Human Services Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE STATE'S SAFE HAVEN LAWS.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Human Services Committee; Rep. Jeff Currey, 11th Dist.; Rep. Melissa H. Ziobron, 34th Dist.; Rep. Mike Demicco, 21st Dist.
REASONS FOR BILL:
To strengthen protections for individuals caring for infants who are considered to be in the custody of the Department of Children and Families under the state's safe haven program.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Representative Jeff Currey, (11th Assembly District), referenced the case of Katie Leavitt, a friend and former co-worker, whose testimony is referenced below, and further expressed concern that although the anonymity of a birth parent is paramount to the on-going successful implementation of the original law, there is deep concern in realizing that this anonymity is not explicitly passed along to the child in question. The proposed legislation specifically Section 2(b) addresses this disturbing revelation while clearly allowing for information to be shared if an employee or a hospital has reason to suspect that an infant has been abused or neglected. Representative Currey indicated that he appreciates the work of DCF as it pertains to the Safe Haven Law but believes there is room to improve, better protect and nurture our state's littlest residents; and for this reason, supports HB7121.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) expressed opposition to HB No. 7121 as this bill would significantly limit the Department's ability to consider essential information while processing cases under Connecticut's Safe Haven statutes;
Following are additional concerns expressed by DCF: Section 1: Seven business hour time frame - Subsection (b) (lines 18 & 19)– it would be impossible for DCF to meet the seven business hour time frame in all Safe Haven cases as DCF identifies permanent placement as soon as possible in all cases. Disclosure of Information related to the parentage of an infant, Subsection (c) (lines 23-27)–– this provision conflicts with existing law that requires DCF to disclose known medical and other history to adoptive parents. The biological parents are not identified in the history.
Section 2: Genetic testing, Subsection (a) (lines 47-50): which reads, “Absent receiving a request for reunification with an infant pursuant to this section, the commissioner may not subject the infant to genetic testing to determine parentage unless ordered to do so by a court.” According to DCF, the language contained in this section would prevent identifying a biological sibling without a court order
Section 3, Removal process of infant from prospective adoptive parent by DCF, Subsection (b) (lines 99 & 100) –which reads, “placing the infant in the care and control of a prospective adoptive parent or a foster parent for thirty or more consecutive days”. The current law permitting a foster parent to contest the removal of a child from their home requires that the child had been placed there for one year. The Department views thirty days as too short a time frame and believes there are instances when more than thirty days are needed to confirm the suitability of a placement in accordance with the best interest of the child. Removal of infant from prospective adoptive parent by DCF, Subsection (b) (1) & (2) (lines 101-110) – According to DCF, this inflates the standard for removal far beyond what is available for all other children.
Section 4 – Right of aggrieved out-of-home care provider, Subsection (a) (lines 111-121) –– As mentioned in Section 3, the current law requires that the child had been placed in the foster home for one year. Request for Removal Hearing (lines 121-123) the current law requires DCF to schedule a hearing within 30 days. Requirement for regulations related to removal hearing – Subsection (b) (lines 127-129) DCF believes this requirement to be unnecessary as regulations for administrative hearings are already authorized by the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (Chapter 54 of the General Statutes).
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Michael C. Culhane, Executive Director, Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, testified in support of this bill. This bill addresses the weakness in the current Safe Haven Law by (1) restricting whether DNA testing may be performed by DCF; (2) more clearly defining the responsibilities of hospital staff and (3) implementing a removal hearing process that a prospective adoptive family may invoke.
