BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    SB 1060


                                                                    Page  1





          Date of Hearing:  June 21, 2016


                           ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY


                                  Mark Stone, Chair


          SB  
          1060 (Leno) - As Amended May 31, 2016


                              As Proposed to be Amended


          SENATE VOTE:  31-7


          SUBJECT:  POSTADOPTION CONTACT: SIBLINGS OF DEPENDENT CHILDREN  
          OR WARDS


          KEY ISSUE:  GIVEN THE IMPORTANCE OF SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS FOR  
          CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE, INCLUDING THOSE WHO ARE ADOPTED, SHOULD  
          ADDITIONAL EFFORTS BE MADE TO FACILITATE POSTADOPTION SIBLING  
          CONTACT?


                                      SYNOPSIS


          The bond between siblings, especially those in foster care,  
          cannot be underestimated.  In 2008, Congress passed the  
          Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act,  
          which, among other things, made it a priority that siblings  
          entering the foster care system be placed together by requiring  
          states to use "reasonable efforts" to place siblings together,  
          unless such placement is contrary to their safety or well-being.  








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           If the siblings are not placed together, the Act requires that  
          visitation between them must occur frequently, unless the  
          visitation is contrary to their safety or well-being.  Likewise,  
          California law has repeatedly recognized the importance of  
          maintaining and developing sibling relationships for children in  
          foster care, as reflected in numerous legislative efforts to  
          maintain and facilitate those relationships.  Existing law seeks  
          to ensure that social workers and courts protect the  
          relationship between siblings throughout the foster care  
          process.  For example, a social worker is required to place a  
          foster child together with his or her siblings or half-siblings  
          who are also removed from parental custody, whenever possible  
          and appropriate.  If not possible or appropriate, the social  
          worker is required to describe continuing efforts to place the  
          siblings together, or to explain why placing them together is  
          inappropriate.  Existing law also requires a court, after  
          ordering removal of a child from the physical custody of a  
          parent, to consider whether there are any siblings under the  
          court's jurisdiction, and the appropriateness of maintaining  
          those sibling relationships. When siblings are not or cannot be  
          placed together, existing law requires visitation between a  
          foster 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.  Finally, existing  
          law allows a court to include in a final adoption order a  
          postadoptive sibling contact agreement. 


          In its original form, this bill required a court, in an adoption  
          proceeding for a dependent child, to convene a child and family  
          team meeting to determine whether to voluntarily enter into a  
          postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the adoption is  
          finalized.  As most recently amended, however, the bill is more  
          narrow in scope.  As currently in print, the bill requires a  
          court, in an adoption proceeding for a dependent child, to do  
          the following: (1) Inquire into the status of the development of  
          a voluntary postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the  
          adoption is finalized; and (2) Include, in any court order  
          permanently placing the minor, a specification of the nature and  








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          frequency of visiting arrangements with the sibling. Finally, as  
          currently in print, the bill requires, to the extent  
          practicable, the county placing agency to convene a meeting with  
          the child, the sibling or siblings of the child, the prospective  
          adoptive parent or parents, and a facilitator for the purpose of  
          deciding whether to voluntarily execute a postadoption sibling  
          contact agreement and allows counsel for the child to attend  
          such a meeting.  As explained in the analysis, this  
          "requirement" is not really a requirement at all and county  
          placing agencies are free to ignore it.  The author proposes  
          clarifying amendments that would, among other things, leave that  
          language in place, but specify two reasons why a county placing  
          agency is not required to convene a meeting and allow a child to  
          petition the court to order the county placing agency to convene  
          a meeting.  Those amendments are reflected in this analysis.  A  
          large number of foster care, youth advocacy, and civil rights  
          organizations support the bill, either as now in print, or in  
          its former iterations.  Sponsored by California Youth  
          Connection, the bill has no opposition on file.  Should this  
          bill be approved by this Committee, it will be referred to the  
          Assembly Human Services Committee.  


          SUMMARY:  Requires a court, in an adoption proceeding for a  
          dependent child to inquire into the status of the development of  
          a voluntary postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the  
          adoption is finalized.  Specifically, this bill: 


           1) Makes legislative findings and declarations regarding the  
             benefit of continuing contact between some adoptive children  
             and their siblings and the importance of postadoption contact  
             agreements, which can be beneficial to adoptive children  
             under certain circumstances.
           2) States that nothing in the adoption laws of this state shall  
             be construed to prevent the adopting parent or parents of a  
             child from entering into a voluntary agreement with the  
             child's birth relatives, including any siblings of the child,  
             to permit continuing contact between the child and the birth  








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             relatives, including any siblings if the agreement is found  
             by the court to have been executed voluntarily and to be in  
             the best interests of the child at the time the adoption  
             petition is granted.


