Margo Fudge, Adoptions Manager, San Diego County Dept. of Child Welfare Services
Jim Patterson, Assemblyman, 23rd District in Fresno County
Related Story: Gov. Brown Signs Bill To Help Foster Parents Adopt
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Top story today Governor Jerry Brown recently approves a bill to cut through red tape in California's adoption process. In fact, streamlining the effort to adopt children has also been on the minds of San Diego County Supervisors. Earlier this year they directed county staff to look into ways to help qualified adoptive parents complete the process. Those efforts in the county initiative hope to make adoptions less frustrating and more frequent. I would like to welcome Assemblyman Jim Patterson of the 23rd District in Fresno County, welcome to the program.
JIM PATTERSON: Thank you Maureen, I appreciate it. Thank you for covering this issue, it is close to my heart.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Margo Fudge is with us as well, she is adoption manager for San Diego County Department of Child Welfare Services. Welcome to the program.
MARGO FUDGE: Thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Assemblyman Patterson, what was wrong with California's adoption red tape that this bill hopes to fix?
JIM PATTERSON: First of all, adoption is close to my heart. Sharon and I are adoptive parents, all three of our children are adopted. We adopted internationally, and we adopted privately. As a result we have counseled and helped facilitate adoption in our own town. It dawned on me, that there are some ambiguity in some areas that we can change. To fix that, adoption would be more clear and done quicker and in some instances less expensively, without endangering children. Without loosening or drawing back from important homestudy. Making sure our kids are getting quality homes. There were some problems, under circumstances we have been able to expedite homestudy your move the price from $4500 to about $1500 to $2200. Completed in 3 to 6 months. More predictable, less expensive. We hope it will result in more children, and more adoptions with families connecting with each other.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You must've heard stories about families having adoptions delayed because of the old law. Tell us what you heard.
JIM PATTERSON: Basically, we tried really hard work we've done everything we could. The process takes a long time. There are ambiguities in it. There were some instances where people who visited with me with this. It was expensive and unclear. We asked people who are doing adoptions were applying for adoption, what could and should we do to make this streamlined and less cumbersome. They came up with these suggestions to the bill comes from those who have had experience with the adoption process. That crafted a lot of the streamlining language. We found the problems and we were able to craft solutions. I am a good example, I'm new at this. In the next session and next year we will find other areas to make it even stronger and better.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Margo, there was a pretty big difference in it the amount of money. The quick study that is there might take how much time are we talking about? What is the difference in the amount of time as watching a full study to one of these abbreviated studies?
MARGO FUDGE: I think that can vary across the board. A lot of homestudy process is driven by applicants. Timeliness and returning documents and making themselves available. Given the large number of applicants we have waiting to have homestudy done, we've perceived that this could cut time in half. It could take up to a year, it could take six months or less to do an abbreviated study. When we're talking about a child's life, that is a huge difference.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Assemblyman Patterson, who qualifies for this process?
JIM PATTERSON: First of all, they are going to background investigations. They have a pre-existing relationship. We are making some presumptions based on relationship with the children and with previous adoptions, people who have not been unfamiliar with this. The faster route to permanency, but balances the need for quality investigations. What I like about this, it opens the possibility for the vast majority of grand parents or relatives of the children. Moderate to low income circumstances to be able to make the process quicker and less expensive, especially for those for have a relationship with the kids. And grandparents who see that adoption will cost less and it's an option. I think these efforts should take a good long step towards those who have experience. Those who have the desire and willingness to have been in relationship with these children to foster care to take the next step quicker.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Were you met with resistance toward this idea?
JIM PATTERSON: No. Not at all. Everyone was a pleasure. To work with and sailed right through the assembly. It was unanimous, a good example of when we find these areas that can be remedied and move past ambiguity. Reasonable options for cost and time. Have families that want to be together come together quickly. I know the joy personally. When the adoption happens and the child becomes a part of your family. It's the joy of joys. I look forward to helping more people experience this.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Margo can you break down this process? They have to become foster parents first ñ is that right?
