WATERLOO — Tracy VanVleck opposes a proposed state law regarding the relationship of adopted children and their biological parents.
Her perspective on the issue is unlike most people.
She is Seneca County commissioner of Social Services, an agency that is intricately involved in foster care, adoption and child protective services. That is only part of the reason for her keen interest in the legislation awaiting either a signature or veto from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though.
VanVleck grew up in foster care and eventually was adopted, while continuing to have contact with her biological mother.
The Preserving Family Bonds Act would allow judges the ability to order an adopted child to stay in contact with a biological parent, including supervised visitation, if it’s deemed to help the child. The order would apply even if the adoptive parent disagrees.
Currently, judges are banned from allowing any contact between child and parent after terminating a parent’s rights due to abuse or neglect of their child.
“This will force an adoptive parent to go to court to fight against visitation or contact with the biological parent. I and others don’t feel that’s right,” VanVleck said. “I don’t think it’s fair the adoptive parents don’t to have any say. If the bill gets signed, I think it will be harder to get people to be foster parents and adoptive parents. They could have a continual fear they could be taken to court by a biological family and the decision would be up to a judge.”
VanVleck and her brother grew up in foster care.
“I’ve seen how it works all my life,” she said. “I was adopted by a good family and had some contact with my biological family. My adoptive parents were supportive of that when I was an adult. My brother had a little contact with our parents and, in the end, it did not go well.”
Advocates for biological parents say the current law essentially punishes a parent who fights to keep a child.
VanVleck agrees with opponents of the Preserving Family Bonds Act that it’s not clear what rights adoptive parents would have during potentially confrontational clashes with biological parents seeking contact.
“Once they are adoptive parents, they are parents. They are not simply caretakers for other people’s children,” said David Hansell, commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, in an article published in The New York Times.
Hansell and VanVleck said court intervention could sway parents interested in adopting children away from doing so. Supporters counter by saying the concerns of biological parents whose rights have been terminated need to be considered.
State Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, D-77 of the Bronx, also grew up in foster care and was adopted after her mother gave up parental rights. She was the lead sponsor of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, which has passed the Assembly and state Senate.
Joyner noted that terminations usually occur after months or years of legal battles and regular visitations between birth parents and children while the children are in foster care. She said cutting off that contact can be traumatic, and supporters of the bill believe that severing ties carries a finality that ignores the ability of parents to change and improve.
VanVleck, who will join others in Albany next month to urge the governor not to sign the Preserving Family Bonds Act — she believes Cuomo is leaning toward signing the bill into law — said she understands biological parents love their children and want to keep a relationship.
“But love could also mean letting go,” she said. “When children grow up they can understand that their birth parents were not able to adequately provide for them.”