           3) Requires that any court order permanently placing the minor  
             shall include a specification of the nature and frequency of  
             visiting arrangements with the sibling. 


           4) Requires a court, at the time when it considers an adoption  
             petition, to inquire into the status of the development of a  
             voluntary postadoption sibling contact agreement.


           5) Requires, to the extent practicable, the county placing  
             agency to convene a meeting with the child, the sibling or  
             siblings of the child, the prospective adoptive parent or  
             parents, and a facilitator for the purpose of deciding  
             whether to voluntarily execute a postadoption sibling contact  
             agreement on a date after termination of parental rights and  
             prior to finalization of the adoption.  


           6) Allows the agency to comply with the requirement in #5,  
             above, by allowing a nonprofit organization authorized to  
             provide permanency placement and postadoption mediation for  
             adoptive and birth families to facilitate the meeting and  
             develop the agreement.


           7) Provides that the county placing agency is not required to  
             convene a meeting to decide whether to voluntarily execute a  
             postadoption sibling contact agreement in one of the  
             following two circumstances: (a) If the agency determines  
             that such a meeting or postadoption sibling contact agreement  
             would be contrary to the safety and well-being of the child,  
             or (b) The child requests that a meeting does not occur.








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           8) Allows the child to petition the court for an order  
             requiring the county placing agency to convene a meeting and  
             provides that if the court determines by a preponderence of  
             the evidence that a postadoption sibling contact agreement or  
             a meeting for the purpose of deciding whether to voluntarily  
             execute such an agreement is contrary to the safety and  
             well-being of the child, the reasons for the determination  
             shall be noted in the court order, and the meeting is not  
             required to occur.


           9) Clarifies that no child, sibling, or other party is required  
             to attend a meeting to decide whether to voluntarily execute  
             a postadoption sibling contact agreement pursuant to Section  
             8616.5 of the Family Code and that a county placing agency  
             may convene a meeting if not all of the parties are secured  
             to attend.


           10)Requires counsel to the child and counsel to the siblings  
             who are dependents of the court to be notified of, and may  
             attend, both the meeting and the hearing described above.


           11)Clarifies that after the adoption petition has been granted  
             by the court, the adoption cannot be set aside due to the  
             failure to comply with a postadoption sibling contact  
             agreement.


          EXISTING LAW:   


          1)Requires, pursuant to federal law, 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  








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            frequently, unless it is contrary to their safety or  
            well-being.  (42 U.S.C. Sec. 671 (a).)


          2)States that it is 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.  (Welfare & Inst. Code  
            Section 16002.  All further statutory references are to the  
            Welfare and Institutions Code, unless otherwise indicated.)




          3)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.  (Section 306.5.)


          4)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.  (Section 361.2.)


          5)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.  (Section 362.1.)


          6)Allows any person to petition the juvenile court to assert a  
            sibling relationship by blood, adoption, or through affinity  








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            with a legal or biological parent with a child who is a  
            dependent of the juvenile court, and to request visitation  
            with that child.  (Section 388.)


          7)Allows a court to include in a final adoption order a  
            postadoptive sibling contact agreement.  (Sections 366.26,  
            366.29.)


          8)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.  (Section 366.26.)


          9)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.   
            (Section 727.3.)


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


          COMMENTS:  In 2008, Congress passed the Fostering Connections to  
          Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Act), which, among other  
          things, made it a priority that siblings entering the foster  
          care system be placed together by requiring 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, the Act requires that  
          visitation between them must occur frequently, unless the  
          visitation is contrary to their safety or well-being.  










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          Prior to passage of the Act, California was one of the first  
          states to pass legislation promoting sibling visitation for  
          foster children as early as 1999.  (See AB 740 (Steinberg),  
          Chap. 805, Stats. 1999.)  Since then California has enacted  
          several additional statutes to expand legal protections for  
          sibling relationships.  These laws have served to promote  
          sibling relationships when both children are in the dependency  
          system, but recent, unpublished cases indicate that courts will  
          not grant visitation in the rare case where one sibling is in  
          the foster system and the other remains in the legal custody of  
          the parent.   


          California Law has Long Recognized the Importance of Maintaining  
          Sibling Relationships.  California law has repeatedly recognized  
          the importance of maintaining and developing sibling  
          relationships for children in foster care.  Key legislation in  
          this area includes AB 743 (Portantino), Chap. 560, Stat. 2010,  
          which required greater notice if siblings are to be separated;  
          AB 705 (Steinberg), Chap. 747, Stats. 2001, which ensured that  
          sibling relationships are considered at all appropriate hearings  
          and siblings are placed together when appropriate; AB 1987  
          (Steinberg), Chap. 909, Stats. 2000, which 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; and AB 740 (Steinberg), Chap. 805, Stats.  
          1999, which expedited the procedure for permanent placement of a  
          sibling group.    


