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Fixing the unbroken while the broken needs all the attention

There are so many critical issues facing our embattled yet beloved state.

Foremost is the financial stability and sustainability of both our private and public sectors. Following that fundamental concern is the welfare of our communities in the areas of health care, education, housing, etc.

With such a full plate of immediate and grave issues, why is our Legislature, in the words of Sen. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, drafting and pushing legislation “that is looking for a problem”?

SB1188, sponsored by Sen. Linda Gray, a Republican from Glendale, is exemplary of misguided, far-reaching and unnecessary legislative zeal. It would require that the Arizona Department of Economic Security/Child Protective Services and private adoption agencies give preference to married couples when identifying a prospective adoptive home for a child.

SB1188 and its proposed amendments have unintended consequences on Arizona’s children. Specifically:

• By providing a potential loophole to challenge a prospective adoptive placement, they create ways for birth parents involved in the foster care system to delay, and possibly thwart, the permanent placement of their natural children in a loving and nurturing home. Under that challenge loophole, a deadbeat biological parent could require scrutiny of the “stability” of a potential adoptive parent’s current marriage, or possibly even past marriages. Such scrutiny could eviscerate all confidentiality of a foster/adoptive family.

• They potentially discriminate against qualified, stable, loving prospective single adoptive parents.

• With regard to private adoptions, the legislation has the potential to supplant and legislatively override the personal, private and heart-wrenching option by a birth parent to confidently choose the right person or persons to privately adopt an unborn or newborn child.

• SB1188 also may be at odds with federal laws such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, the Foster Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 and the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

During the current reporting period, there are more than 2,400 special-needs children awaiting adoption in our state’s foster care system. Statistics over the past

10 years show that 31 percent of these children would be adopted by single persons.

Such single-parent adoptions occur, not because married couples are being overlooked, but because no one else has stepped up to provide special-needs children with a permanent home.

Legislatively making marital status a primary consideration requires that the Department of Economic Security exhaust the pool of married couples before considering a single-parent adoptive home.

As a child-welfare advocate and attorney who for 18 years has finalized foster-children adoptions in Arizona, I have found that, more often than not, older, stable (financially and emotionally) single people adopt the most hard-to-place children.

There currently are no limitations on the private-placement adoption choices of a birth parent or birth parents. SB1188 would substitute government preference over that of a natural parent. This prompts these questions: What is the perceived wrong SB1188 is trying to right, and why is the state trying to interfere with this personal choice?

Legislating that a child is better off being raised in a two-parent household disregards the undisputed evidence that 50 percent of current marriages end in divorce in the United States, Arizona included.

And it is the instability of broken homes, rather than the absence of a two-parent home, that has a long-term negative impact on a child. Marital status is not an indicator, nor a guarantee, of a successful adoption for a child.

Lastly, SB1188 fails to differentiate between the sensationalized negative outcomes for children raised in single-parent low-income homes — in which the mother was unmarried when becoming pregnant — and the single adoptive parent who makes an informed decision to adopt.

SB1188 is contrary to what children in the system need. Specifically, legislation in this area should encourage, recruit and train more qualified adoptive parents, regardless of marital status.

SB1188 would have a chilling effect on an otherwise qualified single-parent’s willingness to adopt. Again, like so much that seems to be coming out of our state Legislature, it is the most vulnerable of our community who will ultimately pay the cost — children, specifically foster children.

— Tamera Shanker, of The Shanker Law Firm, PLC, in Tempe, is an adoption attorney and child welfare advocate who serves on the executive committee of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation.

One comment

  1. I was reading this opinion with some interest, untill I reached the part where the author mentioned being an attorney.

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