There are approximately 1,200 Minnesota children in foster care where parents have had their rights terminated. In many cases, the parents of these children are incarcerated or have some addiction issues. Minnesota could join nine other states in providing a mechanism to have the parental rights reinstated when certain conditions are met.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound), HF749, the proposed Family Reunification Act of 2011, was approved as amended by the House Civil Law Committee and moved to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.
“One of the target audiences (for the bill) is teen parents who have messed up and lost their rights,” said Ron Elwood, representing Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance. Many of these children won’t be adopted and will remain wards of the state, he added.
The bill would affect few petitioners because of the clear and convincing standard that would need to be met. “For those for whom this works and deserve to be a reunited family, they should have a second chance,” Elwood said.
The bill would allow the court to reestablish parental rights 24 months following termination. That concerns Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), who questioned the lack of services available to parents in that situation, and whether they would be adequately prepared to have the children back.
“If you believe, that after 24 months, these parents can get their act together so they (the child) can be reunified with the parents, why don’t you change the process of termination, rather than do it backwards. Because once those rights are terminated there are no support services available to the parents,” she said.
Other committee members think that this should only apply to older children, possibly above the age of 12.
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), who presented the bill for Smith, said that the comments would be taken under consideration before the bill moves to the next committee.