Are you still my Family? Post-Adoption Sibling Visitation

Author:Dawn J. Post - Esq. Sarah McCarthy - Esq. Roger Sherman - Ph.D. Servet Bayimli
Position:We are practitioners in the child welfare field. Accordingly, much of what is written in this Article is our view of the situation as it currently stands. Also, the case examples mentioned contain confidential information for which citation cannot be provided. However, these cases were handled by or explained to us other attorneys, social...
Pages:307-372
SUMMARY

Many children in foster care face daily uncertainty about where they will live and what will become of their families. When they are moved from home to home, they are essentially asked to start over, often creating feelings of grief and loss on top of the existing neglect, abuse, or trauma that may have precipitated their removal from their birth parents. Agency efforts towards protecting a... (see full summary)

 
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ARE YOU STILL MY FAMILY? POST-ADOPTION
SIBLING VISITATION
DAWN J. POST, ESQ., SARAH MCCARTHY, ESQ., ROGER SHERMAN, PH.D.
AND SERVET BAYIMLI *
I. INTRODUCTION
On Kayla’s1 first birthday in July of 1998, she was placed into foster
care following allegations that her seventeen-year-old mother neglected her.
Kayla was initially placed with her mother in a city-operated home for
teenagers with children.2 However, when her mother was no longer able to
care for her, Kayla’s paternal grandmother took over as her foster mother.3
Soon after Kayla’s new placement, her mother gave birth to another baby,
Copyright © 2015, Dawn J. Post, Esq., Sarah McCarthy Esq., Roger Sherman, Ph.D and
Servet Bayimli.
* We are practitioners in the child welfare field. Accordingly, much of what is written in
this Article is our view of the situation as it currently stands. Also, the case examples
mentioned contain confidential information for which citation cannot be provided. However,
these cases were handled by or explained to us other att orneys, social workers, or participants
in their respective cases. We are indebted to Executive Director Karen P. Simmons for her
mentorship and support; Veronica Kapka and Latoya Lennard for their research and work on
the narrative interviews; and CPIC Harvard fellows Allison Torsiglieri and Gene Young
Chang for their insightful comments and editing.
1 Interview with Kayla, Adoptee, Children’s Law Center New York, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Nov. 11, 2013) [hereinafter Kayla Interview] (unpublished) (on file with authors). From
December 2013 through June 2014, the Children’s Law Center New York (CLCNY)
conducted interviews of young people and adults who had experienced the loss of their
sibling, as well as adoptive parents who had either encouraged o r terminated sibling contact,
and were solicited from LinkedIn or at conferences. The purpose of this study was to capture
individual adoptive narratives and understand more fully the benefits of sibling contact
following a legal adoption. The participants in the study were asked to participate in an
interview. The estimated time of each interview was approximately one hour. Each interview
was recorded, transcribed, and identifying information was coded in order to protect the
identity of any individuals who wished to remain confidential.
2 Id. New York City had residential and foster care programs that offered comprehensive
care—including education, employability and mental health services—for teen mothers who
were in foster care, homeless, or adjudicated. Unfortunately, many of these residenti al
facilities have been closed due to lack of funding. One of the only homes left is Inwood
House. INWOOD HOUSE, Who We Are, http://inwoodhouse.com/who-we-are/ (last visited
Nov. 25, 2014).
3 Kayla Interview, supra note 1.
308 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [43:307
Keisha.4 Keisha was also removed from her mother’s care, but was placed
with a non-kinship foster mother instead.5 Because Kayla’s grandmother
was not Keisha’s biological relative (Keisha had a different father), she was
never put forward as a possible resource for Keisha, and the siblings were
separated.6
Despite the fact that the infant siblings were only related through their
mother and had never lived in a home together, the New York City foster
care agency responsible for their care was required to justify the girls’
placement in different foster homes.7 Furthermore, because the siblings
were separated, the agency was required to document its compliance with
mandated bi-weekly agency sibling visitation.8 In Kayla’s foster care
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 Id. New York State law requires that the Ch ild Welfare Agency first look for
