Policy & Practice: Advocacy
Letter: April 18, 2012
To: The Honorable Luann Ridgeway
RE: HB Nos. 1258, 1259 & 1260
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute respectfully submits this letter regarding HB Nos. 1258, 1259 & 1260, concerning mothers' voluntary acknowledgment of paternity and fathers' rights and responsibilities. The Adoption Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit research, policy and education organization dedicated to improving adoption-related laws, policies and practices. The Institute has conducted the most extensive study to date on birth parents, including fathers’ rights relating to placement of their biological children for adoption; the report, "Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process," is available at: http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/publications/2006_11_Birthparent_Study_All.pdf
A fundamental foundation for protecting the rights of fathers and the legitimacy of the adoption process requires mothers to identify putative fathers, and adoption practitioners to locate them, notify them of pending adoption proceedings and explain their rights. In states with more rigorous statutory requirements, adoption professionals are more likely to make attempts to identify and involve birth fathers in the adoption process.
Ultimately, it is in the best interests of children to have clear, sound protections for birth mothers and fathers so that everyone’s rights are protected and, vitally, so that adoptions are not at risk of being overturned. Against that backdrop, before approving any legislation, please consider incorporating elements of the below examples of sound policy and practice to protect birthfathers’ rights – while also protecting birthmothers who are victims of rape, incest and/or domestic violence.
- Illinois requires prospective birthmothers to complete an Affidavit of Identification identifying the biological father and providing information about him; stating she does not know his identity and explaining why she is unable to identify him; or explaining her reasons for not wanting to identify him. If she refuses to name the father, she is told she is placing her child at legal risk. Any man who is named in the affidavit is entitled to notice of legal proceedings related to his parentage.
- Louisiana statutes support the identification of fathers and require agencies to exercise due diligence in locating them.
- Connecticut probate courts require prospective birthmothers to provide the identity of the father and sign a statement of fact regarding this information.
- Iowa asks women considering adoption to provide information about the identity of the biological father and, if he cannot be identified, submit an affidavit to the court explaining why. If the mother refuses to name the father, she is likely to be required to testify at the termination of parental rights hearing, and rights likely will not be severed if she knows but refuses to disclose the man’s identity.
- Nebraska only allows women to refuse to disclose the child’s father’s name (unless she does not know) if her safety or that of the child would be called into question.
Most states mandate that an identified father be given notice prior to any legal proceedings to terminate his parental rights. Some states, however, qualify this requirement by specifying that notice be given only to specified categories of fathers, such as those who meet the criteria of a legal or presumed father. Many states, such as Texas, also prescribe in statute that agencies make a diligent effort to locate the father before an adoption proceeds.
Regardless of what states require, it is good practice for adoption professionals to make concerted efforts to identify and reach out to fathers. This may necessitate counseling the mother about why the father needs to be involved, and it may mean asking her permission to contact him independently if she does not want to do so.
Please feel free to contact me at (617) 332-8944 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or need more information. Thank you for your attention and for your important work.
Adam Pertman, Executive Director