BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    AB 2872


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          Date of Hearing:  April 12, 2016


                           ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY


                                  Mark Stone, Chair


          AB 2872  
          (Patterson) - As Amended April 5, 2016


                                  PROPOSED CONSENT

          SUBJECT:  ADOPTION

          KEY ISSUE:  SHOULD VARIOUS LAWS BE CHANGED AND CLARIFIED TO  
          BETTER FACILITATE ADOPTIONS IN CALIFORNIA?

                                      SYNOPSIS


          This is the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers' annual bill  
          to help better facilitate adoptions in California.  This  
          non-controversial bill makes several changes to the adoption  
          laws law.  First, it clarifies who may conduct a stepparent  
          adoption investigation and makes clear that if the stepparent is  
          using a private investigator, then he or she does not have to  
          pay the court an investigation fee for a public investigator.   
          Second, the bill helps make the process for prospective adoptive  
          parents to take home a drug-exposed newborn easier by requiring  
          hospitals to complete a required form.  Finally the bill ensures  
          that specified investigators, whether court-order or statutorily  
          required, are able to examine the relevant child's juvenile  
          court case file.  There is no opposition to this measure.


          SUMMARY:  Makes changes to adoption processes.  Specifically,  








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          this bill:  


          1)Clarifies that the investigation required as part of a  
            stepparent adoption may be, at the request of the adoption  
            petitioner, completed by a licensed social worker or therapist  
            or a private adoption agency, in which case the petitioner is  
            not required to pay any investigation fees.  Provides that if  
            the petitioner does not request that a licensed social worker  
            or therapist or a private adoption agency complete the  
            investigation, the court may collect an investigation fee and  
            assign a probation officer, court investigator or, if so  
            authorized by the county board of supervisors, the county  
            welfare department to complete the investigation.


          2)Requires, at the request of a parent of a newborn, that  
            appropriate hospital personnel complete a Health Facility  
            Minor Release (HFMR) Report, which allows a hospital to  
            release a minor to someone other than the parents, and provide  
            copies of the report as specified.  Provides that hospital  
            personnel may not refuse to complete the report, even if the  
            newborn is ineligible for release at that time.


          3)Provides that a statutorily-authorized or court-appointed  
            investigator, who is conducting an investigation a) as part of  
            a stepparent adoption, b) as part of a court procedure to  
            terminate parental rights in order to identify alleged fathers  
            and presumed parents, or c) as part of a court procedure to  
            free a child from parental custody and control, is authorized  
            to inspect a juvenile court case file, provided that the  
            investigator is acting within the scope of his or her  
            investigative duties for an active case.


          EXISTING LAW:  










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          1)Provides a streamlined procedure for a stepparent to adopt a  
            stepchild.  Requires an investigation of the proposed  
            stepparent adoption to be prepared, as specified, by  
            particular individuals, and payment of an investigation fee,  
            but does not require a homestudy, unless the court orders  
            otherwise.  (Family Code Section 9000 et seq.) 


          2)Provides that a peace officer may, without warrant, take a  
            minor who is in the hospital into temporary custody if release  
            of the minor to a prospective adoptive parent or a  
            representative of a licensed adoption agency poses an  
            immediate danger to the child's health or safety.  (Welfare &  
            Institutions Code Section 305.6 (a).)


          3)Notwithstanding #2), above, provides that a peace officer may  
            not, without a warrant, take into custody a newborn who is in  
            the hospital if, among other things, all of the following  
            apply:


             a)   The newborn or birth mother tested positive for illegal  
               drugs.


             b)   The newborn is the subject of a proposed adoption.


             c)   An HFMR Report has been completed by the hospital and  
               signed as required.  Provides that the HFMR Report does not  
               constitute consent to adoption or relinquishment of  
               parental rights and that the birth parents may reclaim the  
               child at any time, as provided.


             d)   Release of the newborn to a prospective adoptive parent  
               or an authorized representative of a licensed adoption  
               agency does not pose an immediate danger to the child.








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             e)   The prospective adoptive parents or the representative  
               of a licensed adoption agency have provided the peace  
               officer in the hospital seeking to take custody of the  
               newborn with, among other things, a fully executed HFMR  
               Report.  (Welfare & Institutions Code Section 305.6 (b).)


          4)Limits access to juvenile case files, as defined, to specified  
            individuals and officials, including the child's parent or  
            guardian, attorneys for the parties, court and state  
            personnel, including law enforcement and child protective  
            services, and school district officials.  Allows a  
            court-appointed investigator when acting within the scope of  
            his or her duties in a guardianship case to inspect the  
            juvenile court case file in that case.  Prohibits any party  
            authorized to inspect a dependency court case file from  
            disseminating the file or its contents unless otherwise  
            permitted.  (Welfare and Institutions Code Section 827.) 


          FISCAL EFFECT:  As currently in print this bill is keyed fiscal.


          COMMENTS:  This is the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers'  
          annual bill to help better facilitate adoptions in California.   
          This bill seeks to make three changes to the law.  First, it  
          clarifies who may conduct a stepparent adoption investigation  
          and makes clear that if the stepparent is using a private  
          investigator, then he or she does not have to pay the court an  
          investigation fee for a public investigator.  Second, the bill  
          helps make the process for prospective adoptive parents to take  
          home a drug-exposed newborn easier by requiring hospitals to  
          complete a required form.  Finally the bill ensures that  
          specified investigators, whether court-order or statutorily  
          required and generally used during the adoption process, are  
          able to examine the relevant child's juvenile court case file.









