18, 2013 1:18 p.m.


San Diego County Supervisor, Dave Roberts represents the 3rd District.

Chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Greg Cox represents the 1st district.

Margo Fudge, adoptions manager for the San Diego County Department of Child Welfare Services

Related Story: San Diego County To Examine Adoptions Process


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Some people hoping to adopt fly halfway across the world. But since there are kids right here in San Diego waiting for good homes, why would anyone go anywhere else? Many parents would tell you San Diego just makes it too darn hard to adopt kids! They talk about bureaucratic obstacles and returned phone calls and years of waiting. My guests, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Greg Cox.

COX: Great to be back.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego County Supervisor, Dave Roberts represents the 3rd District. And Margo Fudge, adoptions manager for the San Diego County Department of Child Welfare Services. Chairman Cox, it's been known for sometime that it's difficult to adopt a child from public agencies in many counties in California. Why is San Diego looking into streamlining this process now?

COX: Well, San Diego has a great staff at child welfare services. They do about 400 adoptions per year, and some years, we've been as high as 500. But whatever we can do to get these kids that have been removed from their biological parents, usually because of abuse or some other issues that are involved, we want to get them in the best place we can. And in many cases, if the parental rights are being terminated, we want to get them adopted as quickly as we can. So we want to simplify that process. We know that sometimes there's redundancy. We had Nathan Fletcher in attendance. And he related the fact that he basically had to fill all the same forms all over again when all that information was already there. So there's a lot of things we think we can do to speed up the process, to make it easier, to make it more family-friendly. That is our goal in trying to work with our child welfare services department.

CAVANAUGH: Dave Roberts, you've adopted five children, haven't you?

ROBERTS: Yes, I have.

CAVANAUGH: Have they been adopted through welfare services?

ROBERTS: All five came from San Diego County.

CAVANAUGH: What was your experience like?

ROBERTS: We had a really good experience with our first two adoptions. And you have to remember, the whole goal is to try to reunify children with their biological family or their parents, and if that is not possible, then they move into this other thing that you then go into the adoption system. But the county's No. 1 goal is to strengthen families. And that's really what we're trying to do. So overall, our level of adoptions have gone down because our level of children actually coming into the system is down. And that's one of the things we have to look at. But I'm just so grateful for the leadership of chairman Greg Cox because this item I hope will maybe correct some of the issues and challenges we have. One of the challenges we had was that we felt there needed to be a forum. If there were disagreements. Our big fear was putting our foster child back into the biological family. We felt that would put the child in harm's way. We ended up having to go to mediation to get that issue resolved. If you have forms people improve customer service, that's what this is about, efficiency. Because our employees are angels on earth. They work like no one I've ever seen before. But if we can get the tools into their hands, it will really help improve the process.

CAVANAUGH: Margo, how many children are waiting for adoption in San Diego?

RIH2: We have approximately 45 children at any given time that are waiting to be adopted.

CAVANAUGH: And as I understand it, the county receives about 300 applications for adoptions each year. How are those prospective parents screened?

FUDGE: We have people first express interest in the process, we would then invite them to an orientation, and at that time, they obtain the information inside to determine if they want to move forward in the adoptions process. We then assign a social worker to them who will begin those interviews and start the process of clearing their background, having the fingerprints done, getting the medical, and all the clearance is ultimately necessary in order to approve them for placement.

CAVANAUGH: Does someone have to be a foster parent first?

FUDGE: They do. They are required to be licensed as a foster parent. Once that happens, that triggers the adoption process to begin for the homesteading process.

CAVANAUGH: Do you have any sense of the average time span that someone would have to wait from the time that a child is placed into their home to the time they actually can adopt that child?

FUDGE: Well, they do have to wait a 6-month period. They have to have the child in their home for six months before we can move forward.

CAVANAUGH: Will and how much longer would that process go on?

FUDGE: It varies depending on the case load of the applicant social worker. And I think that's one of the things we definitely want to look at with the support of the Board of Supervisors is how we can streamline those case loads, and make sure they have the tools they need to finish the process as quickly as possible.

CAVANAUGH: Chairman Cox, you talked about Nathan Fletcher being there. He has two adopted sons. He did testify before the supervisors today.

(Audio Recording Played)

NEW SPEAKER: As I went through the process, I would ask, gosh, why do you have to redo this when I just did it a year ago for my first son and they would say that's just the way it is.

CAVANAUGH: So talked about the paperwork and the redundancy. But he also had some compliments for the child welfare service.

COX: Absolutely. And I think he's had the opportunity to go through this process twice with his wife, Mindy. And I think the overall experience was very positive for him. Sometimes you ask yourself, if you already adopted one child a little over a year ago. Why does he have to fill out the same information if nothing has changed? That's just one component of what we want our staff to take a look at. And the bottom line is to make the process as simple and family-friendly as we can and hope to encourage more people to become adoptive parents. Dave Roberts and I had a board letter a couple weeks ago, focusing on the fact that right now, we have about 45 children that have been more difficult to place. So we've been working with our staff to implement on exceptional families for exceptional children. Or maybe we do more outreach in the different parts of the community. Nontraditional families or empty-nesters. Maybe the kids have gone out to college, but they're still active and vital and want to give something back to the community. We want to make sure that every child available for adoption gets a loving adoptive home they can go to.