Katie Leavitt, 27 Woods Run, Farmington, CT., testified in support of this bill as a result of her experience dating back to the summer of 2015 when she started the full DCF licensing process to be pre-approved as an adoptive home and officially licensed by DCF on December 15th. On January 12, 2016 she was notified by DCF of a 2 day old baby girl under the Save Haven laws that was placed under her care and which she was eagerly waiting to adopt. On February 17th, a judge granted the termination of the baby's parental rights and approved a legal name change for the baby that she already considered as her daughter. The judge noticed that a DNA test had been ordered and asked the state's intent if there was a match, to which DCF stated that it would be their intent to advocate for sibling visits. She was given reassurance from DCF all along that she had nothing to fear. On March 2nd she was notified that the DNA test was positive and that the baby would be placed with the family that would be adopting her sibling. Upon receiving the removal notice, DCF scheduled visits with the other adoptive family and Ms. Leavitt was not able to participate because she was told that she had no rights to the baby as she had been in her care for only three months. Ms. Leavitt expressed concern with the physical manner by which the baby appeared to be taken care of during the visits with the other pending adoptive family. On April 11th, the baby was taken for a scheduled visit prior to a court hearing and never returned. Her attempts to contact DCF went unanswered. Ms. Leavitt stated that the bill proposed ensures the infant has the same amount of anonymity that their biological parent is entitled; and ensures that they be placed with the intent of permanency and not jostled between foster care placements. According to Ms. Leavitt, it can be agreed that a child can prosper with a stable, loving and supportive family, and no infant or family should have to endure the terrible heartache experienced.
Joan Barere, Sr. Policy Analyst for Children and Family, CT Commission on Women, Children and Seniors (CWCS) testified in strong support of this bill due to CWCS longstanding role in their involvement with the Safe Haven Working Group. Anonymity for both the child's biological parent(s) is guaranteed under the original law and a hallmark of why the law has been invoked more than a dozen times since its inception. It has always been assumed that the child and adoptive parent(s) both enjoyed rights of privacy. This anonymity was violated January 2016 (Katie Leavitt case) however, whereas the privacy rights of both the child and the adoptive family were violated. Ms. Barere respectfully urge the passage of HB 7121 to ensure the safety and permanency of placements of Safe Haven babies by making sure anonymity protections be extended to all parties.
Emilie Dajer-Pascal, J.D. Candidate and Zoe Stout, Sr. Staff Attorney, Center for Children's Advocacy testified in support. He this bill gives foster parents an administrative remedy to prevent removal of a safe haven baby for whom they have been caring for thirty or more consecutive days. The dangers of instability for an infant can be multiplied and have significant long-term effects such as physical, emotional, behavioral, social and health issues, because they are too young to verbally express his or her feelings. It has been proven that an infant who has been in care for 30 days or more has developed a bond with his or her foster parent as the first relationship a child forms with adults are the most enduring influence on social and emotional development for young children, and are less likely to be troubled, aggressive, or experience other emotional and behavioral problems when they reach school age.
Connecticut Hospital Association testified that Connecticut hospitals have been proud to partner with the State of Connecticut since 2000 on the Safe Heaven Act. Since October of 2000, at least 27 “Safe Haven” babies have been taken to Connecticut's Emergency Department (EDs) and placed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) with families that adopt the child or, in one instance, into a permanent home of a relative. CHA and CT hospitals are also part of the Safe Haven Work Group whose mission is to promote the importance of the Safe Haven Act and they have supported the enactment of Public Act 15-241, which established April 4 as Safe Haven Day in Connecticut. This bill makes changes to CT's Safe Haven Program and they have concerns about new language in Section 2 of HB 7121, which seeks to revise Subsection (b) of C.G.S. Section 17a-60.
Pamela Z. Sawyer, 95 South Road, Bolton, CT.,an original member of the Human Services Committee that worked to pass The Safe Haven Law in 2000, commended the Committee for their continued work on the hard issues before them. She expressed her concern with a young girl from East Hartford who in 2014 tragically committed neonaticide by disposing of her full term baby boy in a trash can due to her lack of knowledge of the Safe Haven Law. Ms. Sawyer suggested that a Safe Haven Working Group comprised of volunteers from the public and private sectors be organized to look at the manner by which this great law can be publicly disseminated to succeeding generations. Ms. Sawyer further expressed concern with the above referenced case of Ms. Katie Leavitt that occurred in 2016, which did not give the Safe Haven baby total privacy or anonymity. Ms. Sawyer suggested that a strong version of HB 7121 be passed to protect two lives, encourage the use of the Safe Haven Law and ensure the strength of a bonded, adoptive family.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
None were submitted or expressed.
Reported by: Kayleigh Royston