BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    





                             SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
                         Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Chair
                             2015-2016  Regular  Session


          AB 2872 (Patterson)
          Version: June 6, 2016
          Hearing Date:  June 21, 2016
          Fiscal: Yes
          Urgency: No
          NR   


                                        SUBJECT
                                           
                                      Children

                                      DESCRIPTION  

          This bill would make various changes related to adoption law  
          including: 
           clarifying who may conduct, and what fees are associated with,  
            a stepparent adoption investigation; 
           requiring hospital personnel to complete a Health Facility  
            Minor Release Report and provide copies to specified parties  
            upon request by a parent; and
           permitting a statutorily authorized or court-appointed  
            investigator who is conducting specified investigations  
            relating to children, including stepparent adoptions, to  
            inspect a juvenile case file.

                                      BACKGROUND  

          Every year, the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers (ACAL)  
          seeks to clarify or modify provisions in the Family and related  
          codes which they have identified as having either technical  
          errors or as being the basis for conflicting court rulings that  
          could potentially prolong the adoption process.  Accordingly,  
          this bill, sponsored by ACAL, would make various changes related  
          to adoption.

                                CHANGES TO EXISTING LAW


            1.Existing law  establishes a procedure for a stepparent to adopt  









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            a stepchild and requires a probation officer, qualified court  
            investigator, licensed clinical social worker, licensed  
            marriage and family therapist, or licensed adoption agency to  
            conduct investigation of the proposed stepparent adoption to  
            be prepared, as specified, but does not require a homestudy,  
            unless the court orders otherwise.  (Fam. Code Sec. 9000 et  
            seq.) 


             This bill  would clarify that the investigation required as  
            part of a stepparent adoption may be at the request of the  
            adoption petitioner, in which case the petitioner is not  
            required to pay any investigation fees to the court.  


             This bill  would provide 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.Existing law  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.  (Welf. &  
            Inst. Code Sec. 305.6 (a).)


            Existing law  provides, that notwithstanding the provision  
            above, 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:
                 the newborn or birth mother tested positive for illegal  
               drugs;


                 the newborn is the subject of a proposed adoption;


                 an Health Facility Minor Release (HFMR) Report has been  








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               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;


                 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; and


                 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).)


             This bill  would require, at the request of a parent of a  
            newborn, that appropriate hospital personnel complete a HFMR  
            Report, which allows a hospital to release a minor to someone  
            other than the parents, and provide copies of the report as  
            specified.  This bill would provide that hospital personnel  
            may not refuse to complete the report, even if the newborn is  
            ineligible for release at that time.


           1.Existing law  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.  Existing law allows  
            a court-appointed investigator when acting within the scope of  
            his or her duties in a guardianship case to inspect a juvenile  
            court case file, and prohibits any party authorized to inspect  
            a dependency court case file from disseminating the file or  
            its contents unless otherwise permitted.  (Welf. & Inst. Code  
            Sec. 827.) 


             This bill  would provide that a statutorily-authorized or  
            court-appointed investigator, who is conducting an  
            investigation (1) as part of a stepparent adoption, (2) as  








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            part of a court procedure to terminate parental rights in  
            order to identify alleged fathers and presumed parents, or (3)  
            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.

                                        COMMENT
           
           1.Stated need for the bill
           
          According to the author: 

            This bill promotes the welfare of children, the efficiency and  
            statewide uniformity of court processes, and the fiscal  
            well-being of state and local public entities, by remediating  
            the problems set forth below.

            Section 1 - Modify Section 9001 to confirm and clarify the  
            intent and purpose of previous amendments, so that petitioners  
            in step-parent adoptions are allowed to fully utilize the  
            existing, authorized alternatives for completing the mandatory  
            investigation. 

            Section 2 - Amend Section 305.6 to require hospital personnel  
            to complete the necessary forms upon request. Delete  
            references to the non-existent "notice" and add a reference to  
            confirm the existing practice of including the notice language  
            in the statutorily-mandated form.

            Section 3 - Amend Section 827 to ensure that court-appointed  
            or statutorily-authorized investigators have access to  
            juvenile court files for the limited purpose of completing  
            designated investigations on behalf of the court.

           2.Clarifies the stepparent adoption process

           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, a homestudy is generally not.   
          Specified individuals, including probation officers, court  
          investigators, licensed clinical social workers, licensed  
          marriage therapists, and sometimes the county welfare agency,  
          can conduct a stepparent investigation.  The court may not make  








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          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 either 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 would clarify that if a petitioner  
          instigates an investigation that is performed by a licensed  
          clinical social worker, a licensed marriage and family  
          therapist, or a private adoption agency, 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 should help ensure that a fee is only charged  
          by the court when a public entity is conducting the  
          investigation.  

           3.Modifies the process by which a birth parent releases her  
            child to prospective adoptive parents 
           
          In 2002, a law was enacted to 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.  (AB 2279, La Suer, Ch. 920, Stats. 2002.)   
          Several pieces of legislation, most recently AB 973 (A.  
          Strickland, Ch. 440, Stats. 2010), tried to correct  
          implementation difficulties with the original bill, which  
          required that the newborn be the subject of an adoption  
          petition, which is a document that 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 Health Facility Minor Release (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. The HFMR Report  
          includes information about adoption and child abandonment, and  
          must be completed, in part, by hospital personnel.

          According to the bill's sponsor, hospital personnel are not  
          always cooperative in completing the HFMR Report.  If the  








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          hospital refuses to complete the Report, it may become  
          impossible for prospective adoptive parents to take temporary  
          custody of a baby at the hospital and keep the child out of the  
          foster care system.  Accordingly, this would require that  
          hospital personnel complete the report, even if the newborn is  
          not yet ready for release.  This may 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.

           4.Expands the investigators who may inspect a juvenile case  
            file.  
           
          Juvenile court case 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 would expand 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 would allow 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.  


           Support  :  None Known

           Opposition  :  None Known
                                        HISTORY
           
           Source  :  Academy of California Adoption Lawyers

           Related Pending Legislation  : None Known 

           Prior Legislation  :








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          AB 1049 (Patterson, Ch. 91, Stats. 2015) made several changes to  
          adoption law including that a person's offer or refusal to sign  
          a voluntary declaration of paternity shall not be determinative  
          as to the issue of legal parentage.

          AB 1701 (Patterson, Ch. 763, Stats. 2014) made several changes  
          to adoption processes and adoptive placement considerations  
          including allowing a single petition to terminate parental  
          rights to be filed for two or more siblings, or for a child with  
          two or more alleged fathers.

          AB 848 (Patterson, Ch. 743, Stats. 2013) made several changes to  
          adoption processes and adoptive placement considerations  
          including clarifying when a birth parent's waiver of the right  
          to revoke consent to an adoption is void or able to be  
          rescinded, and that an abbreviated home study assessment may  
          only be used for specified individuals.

          AB 687 (Fletcher, Ch. 462, Stats. 2011) streamlined the process  
          for determining parent-child relationships, and made other  
          technical and substantive changes to adoption laws.

          AB 2020 (Fletcher, Ch. 588, Stats. 2010) among other things,  
          streamlined the process for determining parent-child  
          relationships and made other substantive and technical changes  
          to adoption laws.

           Prior Vote  :

          Assembly Floor (Ayes 79, Noes 0)
          Assembly Appropriations Committee (Ayes 19, Noes 0)
          Assembly Judiciary Committee (Ayes 10, Noes 0)

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