Open adoptions for foster children the goal of Utah bill

Feb 16 2013 - 12:04am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers appear ready to move ahead with a new adoption program, which even the bill's sponsor admits is controversial.

SB 155 would facilitate a new open adoption program for foster children in the state's Division of Child and Family Services. Open adoptions give potential visitation rights to biological parents, even though the adoptive parents hold the rights as the legal parents.

The measure was modified in committee earlier this year when some people thought the process was too open, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. It cleared a Senate committee with a favorable recommendation this week and is headed to the Senate floor for consideration.

Hillyard said the new process will require three things to work: A birth mother or father who is willing to give consent; adoptive parents must agree to the visitation rights, they cannot be forced into them; and the courts must sign off on the boundaries.

Several groups spoke against the measure.

Wes Hutchins, president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices, said the program shouldn't be limited to children in foster care. He didn't like the idea that foster children were being used for a test program.

He said adoptive parents often promise the sun and the moon to biological parents in the process, but change their minds about the open arrangement before the ink is dry.

Cristina Miller, of the Utah Adoption Council, said there isn't enough information available about open adoptions to implement the program.

"I feel like we have to look out for birth parents. We need to do this very carefully," Miller said.

She referred to foster children who would be involved in the initiative as potential guinea pigs.

Hillyard said his bill targeted foster kids because many of them are older and already have bonds with either a parent or grandparents. He saw few dangers in field testing the concept. He noted the child has to agree to the adoption as well.

"I can't think of a better way to study it than to see how it works. We may find it doesn't work at all," Hillyard admitted.

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