CAVANAUGH: Isn't one of the fundamental problems in this trying to balance between making sure that children end up in a good, safe home as opposed to waiting for a very very long time to complete adoptions?

ROBERTS: Yes. And this is a very difficult process for everybody to go through. But at the end of the day, you need to do what's in the best interests of the child. And that's what our county child welfare service workers do. And your question about timing, the first time we went through this process, which was almost 15 years ago now, it took us about eight months to go from start to finish through the foster licensing home checks. And nontraditional applies if you're single, same-sex, older, younger, everybody is eligible. But after we completed the process, there were 33 that went through the process with us, we were the first couple placed with a child eight weeks after. And that was really quick, we were told. And it was a four going on 5-year-old boy. The second time, it took us almost four years to wait for a child. Welfare services tries to match children with prospective parents to see where the best match is if the child is going to go to adoption.

CAVANAUGH: Are there state laws that you find -- maybe interfere is too strong a word, but certainly mitigate the process of adoption in San Diego County?

FUDGE: Well, we are governed guy the state regulations, obviously, so we are going to be looking very closely at some of those regulations to see if there's some red tape that we can change and have it speed up the process for us. And as the supervisors mentioned, we're working very hard with our staff to try to identify those areas.

CAVANAUGH: And what about the state budget cuts? Their impact on child welfare services has been very well documented. Has that affected the adoption process?

FUDGE: Well, we've been fortunate in the adoptions process that we've been able to maintain a staffing level. For the most part, are the budget has impacted everybody. But we have the support of the Board of Supervisors in putting these two measures forward to help us get the support we need to do our job as efficiently as possible.

CAVANAUGH: A certain amount of bureaucracy goes hand in hand with a process as sensitive as this.

ROBERTS: And that's one of the reasons I was pleased Greg wanted to work with me on this. We want to give our employees in the county the best tools possible to do this as quickly as possible but still in the best interests of the child. And I'm pleased that the county has returned to the Fair this year. We have a booth there, the exceptional families booth, where people can get more information on this program and details how to start classes and everything.

CAVANAUGH: Margo, supervisor Roberts brings out a good point. We tend to think of this, adoption delays, as hurting the prospective adopted parents. What kind of impact does the delay have on the child waiting to be adopted?

FUDGE: It's enormous. That is the focus of why we're doing this, the child. And obviously, every day longer that it takes for children to be in foster care is one day too long. So we have to find a way to streamline the process. But many of our children have likely within in foster care for years. So finding that family and being matched, it's critical to their emotional well being, their physical well being, and we are tasked with doing that. And the work we do in match those children, it's critical. So that process can take a while. And we're really excite body these potential changes. We'll be looking at how we match children with families and how we can improve that.

CAVANAUGH: A balancing act between trying to strengthen families and keeping families that can be kept together strong, and making a determination as to when the parental rights need to be severed. Are you going to be working with perhaps streamlining that criteria as well?

ROBERTS: Right. All these things need to be looked at by the child welfare experts. And that's really what this legislation is all about. And our chairman brought another piece of legislation forward called Hazel's Law. 50-80% of the children that are commercially sexually exploited children come out of the foster care system. And a woman that came and testified today had been a resident at pollinski in San Diego County. So it's critical that we work together to get this right. And I think the county as I have said has done a really good job. But I think that there are still inefficiencies and enhancements that we can make that the workers in the county want us to do to make sure that we get every child that needs to be into a loving home.

CAVANAUGH: What specifically did the supervisors vote on today? It was a unanimous vote. What was the vote to direct county staff to do?

COX: We gave direction to our staff to come back in 20 days with an action plan to try to improve and streamline the adoption process, to look at new ideas to look at legislative changes we may need to seek in Sacramento. We're sometimes constrained by state legislation in regards to what we have to do and the processes we have to go through too. So to the extent that we can come up with ideas that may need changes in state law, we want to be in a position where we can do that and follow through and try to make sure that the process is quicker. It's more efficient. And that we're placing kids in loving homes is that will give them the support that they deserve.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds from this conversation here that there are already a lot of ideas about what could be done to streamline this process already. I'm wondering, supervisor Roberts, will you be working with the staff to maybe come up with or suggest some ideas since you have such real-life experience with this process?

ROBERTS: I think the staff is going to come up with ideas that they have. We have phenomenal staff. And some of the things that have been talked about in the session today is creating a forum for prospective parents to really help meet their needs and the child's needs. So things like this, what efficiencies, quality assurance, and really efficiencies that we can come up with. So I have chaired ideas, and chairman Cox has shared his ideas, so we're just going to look for the professional staff to come back. But I do from time to time share my personal experience just to let folks know it happened to me. And now that I'm a county supervisor, I think we can really improve on some of these things.

CAVANAUGH: And to people listening who may be interested or have had experience in trying to become either a foster parent or an adoptive parent in San Diego County, will they have an opportunity to weigh in on this process anywhere along the line?

ROBERTS: All legislation that we do in proposals, this will come back to the board, and the public will have opportunities. But I encourage people to contact any of the board offices. Chairman Cox's office or mine. But there's always opportunities, and we're always looking for creative ideas. I'm going to be at the booth at the San Diego County fair on July 2nd. And I hope people stop by the booth. I've already heard some good ideas from people that have come up to the booth. So we really are looking for creative ideas how to improve and enhance this process.