          The bond between siblings, especially those in foster care,  
          cannot be underestimated:


               Sibling relationships are emotionally powerful and  
               critically important not only in childhood but over the  
               course of a lifetime.  As children, siblings form a child's  
               first peer group, and they typically spend more time with  








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               each other than with anyone else.  Children learn social  
               skills, particularly in sharing and managing conflict, from  
               negotiating with brothers and sisters.  Sibling  
               relationships can provide a significant source of  
               continuity throughout a child's lifetime and are likely to  
               be the longest relationships that most people experience.   
               . . . 


               In many families involved with child welfare, sibling  
               relationships take on more importance because they can  
               provide the support and nurture that are not consistently  
               provided by parents.  For children entering care, siblings  
               can serve as a buffer against the worst effects of harsh  
               circumstances.  While sibling relationships in particular  
               families experiencing adverse situations do not always  
               compensate for other deficits, research has validated that,  
               for many children, sibling relationships do promote  
               resilience.  (Child Welfare Information Gateway, Sibling  
               Issues in Foster Care and Adoption 4-5 (Jan. 2013).)


          Despite Legal Recognition of the Importance of Sibling  
          Relationships, California's Foster Care System Continues to  
          Separate Siblings in Too Many Cases:  Recent data reveal that  
          children in foster care are often not placed with all their  
          siblings.  Foster children in California are placed together  
          with all their siblings in only slightly over half of all cases.  
           Slightly older data reveal that in only about 29 percent of  
          cases, foster youth have been separated from all of their  
          siblings.  (Legislative Analyst's Office, Protecting Children  
          From Abuse and Neglect: Trends and Issues 29 (Aug. 2013); B.  
          Needell et al., Child Welfare Services Reports for California  
          (2008).)


          This Bill Seeks to Further Ensure that Courts Protect a Foster  
          Child's Relationship With His or Her Siblings, Including After  
          the Child is Adopted. Existing law seeks to ensure that social  








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          workers and courts protect the relationship between siblings  
          throughout the foster care process.  For example, a social  
          worker is required to place a foster child together with his or  
          her siblings or half-siblings who are also removed from parental  
          custody, whenever possible and appropriate.  (Section 306.5.)   
          If not possible or appropriate, the social worker is required to  
          describe continuing efforts to place the siblings together, or  
          to explain why placing them together is inappropriate.  (Ibid.)   
          Existing law also requires a court, after ordering removal of a  
          child from the physical custody of a parent, to consider whether  
          there are any siblings under the court's jurisdiction, and the  
          appropriateness of maintaining those sibling relationships.   
          (Section 361.2.)


          When siblings are not or cannot be placed together, existing law  
          requires visitation between a foster 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.  (Section 362.1.)  Finally, existing law allows a  
          court to include in a final adoption order a postadoptive  
          sibling contact agreement.  (Sections 366.26, 366.29.)


          In its original form, this bill required a court, in an adoption  
          proceeding for a dependent child, to convene a child and family  
          team meeting to determine whether to voluntarily enter into a  
          postadoptive sibling contact agreement before the adoption is  
          finalized.  As most recently amended, however, the bill is far  
          more narrow in its scope.  As currently in print, the bill would  
          make a number of changes in exiting law to ensure that sibling  
          relationships are considered and facilitated, even after a  
          foster child is adopted.  It would require a court, in an  
          adoption proceeding for a dependent child, to inquire into the  
          status of the development of a voluntary postadoptive sibling  
          contact agreement before the adoption is finalized.  The bill  
          also requires a court to include, in any court order permanently  
          placing the minor, a specification of the nature and frequency  
          of visiting arrangements with the sibling.  Finally, as  








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          currently in print, the bill requires, to the extent  
          practicable, the county placing agency to convene a meeting with  
          the child, the sibling or siblings of the child, the prospective  
          adoptive parent or parents, and a facilitator for the purpose of  
          deciding whether to voluntarily execute a postadoption sibling  
          contact agreement.  The language for this "requirement" is very  
          weak because of the phrase "to the extent practicable," which is  
          reasonably read to allow a county placing agency to convene a  
          meeting if it wished to do so or not convene a meeting for any  
          reason (or no reason at all).  Also, the current language  
          provides no exceptions to the meeting "requirement" in  
          situations where it may not be in a child's best interest to  
          have contact with his or her sibling(s), perhaps because of  
          abuse or the child's preference.  Nor is there a mechanism for a  
          child (and a court) to review a county placing agency's failure  
          to convene a meeting, or to ensure that counsel to the child or  
          siblings may attend both the meeting and the hearing.     


