TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. Adoption Regulation in Louisiana II. The Best Interest of the Child Standard III. How Agency Adoptions End Up Costing More IV. Catholic Charities' Fee Requirements V. Catholic Charities' Screening Standards Do Not Further the Best Interest of the Child VI. Religious Liberty Argument VII. Private Adoption as a Favorable Alternative VIII. Restructuring Catholic Charities' Policies INTRODUCTION
"They told me I was basically wasting my time and a lot of my money. Because I was unmarried, I wouldn't even be considered. That was the only thing they knew about me, and at that point, that's all they needed to know to make their decision." (1)
Every month, 300 children in Louisiana are removed from the care of a parent because of drug use, neglect, or abuse. (2) According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family services (DCFS), there is an urgent need for stable homes for these children. (3) As of September 2016, there are 284 children in need of foster care in the New Orleans region. (4) DCFS continues to see an increase in the number of foster children across Louisiana, particularly in the New Orleans area. (5) Of the 4,545 children in foster care in 2015, there were 1,220 waiting to be adopted into a stable household. (6)
If a birth parent cannot provide for his or her child, there is a need for another person who can provide a stable home for the chil in need. (7) Adoption benefits children in several ways, no matter the children's diverse backgrounds. (8) It provides children with a greater sense of familial belonging, emotional security, and a nurturing home environment. (9) It is important that Louisiana ensures that children can be placed into an adoptive home quickly, efficiently, and safely. (10) Otherwise, children who may have been neglected or even abused will continue to wait for a place to call home. (11) This problem could be addressed by implementing Louisiana legislation that requires agencies like Adoption Services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO) to reduce their agency fees and eliminate the arbitrary standards that they currently impose.
This Comment argues that Louisiana should prohibit screening standards based on age and marital status, require that agencies rely instead on assessments of an individual's parental fitness, and impose a cap on agency fees. These changes, which are in the best interest of the children, would allow children to be adopted more quickly into permanent and stable homes. Part I discusses the current adoption regulations in Louisiana. Part II explains the best interests of the child standard. Part III examines the cost structure of agency fees, explaining how agency adoptions can become a costly process. Part IV discusses CCANO's specific fee requirements. Part V discusses the arbitrary restrictions CCANO places on prospective parents and the negative consequences of these restrictions. Part VI provides an argument for religious liberty, which is later rejected. In part VII, this Comment introduces an alternative method of adoption--private adoption--that better aligns with the best interest of the children needing adoption. In part VIII, this Comment proposes that Louisiana limit the amount that agencies can charge prospective parents for their services, and proposes that Louisiana prohibit agencies from relying on arbitrary factors like age and marital status when screening prospective parents.
ADOPTION REGULATION IN LOUISIANA
In Louisiana, there are two basic types of adoption. (12) Those desiring to provide a child with a loving family and a stable home may choose to apply for an agency adoption, in which a state agency or a private, state-licensed adoption agency matches children with the prospective parents. (13) Alternatively, prospective parents can hire an attorney who will facilitate an independent adoption--an adoption in which an attorney introduces the birth parents and the adoptive parents. (14)
Both agency adoptions and private, independent adoptions are governed by statute in Louisiana. Louisiana requires that agency fees--which usually cover advertising services to prospective parents, counseling services, document preparation, and the agency's match of a birth parent with prospective parents--are "reasonable and necessary." (15) However, Louisiana does not place a cap on the fee an agency can charge for its services. (16)
Additionally, the limited set of couples who can afford the high agency fees must overcome another hurdle--the agency's standards for screening adoptive parents. Many of the standards imposed by private, state-licensed agencies are arbitrary and do little more than discourage prospective parents from applying for the adoption process. (17) In particular, the Adoption Services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO), a private, state-licensed adoption agency, requires that applicants "have been married for at least three years, are between the ages of twenty-seven and forty-five, and have no more than two children." (18) According to Fatma Marouf, a law professor at Texas A&M University, this non-profit adoption agency prefers that prospective families "mirror the Holy Family." (19) In other words, those prospective parents who do not meet CCANO's arbitrary standards are not eligible to adopt through the agency.
Generally, state adoption statutes do not prohibit single parents from adopting or specify age limitations. (20) In Louisiana, "a single person, eighteen years or older, or a married couple jointly may petition to adopt a child through an agency." (21) This begs the question of the legitimacy of standards imposed by CCANO.
THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD STANDARD
When making decisions affecting children's care, Louisiana judges and hearing officers must examine whether these decisions will be in the "best interest" of the child. (22) In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child's best interest means that all custody decisions are made with the "ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood." (23) The Louisiana Civil Code provides that:
court[s] consider all relevant factors in determining the best interest of the child...includ[ing]: (1) The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child. (2) The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child. (3) The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs. (6) The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child. (7) The mental and physical health of each party. (24) Likewise, Louisiana's state adoption laws also focus on the best interest of the child. (25) This best interest standard involves the type of services and actions that will best serve a child, including the prospective caregiver's capacity to parent. (26) Although there is a presumption that a child's biological parents are fit to raise their child, agencies screen adoptive parents because of the risk that "adoptive parenting won't work out." (27) However, most arbitrary agency screening standards are not imposed by law. (28) Rather, they are "unwritten rules and practices of adoption agencies, which enjoy great discretion in making adoption placement decisions." (29) It is the agencies' great discretion that denies and delays adoptive placements based on factors such as marital status and age. These standards do not give insight into an individual's parenting ability, "and [are], in reality, in nobody's best interest." (30) Indeed, a two-parent household benefits children in several ways, including providing the child with extended support from two families and stable, loving attention. (31) However, marriage does not guarantee these benefits, and the same stability can exist in other family structures, such as in single-parent households. (32) Further, a multitude of studies have shown that children of older parents are more likely to benefit from their parents' financial and emotional security. (33)
HOW AGENCY ADOPTIONS END UP COSTING MORE
Prospective parents pay adoption agencies exceptional sums to facilitate adoptions. (34) All adoption agencies require prospective parents to pay a main agency fee. (35) In addition to the agency fee, they must also pay an application fee, a fee to advertise to birth mothers, a Home Study fee, (36) attorney's fees, and expenses for the child's birth mother. (37) The adoption agency fee is often the most costly. (38) Importantly, each agency has the discretion to choose which services its main fee will cover. (39) Therefore, some agencies' fee includes services rendered to the adoptive parents, like the advertising fees and the placement fee. (40) Some agencies' fees cover expenses for the finalization of the adoption, while others do not. (41) Unfortunately, in many cases, prospective parents' first attempts to adopt are unsuccessful, and they must restart the adoption process. (42) Because of the high fees prospective parents are required to pay, they may be less likely to reapply for the agency adoption process, leaving children to wait for a permanent, stable home. (43)
CATHOLIC CHARITIES' FEE REQUIREMENTS
The Adoption Services of Catholic Charities, a private adoption agency with branches around the country, has provided adoption services to children in need of loving homes since 1910. (44) The organization provides "hope, help, and loving care for the most vulnerable and needy... [and] work[s] to be the hands and heart of Jesus Christ." (45) "Through [its] ministries, programs, and community partnerships, [it] collaborate[s] to offer life-giving programs, advocate for the voiceless, and empower the vulnerable to foster a just society."...