BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    





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


          SB 1060 (Leno)
          Version: February 16, 2016
          Hearing Date:  April 12, 2016
          Fiscal: Yes
          Urgency: No
          NR   


                                        SUBJECT
                                           
                Postadoption contact:  siblings of dependent children

                                      DESCRIPTION  

          This bill would require a court, in an adoption proceeding for a  
          dependent child, to order the convening of a child and family  
          team meeting, attended by at least a facilitator, the siblings  
          or their respective caregivers, and the prospective adoptive  
          parent or parents. The bill would require the participants of  
          the meeting to decide whether to voluntarily enter into a  
          postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the adoption is  
          finalized, and make other conforming changes. 

                                      BACKGROUND  

          In October 2008, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the  
          Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act  
          (Act) to promote permanent families for children and youth in  
          foster care by providing greater assistance to relative  
          caregivers and improving incentives for adoption.  The Act also  
          extends assistance for foster children to age 21 and improves  
          education and health care for children and youth in foster care.  
           Further, the Act requires states to use "reasonable efforts" to  
          place siblings together, unless such placement is contrary to  
          their safety or well-being.  If the siblings are not placed  
          together, visitation between them must occur frequently, unless  
          the visitation is contrary to their safety or well-being.  (42  
          U.S.C. Sec. 671(a).)

          Prior to passage of the Act, California was one of the first  








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          states to pass legislation promoting sibling visitation for  
          foster children as early as 1999. (See AB 740, Ch. 805, Stats.  
          1999.)  Since then California has enacted several additional  
          statutes to expand legal protections for sibling relationships.   
          Creating another mechanism by which the court may further  
          protect sibling relationships, SB 1099 (Steinberg, Ch. 773,  
          Stats. 2014) gave dependency courts the authority to order  
          visitation between dependent and non-dependent siblings in  
          specified circumstances.  This bill seeks to further protect  
          sibling relationships by requiring the court, in an adoption  
          proceeding regarding a dependent child, to order the prospective  
          adoptive parents, the facilitator, the child, and any siblings  
          not party to the adoption, to attend a meeting where the group  
          will decide whether to enter into a postadoptive sibling contact  
          agreement. 

                                CHANGES TO EXISTING LAW
           
           Existing federal law  requires states to use "reasonable efforts"  
          to place siblings together, unless such placement is contrary to  
          their safety or well-being.  If the siblings are not placed  
          together, visitation between them must occur frequently, unless  
          it is contrary to their safety or well-being.  (42 U.S.C. Sec.  
          671(a).)  

          Existing law  states the intent of the Legislature to ensure that  
          siblings who are removed from the home will be placed in foster  
          care together, unless the placement is contrary to the safety or  
          well-being of any sibling. (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec. 16002.)
          
           Existing law  requires a social worker, where possible and  
          appropriate, to place a child, who has been removed from his or  
          her parents or guardian because of abuse or neglect, together  
          with his or her siblings or half-siblings also being removed, or  
          to describe continuing efforts to place them together if they  
          are not initially placed together, or to explain why placing  
          them together is inappropriate.  (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec.  
          306.5.)
          
           Existing law  requires, when the court has ordered removal of a  
          child from the physical custody of a parent, the court to  
          consider whether there are any siblings under the court's  
          jurisdiction, and the appropriateness of maintaining those  
          sibling relationships. (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec. 361.2.)








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           Existing law  requires any order placing a child in foster care  
          to provide for visitation between a child and any siblings,  
          unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that  
          sibling interaction is contrary to the safety and well-being of  
          either child.  (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec. 362.1.)

           Existing law  allows any person to petition the juvenile court to  
          assert a sibling relationship by blood, adoption, or through  
          affinity with a legal or biological parent with a child who is a  
          dependent of the juvenile court, and to request visitation with  
          that child.  (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec. 388.)