appropriate relatives who are willing to become foster parents or who are willing to provide
free care to the child. New York State 2010 Foster Parent Manual, N.Y. STATE OFFICE O F
CHILD. & FAMILY SERVS. (2010), http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/publications/
Pub5011.pdf. If a grandparent agrees to become the foster parent, the grandparent has to be
able to take appropriate care of that child, and must meet all oth er requirements. If children
are placed with maternal relatives, separation of siblings is less of an issue. However, like
this case, when a child is born after a siblin g has been placed into foster care with a paternal
relative, and they do not share the same father, they are separated due to prioritization of
kinship foster care over non-kinship foster care. See, e.g. , OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY
SERVICES ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTIVE FOSTER CARE, ADOPTION: REQUIREMENTS FOR
SIBLINGS PLACEMENT, VISITATI ON AND COMMUNICATION, at 5 (June 8, 1992) [hereinafter
ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTIVE], available at http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/policies/
external/OCFS_2007/INFs/07-OCFS-INF-04%20(1)%20Attachment%20-%2092-ADM-
24%20Foster%20Care%20Adoption%20Requirements%20for%20Siblings%20Placement
%20Visitation%20and%20Communication.pdf (“[A]n assessment may indicate that separate
placements with approved relatives can best preserve the emotional ties of extended family
relationships if such placements provide opportunities for continuing interaction among the
siblings. In such cases, separation of the children while retaining a familiar environment
and/or close contact may be preferable to placement together in an unfamiliar environment
with certified foster parents. . . . When there is no documented factor for separation of the
siblings other than the fact that the children would be placed with relatives, only the court
can determine that placing children separately with relatives is preferable in itself to the
placement of siblings together in a certified foster home or agency operated boarding
home.”).
7 ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTIV E, supra note 6.
8 Id. at 6. (“Biweekly visitation is required unless such visitation has been determined
and documented to be contrary to the health, safety or welfare of one or more of the children
2015] POST-ADOPTION SIBLING VISITATION 309
records, the caseworker documented that Kayla and Keisha were “very
young” but “interact[ed] well with one another” and were “active and
developmentally appropriate” during the visitation.9 Though the girls’
biological mother never appeared for visits, their respective foster mothers
nonetheless brought the siblings every other week for over a year to have
visitation with one another. Both girls spoke only a few words.10
The foster care agency was fulfilling its responsibility to promote visits
between the siblings while simultaneously planning to fulfill its ultimate
goal of discharging them from foster care into the permanency of adoption
by their current caretakers. Shortly after Kayla’s third birthday, the court
finalized the adoption by her grandmother.11 Soon thereafter, Keisha’s non-
kinship foster mother became her adoptive mother.12 Permanency in
parenting may have been achieved, but the court papers finalizing the
adoptions did not provide for visitation between Kayla and Keisha.13 As a
result of the permanency plan of adoption, the adoptive parents were no
longer obligated to bring the girls together for bi-weekly visits, and the
agency was no longer required to facilitate the visits.14 Whether the two
siblings saw one another was left completely to the adoptive parents’
discretion.15
or unless the siblings are placed at such a distance fro m each other that lack of geographic
proximity precludes visitation . . . Certified foster parents, approved relative foster parents
and prospective adoptive parents, as well as agency staff, are expected to cooperate in
facilitating visits between siblings. However, the primary responsibility for arranging and
overseeing visitation lies with the agency supervising placement of the children.”).
9 Kayla Interview, supra note 1.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id.
14 Id.
15 ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTIVE, supra note 6, at 4 (“Authorized agencies have no
authority or legal responsibility to maintain visitation and communication between separated
siblings whose adoptions have been finalized , but should counsel with and encourage
adoptive families at the time of placement regarding the importance of maintaining sibling
connections in such cases.”).

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