Differences already seen as West Virginia’s updated adoption law takes effect

LAVALETTE, W.Va. — Though hold-ups in court have been taking place with adoption cases around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, West Virginia’s new adoption law went into effect this week and is already being put to use.

Marissa Sanders, the Director of West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parent Network told MetroNews that the most significant piece of the legislation approved by Governor Jim Justice in February is the removal of the 45-day waiting period requirement from the time the adoption petition is filed until the adoption hearing.

“I already have had a family say they have filed for adoption and given a court hearing two weeks later which is a lot faster than it would have been under the old law,” Sanders said.

Marissa Sanders

“No one knows why the 45 day waiting period was there. It certainly streamlines adoptions and gets kids to permanency more quickly, which is the goal.”

The one-page bill, HB 4129, was approved unanimously in both chambers and also provides options for where an adoption hearing can be held. The law permits the adoption hearing to take place in the county where the foster child was originally removed or in the county where the adoptive parents reside at the request of the adoptive parents.

The bill that went into effect on Tuesday does not change the current requirement of a six-month living period with the adoptive parents before an adoption hearing can be held.

Sanders said she is thrilled for families with the new law allowing them to become permanent more quickly.

“By the time you’ve gotten to the point where termination and parental rights are completed and all the appeals periods are over, some families have been caring for a child for two years or more. To have to wait another month and a half to get to that final permanency was sometimes challenging,” Sanders said.

Now a hurdle for some adoptive families is courts being closed with the coronavirus, causing delays. Sanders said the second most recent Supreme Court guidance with the virus did include adoptions as hearings that could be done remotely via phone or video.

“The ones before that guidance did not. It included reunification hearings but no adoptions. While it was silent on adoptions and some judges were willing to do them, others were not sure they were allowed,” she said of delays.

Sanders noted her network is satisfied with the new adoption law but their work is far from over, citing the push for post-adoption support from the state.

“Once an adoption is complete all case management and most services stop for that family. Just because that child has been adopted doesn’t mean their trauma or past experiences and challenges go away,” she said.

“So often we see as the family settles back into a permanent routine as children get older, sometimes the effects of prenatal drug exposure or other trauma they have experienced show up in new ways.”

During hearings around the bill, lawmakers noted that there are nearly 7,000 children in state custody.

May is National Foster Care Month and May 31 is National Foster Parents Appreciation Day and Sanders does have a wish for these times. Wishes she said she could directly ask to Gov. Justice.

“We’ve heard quite a bit of appreciation to foster parents, but what we have not seen is additional resources for foster parents,” Sanders said.

“Foster parents are struggling with increasing costs right now.”

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