MARGO FUDGE: Yes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where does this procedure go from there?
MARGO FUDGE: We notice that there are some inefficiencies and delays. We have gone to a ìmelding,î where you have to become a foster parent before you begin a homestudy process. They go to get a license, and have a applicant worker and go through mandatory training. Applicant workers make sure background checks have been done. Meeting with for interviews and talking to the child, if there is one in their home already. Assessing for financial components. Doing a thorough assessment. We use an assessment tool that is recognized by number of other counties as well instead of California. To do this process. As we discussed, it can be quite lengthy given the number of interviews that need to be done. That further delays the wait for people to be matched.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Not all children in foster care are perspective adoptive children right? Is it still the primary aim of child welfare to reunite the families?
MARGO FUDGE: Yes that is our focus. Reunification with a biological family is always a priority whenever it is the safe and possible to do so. Also focusing on preventative services so children can stay with their families before becoming foster children in general. Because of that, we have a decreasing number of children that are in foster care. A decrease in the number of children that are needing adoptive placement.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How is that decision made? That the child in foster care can't be returned to the natural parents?
MARGO FUDGE: Their assigned social workers throughout the life of the case do an ongoing assessment of the parents. Appropriately visiting with her child and at the point the court has the guidelines based on the child's age. But there's a point where the parents have exhausted their timelines to reunify; at that point we either have to make the assessment to return the child home, or terminate services to the parents. Then it would come to our adoptions unit to make that final assessment if we want to move forward and terminate rights.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are nearly 400 children placed to adoptive home each year. Are there kids left behind?
MARGO FUDGE: Last year we had four hundred finalizations. There are children at any given time ñ roughly 35 children that still need adoptive placement. Through the vision of our Board of Supervisors they have launched campaigns families for exceptional children to address the 35 kids. Older children who may have been in foster care for a while, that have not been met with an adoptive family. Medical needs, behavior issues or sibling sets. We are hoping to expand them as people are coming to us wanting to adopt or to pair them with some children that are waiting for homes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim Patterson, have you any estimate of how many children are affected by this new law?
JIM PATTERSON: A lot. It does open up people to the possibility. Often the time and cost are actually barriers to otherwise qualified people who would like to adopt family members. One area that is important as well, addressing some of the ambiguity with respect to try private agency adoptions ñ and the revocation for example ñ of a birth mothers permission to place the child.We are able to find some really good ground here. It does air on the side of protecting a birth mothers rights but still provides clear guidelines in a process by which a birth muncher should decide to voluntarily forgo the parental rights, that presents a real permanency for the adoption parents as well. Sharon and I went through stressful time in private adoptions for our daughter, where we wait six months for the clock to run and Lindsay was in our home. That is very difficult. We're trying to figure out some ways a private agency adoptions and understand that dynamic and make it more predictable for both parties.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Margo, we talk about older children. I'm wondering ñ since you deal with this a lot ñ what impact do delays have on adoption? Because of longer study were people who can't come up with money needed to go through the process successfully. What impact does that have on the child?
MARGO FUDGE: What we've seen is it definitely has an impact on the child and the foster parent as many children have been in foster care for years. They only hope of having a family. Any additional time waiting, in the home or another placement waiting to move. These children have experienced a lot of trauma. This comes out in many ways ñ behaviorally, or how they behave in school. etc. We know that the relief they are able to feel when they are finally adopted. It is immeasurable. You can tell a child countless times that I am your family, but until papers are signed up the child is in limbo. Anything that can do to speed up the finalization is a win.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Margo, is it your belief that this new law will this cause more adoptions to take place?
MARGO FUDGE: Yes. This will only streamline our process. We will get people through the process more quickly.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank both of you for speaking with us.
MARGO FUDGE: Thank you.
JIM PATTERSON: I hope your listeners will take it to heart and think about adopting. It is a wonderful experience.