Families First: Senate Bill Empowers Parents To Retain Custodial Rights

May 19, 2010

(Albany, NY) The Senate Democratic Majority passed legislation (S2233-A/Montgomery) which will reform foster care agencies’ current policy of instantly terminating parental rights – of specifically mothers – who are incarcerated, allowing them to clean up their act and retain rightful custody of their children.

Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) said, “You cannot have a one size all approach to all cases, which is what has happened as a result of the implementation of the ASFA Act, whose termination policy was a well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at improving permanency plans for foster children. If a parent is incarcerated, but they are working with the agencies, keeping in contact with their child, and preparing for their release, their parental rights should not be determined by an artificial calendar. Children are not widgets. What this bill will do is give the ability to those professionals who are directly involved, who are servicing the families, as well as the families themselves, to give input about decisions concerning parental rights."

Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) said, “This reform is a long time coming. I am elated that now the children in our foster care system will no longer be forced into a cycle of disconnect and severed connections with their parents. Discretion is crucial in cases that are this severe and indefinite,  and now it’s burden has finally been placed in the right hands.”

Current regulations require social services agencies to file for the termination of parental rights of children that have been in the hands of a foster agency for fifteen of the last twenty two months. Led by Senator Montgomery, who Chairs the Senate’s Children and Families Committee, the Majority’s legislation allows social service agencies greater discretion over parents showing progress in rehabilitation.

Since the signing of the Federal Adoption and Safe FamilyAct in 1997, thousands of families have been torn apart – even when the parent’s fitness for guardianship is not in question. Though ASFA’s goals are admirable, the implementation of this act has been flawed as child welfare experts were not permitted to take specifics of any case into consideration before parental rights were severed.

Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said, “Keeping families together and strong is a moral imperative. This legislation gives children and families a fighting chance to survive the rigors of the incarceration system. Providing families security and reassurance throughout their difficult times is the light at the end of the tunnel they have been looking for.”

Considering that mothers hold the majority of  the responsibility to their children and that their parental rights would be terminated long before the average woman is out of prison, it leaves them at almost impossible odds of reunification.The statistics bear out the disproportionate affect current law has on mothers:•         36 months is the average incarceration rate of mothers.•         67% of all parental termination rates are attributed to incarceration. Additionally, there has been an 108-percent  increase of parental terminations since ASFA’s enactment five years ago. ###