          Therefore, the author proposes a number of clarifying amendments  
          (on Page 16, starting at line 26) that leave the weak  
          "requirement" language in place, but make the following  
          clarifications and improvements to the bill:


           Allow the county placing agency to delegate the responsibility  
            for convening a meeting to a nonprofit organization authorized  
            to provide permanency placement and postadoption mediation for  
            adoptive and birth families to facilitate the meeting and  
            develop the agreement.
           Specify that the county placing agency is not required to  
            convene a meeting to decide whether to voluntarily execute a  
            postadoption sibling contact agreement pursuant to Section  
            8616.5 of the Family Code for two specific reasons: (1) The  
            county placing agency determines that a meeting or a  
            postadoption sibling contact agreement would be contrary to  
            the safety and well-being of the child, or (2) The child  
            requests that a meeting does not occur.









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           Allow the child to petition the court for an order requiring  
            the county placing agency to convene a meeting to decide  
            whether to voluntarily execute a postadoption sibling contact  
            agreement pursuant to Section 8616.5 of the Family Code.


           Require counsel to the child and counsel to the siblings who  
            are dependents of the court to be notified of, and allows them  
            to attend, both the meeting and the hearing.


           Provide that no child, sibling, or other party is required to  
            attend a meeting to decide whether to voluntarily execute a  
            postadoption sibling contact agreement pursuant to Section  
            8616.5 of the Family Code.


          These new provisions, especially the specific parameters for  
          when a county placing agency is not required to convene a  
          meeting for the purpose of deciding whether to voluntarily  
          execute a postadoption sibling contact agreement, will help  
          ensure that sibling interaction and contact, and the agreements  
          to facilitate such relationships, occur when appropriate.  By  
                                                                                        specifying the two reasons why a county agency is not required  
          to convene a meeting, the bill as proposed to be amended implies  
          that a county placing agency is required to convene a meeting  
          except in the case of one or both of those circumstances.  This  
          amendment significantly furthers the purpose of the bill and  
          ensures that the mechanism to further that purpose, the meeting  
          for the purpose of deciding whether to voluntarily execute a  
          postadoption sibling contact agreement, is likely to occur in  
          appropriate circumstances (and not in circumstances where a  
          meeting would be inappropriate, such as when a child objects to  
          it).


          Author's Statement Regarding the Need for the Bill.  According  
          to the author:








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            Despite the clear intent of federal law, advocates have  
            observed that implementation of programs to maintain sibling  
            relationships are ultimately a function of state and local  
            agencies. These agencies sometimes allow adoptions to move  
            forward without full consideration of how best to maintain  
            sibling connections in each specific case.
            . . .
            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.


            SB 1060 (Leno) will maintain sibling relationships through the  
            adoption process by elevating the function of the post  
            adoption contact agreement between siblings and prospective  
            adoptive children prior to adoption finalization.


          ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT:  California Youth Connection, the sponsor  
          of SB 1060, writes the following in support of the bill:


            Despite the protections already in statute meant to encourage  
            and strengthen sibling connections within the foster care  
            system, we see a shocking decline of urgency as a child or  
            youth approaches the adoption process. Consequently, siblings  
            in foster care are being separated. By no fault of their own,  
            older siblings who do not live with their younger siblings are  
            being shut out of the adoption process. This gap in the system  
            is reflective of both poor communication and a lack of  
            coordinated services for the adoptee and where many sibling  
            relationships are severed. 









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            Specifically, SB 1060 (Leno) will address this gap and elevate  
            the importance of sibling relationships within the adoption  
            process. This is vital to support the well-being for both the  
            adoptee and siblings involved. SB1060 will maintain sibling  
            relationships throughout the adoption process by empowering  
            the child welfare counties to convene a meeting to negotiate  
            the creation of a post adoption contact.


          RECENT SIMILAR 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  








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          planning for legal permanence.


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


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support - as amended May 31, 2016


          California Youth Connection (sponsor)


          California Alliance of Child and Family Services 


          Children Now


          County Welfare Directors Association of California


          John Burton Foundation


          National Association of Social Workers


          Support - as introduced (February 16, 2019) or amended April 19,  
          2016


          Alliance for Boys and Men of Color









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          California CASA Association


          Children's Law Center of California


          Families Now


          Public Counsel




          Opposition


          None on file




          Analysis Prepared by:Alison Merrilees / JUD. / (916)  
          319-2334