I received a call the other day from a potential client and her partner. They had been fostering a child through a CPS placement for almost 19 months. The baby was just three weeks old when he was placed in their care. The first few weeks of his life were spent in a hospital. The birth mother had limited prenatal care and the baby was born as a S.E.N. (Substance Exposed Newborn).
Although foster training taught the moms that their obligation was to nurture the child until reunification with the parents occurred, as with many loving foster families, they fell in love with the baby after welcoming him into their Gilbert home. Notwithstanding the drug exposure, he was thriving in their care.
The foster moms went to every Dependency Hearing and even attended the Foster Care Review Boards. The biological mother appeared at the court hearings and proclaimed a desire to be reunited. Her numerous missed TASC drug tests told a different story. Her erratic behavior and failure to attend a court-ordered psychological evaluation coupled with an arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia certainly did not help her court appointed attorney present a defense or argument to expedite the reunification.
Meanwhile, the CPS case workers constantly changed. There was an investigative worker, an involved supervisor, and three others since the baby had been in the State’s care. Fortunately, no one ever mentioned removing the child from the foster parents. There was never a biological father identified (referred to as a “John Doe”) and mother’s family was uninterested and/or equally enmeshed in methamphetamine culture.
Ultimately, the biological mother’s rights were terminated (she was pregnant again at the Severance hearing). Now, six weeks after the severance hearing, the foster mom was meeting with an attorney for the first time to see what needed to happen. Foster Mom, who is a physician in Chandler, was eager to pay my office to tie this up and complete this adoption so that they could get back to normalcy and so that she and her partner would not have to deal further with CPS, court hearings, Foster Care Review Boards (FCRB), etc.
As her check book came out on my conference room table, I had the rare pleasure of telling the moms that this would be free for them. Pursuant to rules regarding ‘non-recurring adoption expenses’, the legal fees for the adoption can be paid by our Uncle Sam, irrespective of the financial situation of the parents.
Our law provides that, in the case of CPS placement adoptions, non-recurring adoption expenses are reimbursed (paid) by the government. What this means is that, once a Parent’s Authorization for DES to Reimburse Attorney Directly form is signed and other basic pleadings filed, the adoption can proceed through its conclusion without the adopting family incurring costs.
To be clear, this only applies to CPS placement adoptions in Arizona. Qualifying placement adoptions require that the child is legally free for adoption and cannot or should not be returned home, the child experiences of one numerous broadly defined special needs, and the adoptive parent cannot adopt without a subsidy. Most other situations, such as private severance actions, step-parent adoptions, and second-parent adoptions, still require direct payment to the attorney.
Still, the availability of government reimbursement for some adoptions contributes substantially to the placement of children with wonderful parents without the added burden of adoption expenses. The joy felt by a newly recognized adoptive family is something for which every Arizonan should feel pride.