Courts, officials seek change to adoption approval

LANSING (AP) -- Officials with the state's courts and the Michigan Department of Human Services want lawmakers to change the way adoptions of foster children are approved to speed the process.

The adoption of foster children in Michigan is delayed by a law dating back to 1935 that requires one official to sign off on new families, The Detroit News reported this week. Currently, the superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute personally approves roughly 2,600 adoptions each year.

William Johnson, who holds the post, supports efforts in the state Legislature to change the process. More than 3,200 children are in line for adoption in Michigan. Bill packages are moving through the state House and Senate that, if adopted, would allow the DHS to authorize designees who could consent to adoptions.

"It will permit us to exercise that option," Johnson said. "Right now we can't."

The current method of approval adds up to two extra months to a process than can take years, the newspaper reported. In foster adoptions, the children are state wards, so the state must give its consent.

Some child advocates favor the change, but warn that it overlooks other problems they see in how adoptions are decided in Michigan including that it's a closed-door process.

"It's a good first step, but it doesn't improve the quality of the decision," said Vivek Sankaran, director of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.

Three weeks after Danica was born in May 2008 in Detroit, caseworkers turned her over to Bruce and Christy Bishop, foster parents in Livonia. The infant's birth mother lost her parental rights for all five of her children, and the Livonia couple pursued adoption of the girl. Approval came in August 2009.

"There's doubt and stress," Bruce Bishop, 55, said. "And there's fear that it's not going to materialize."

In other states with similar approval arrangements, the superintendent deals with only the more complicated cases, said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, who testified at a state Senate committee hearing on behalf of the proposed change last month. Uncontested cases often are handled in other ways.

"The vast majority of adoptions are uncontested, and those are the ones we want to speed up," Kelly said.

Published: Tue, Apr 12, 2011