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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Access to children after Termination of Parenting Rights

When courts terminate parental rights (TPR), the prevailing wisdom has been that the connection between the parents and the children will typically be severed. Exceptions might occur when the children are placed in kinship homes with extended family who may offer some connection. This is often the case as TPR is usually a last resort that has followed a variety of efforts to help parents change. After all, the goal of most legislation is to try and sustain families through a variety of family preservation programs.

TPR is often associated with unmanageable or unmanaged mental health, addictions or family violence as well as chronic neglect. Quicker efforts to TPR can occur in cases of serious physical harm or sexual abuse. Thus, the prevailing wisdom associated with no contact with biological family has made some sense.

Yet, there are situations where contact may make sense. When extended family is willing to act in the role of primary caretaker while accepting that the biological parent has significant limitations that preclude acting as caregiver, then contact can be managed. Extended family keeps the child safe and looked after while also allowing the child some level of relationship with the parent.

There are also cases where the parent, later on, takes steps to address the problems. What then of a parent who sustains sobriety later?

In this day of social media, it is much easier for children to find their biological roots. Searching in Facebook, Google, Linkedin and so on can yield connections. Children often want to know their roots and go looking. I have seen this in several cases.

Then there is the reality of small towns and rural areas. I recall a case where the foster home was only a few blocks away - inevitable in the small community. The child exercised the "right" to see the parent by just walking down the street. In that case, counselling to help the child understand the risks while also managing the relationship was the best solution.

It may be different when the child is an infant or toddler, but it becomes much more problematic with older children. This is a challenging discussion but it is one that we need as the new ways for children and parents to find each other demands that we rethink.

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