           Existing law  allows a court to include in a final adoption order  
          a postadoptive sibling contact agreement. (Welf. & Inst. Code  
          Secs. 366.26 and 366.29.)

           Existing law  authorizes a parent to terminate a postadoptive  
          sibling contact agreement if it is determined by the parent that  
          sibling contact poses a threat to the health, safety, or  
          well-being of the adopted child.  (Welf. & Inst. Code Sec.  
          366.26.)

           Existing law  requires that if a minor has continuing involvement  
          with a parent or legal guardian, that the parent or legal  
          guardian shall be involved in the planning for permanent  
          placement and that any court order permanently placing the minor  
          shall include a specification of the nature and frequency of  
          visiting arrangements with the parent or legal guardian. (Welf.  
          & Inst. Code Sec. 727.3.)

           This bill  would additionally require siblings to be included in  
          the court order described immediately above.  

           This bill  would require a court, in an adoption proceeding for a  
          dependent child, to order the convening of a child and family  
          team meeting, attended by at least a facilitator, the siblings  
          or their respective caregivers, and the prospective adoptive  
          parent, for the purpose of deciding whether to voluntarily enter  
          into a postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the  
          adoption is finalized.

                                        COMMENT
           
           1.Stated need for the bill
           







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          According to the author: 

            For California's foster children and youth, adoption is one of  
            the desired outcomes that the state child welfare system  
            strives to achieve. Unfortunately, siblings in foster care  
            sometimes are separated through the adoption process. For an  
            adoption to establish a lasting commitment between the child  
            and adopting parents, these elements of healing and support  
            are essential. Research also confirms that sustaining some of  
            the relationships with the biological family, especially  
            siblings, is most effective in combating the negative effects  
            of being removed from one's family and placed into foster  
            care. 

           2.Would require the court, in certain adoption proceedings, to  
            order the convening of a child and family team meeting to  
            discuss future sibling contact
            
           The dependency process utilizes "family teams" to identify the  
          strengths and needs of a dependent child and his or her family,  
          and to help achieve positive outcomes for the safety,  
          permanency, and well-being.  Family teams are comprised of  
          individuals convened by the placing agency, including but not  
          limited to the child, family, caregiver, caseworker, and mental  
          health representatives. (See Welf. & Inst. Code Secs. 16501 and  
          16501.1.)

          This bill would require that the court, in adoption proceedings  
          regarding a dependent child, order the convening of a family  
          team meeting with the prospective adoptive parent or parents,  
          the prospective adoptive child, his or her siblings (or their  
          caretakers), and the adoption facilitator. At the meeting, this  
          bill would require that the participants decide whether to  
          voluntarily enter into a postadoptive sibling contact agreement  
          before the adoption is finalized. 

          A postadoptive contact agreement provides for contact between a  
          child and his or her birth parents and other birth relatives,  
          including siblings.  These agreements can also provide for how  
          the adoptive family and birth family will share information  
          about the child in the future. Postadoption contact agreements  
          are intended to ensure children maintain an achievable level of  
          continuing contact when contact is beneficial to the child, and  
          the agreements are voluntarily entered into by the parties.   
          (See Fam. Code Sec. 8616.5.)  This bill would necessarily  







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          maintain the voluntary nature of these agreements, and would not  
          eliminate the ability of a parent to invalidate agreements that  
          compromise the safety or well-being of their adoptive child, but  
          by requiring that parents, siblings, and facilitators attend a  
          family team meeting, this bill will arguably help facilitate  
          more postadoption contact agreements and thereby fulfill the  
          Legislature's stated goal of maintaining beneficial sibling  
          relationships.  

          Staff notes that this bill would require the court to issue  
          orders over parties over whom the court may not have  
          jurisdiction.  For example, if a prospective adoptive child had  
          a half sibling who was not in the dependency system, that  
          sibling would not be subject to the court's jurisdiction, and  
          therefore would not have to follow any orders issued by the  
          court.  While it remains to be seen how often jurisdictional  
          issues will arise, this bill will, at the very least, ensure  
          that persons who do fall within the court's jurisdiction are  
          required to have a conversation about a postadoption sibling  
          contact agreement. 