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          Clarifies who may conduct a stepparent investigation.  Adoption  
          of a child by a stepparent generally is a more simple and  
          streamlined process than that of a typical adoption.  While an  
          investigation is required, the more time consuming homestudy is  
          generally not required.  Under current law, specified  
          individuals, including probation officers, court investigators,  
          licensed clinical social workers and licensed marriage  
          therapists and the county welfare agency, if authorized by the  
          county board of supervisors, can conduct the stepparent  
          investigation.  The court may not make an order of adoption  
          until after a report and recommendation on the stepparent  
          adoption has been filed and considered by the court.  The  
          investigation is intended to assure the court that the adoption  
          is in the child's best interest.  


          According to the sponsor, some counties are misconstruing the  
          language and requiring that a county employee do the  
          investigation or requiring an investigative fee in all cases,  
          even when a private investigator is used.  This bill clarifies  
          that a petitioner, at his or her option, may get the  
          investigation performed by a licensed clinical social worker, a  
          licensed marriage and family therapist or a private adoption  
          agency.  In this case, the bill provides that the court may not  
          charge an investigation fee.  If the petitioner does not elect  
          to have a private entity perform the investigation, the court  
          may then collect an investigation fee and may assign either a  
          probation officer, a court investigator or, if so authorized by  
          the county in which the adoption is pending, the county welfare  
          department.  This will ensure that a fee is only charged by the  
          court when a public entity is doing the investigation.  If the  
          petitioner elects to use a private entity to conduct the  
          investigation, the petitioner will pay the fee for that  
          investigation directly to the private entity.


          Makes the process for prospective adoptive parents to take home  
          a drug-exposed newborn easier.  In 2002, a law was enacted to  








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          prevent child protective services agencies from unnecessarily  
          taking drug-exposed newborns from the hospital into the foster  
          care system when an adoption plan was in place and an adoptive  
          home was waiting for them.  (AB 2279 (La Suer), Chap. 920,  
          Stats. 2002.)  Several pieces of legislation, most recently AB  
          973 (A. Strickland), Chap. 440, Stats. 2010, tried to correct  
          implementation difficulties with the original bill, which  
          required that the newborn be the subject of an adoption  
          petition, but that document is generally not available until  
          after the mother and child have been discharged from the  
          hospital.  The revised process allows the newborn to be released  
          upon completion of a HFMR Report, developed by the Department of  
          Social Services, which must be signed by a parent and the  
          prospective adoptive parent or representative of a licensed  
          adoption agency stating that the child is the subject of a  
          proposed adoption; listing the names, identifying information  
          and contact information for the newborn, the prospective  
          adoptive parents and each birth parent, to the extent the  
          information is known; and stating the adoptive parents'  
          agreement to provide a conformed copy of the adoption request to  
          the county child welfare agency within five days after filing.   
          The HFMR Report includes information about adoption and child  
          abandonment.  The report must be completed, in part, by hospital  
          personnel.


          According to the bill's sponsor, hospital personnel are not  
          always cooperative in completing the required HFMR Report.  If  
          the hospital refuses to complete the Report, it may become  
          impossible for prospective adoptive parents to take temporary  
          custody of a drug-exposed baby at the hospital and keep the  
          child out of the foster care system.  This bill seeks to correct  
          this problem by requiring that hospital personnel complete the  
          report, even if the newborn is not yet ready for release.  This  
          should help ensure that, when the newborn is ready for release,  
          the prospective adoptive parent may take the child home and  
          avoid an unnecessary placement in foster care.










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          Expands the investigators who may inspect a juvenile case file.   
          Juvenile court case files -- both dependency and delinquency  
          files -- are closed to the public and may only be inspected by a  
          limited group of individuals, including court personnel,  
          attorneys in the case, and the juvenile's parents.  Included in  
          that list is a court-appointed investigator who is actively  
          participating in guardianship cases and acting within the scope  
          of his or her duties.  This bill expands that list to allow a  
          statutorily-authorized or court-appointed investigator who is  
          investigating a stepparent adoption, attempting to find a parent  
          for purposes of adoption, or investigating matters for purposes  
          of emancipation of a child to inspect a juvenile court case  
          file, provided the investigator is acting within the scope of  
          his or her investigative duties for an active case.  In each of  
          these instances, the investigator likely cannot fully complete  
          the investigation without reviewing the juvenile court case  
          file.  This bill allows for such review, but it is narrowly  
          drafted to ensure that the review can only be made of the  
          relevant case file when the investigator is acting within the  
          scope of his or her duties relevant to that case.  Moreover,  
          because existing law prohibits any party authorized to inspect a  
          juvenile court case file from disseminating the file or its  
          contents unless otherwise permitted, the information in the file  
          is protected.  


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support




          Academy of California Adoption Lawyers/Academy of California  
          Family Formation Lawyers (sponsor)









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          Opposition


          None on file




          Analysis Prepared by:Leora Gershenzon / JUD. / (916) 319-2334