           3.Would require the court to specifically include siblings in  
            court orders permanently placing a dependent child in a home
           
          To maintain beneficial contact with a child's birth family, if a  
          dependent minor has  continuing involvement with his or her  
          parents or legal guardians, existing law requires that the  
          parents or legal guardians are involved in the planning for a  
          permanent placement. Existing law also requires that the court  
          order placing the minor in a permanent home must include details  
          about the nature and frequency of visiting arrangements with the  
          parents or legal guardians. 

          This bill would add to the above requirement that the court  
          order must include details regarding the visiting arrangements  
          with siblings. This requirement is consistent with the stated  
          intent of the Legislature to maintain sibling relationships  
          unless contrary to the safety or well-being of the child.  This  
          requirement is also consistent with existing considerations the  
          court must take into account with regard to sibling  
          relationships and dependent children.  











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           4.Maintaining judicial discretion to ensure the dependent  
            child's safety
           
          This bill would require the court, in every situation, to order  
          the convening of a family team meeting.  Recognizing that there  
          are potential situations where a dependent child would not  
          benefit from any contact with a sibling, the author has agreed  
          to amend the bill to allow a court to exercise discretion. The  
          Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar  
          of California (FLEXCOM), among other concerns, expresses concern  
          that this bill would make attendance at the meeting mandatory.   
          FLEXCOM writes, "the bill does not include any exceptions for  
          opting out, such as for cases of sibling abuse, or cases where  
          siblings have been privately adopted outside the dependency  
          system and who may not be interested in participating. In  
          addition, there is no clarifying language that any child  
          attending regardless of age shall be there with their respective  
          caregiver and/or counsel."

          The language below would permit a court to bypass the ordering  
          of the meeting only if the court determined that such a meeting  
          may be detrimental to the child.  This arguably strikes the  
          correct balance and will ensure that families are meeting to  
          discuss postadoption contact agreements, in all but the rarest  
          cases, where the court finds that sibling contact may be harmful  
          to the child. 

             Author's amendment: 
             
            On page 2, line 15, after "(b)" insert "Unless the court finds  
            that such a meeting may be detrimental to the child,"


           Support  :  California Alliance of Child and Family Services;  
          Children Now; Families NOW; Hillsides; National Association of  
          Social Workers, California Chapter 

           Opposition  :  None known

                                        HISTORY
           
           Source  :  California Youth Connection

           Related Pending Legislation  : None known








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           Prior Legislation  :

          SB 1099 (Steinberg, Ch. 773, Stats. 2014) required the court to  
          consider relationships between dependent and non-dependent  
          siblings, required additional documentation related to sibling  
          relationships in social workers' reports, and authorized a  
          dependent child to request sibling visitation, as specified.  

          AB 743 (Portantino, Ch. 560, Stats. 2010) made changes to the  
          standards for sibling visitation, interaction, and placement for  
          children in foster care to conform with the federal Fostering  
          Connections to Success Act. 

          AB 408 (Steinberg, Ch. 813, Stats. 2003) made changes in  
          dependency law to help achieve permanency for older children,  
          including authorizing the court to make orders to ensure that  
          sibling relationships are maintained. 

          AB 705 (Steinberg, Ch. 747, Stats. of 2001) ensured that sibling  
          relationships are considered at all appropriate hearings and  
          siblings are placed together when appropriate.

          AB 1987 (Steinberg, Ch. 909, Stats. 2000) recognized the  
          importance of sibling relationships and required the court to  
          consider the existence, nature, and impact of a dependent  
          child's sibling relationships on the child's placement and  
          planning for legal permanence.

          AB 740 (Steinberg, Ch. 805, Stats. 1999) expedited the procedure  
          for permanent placement of a sibling group.

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