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How the Rowan Social Services Adoption Process Works

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Recently, Rowan Social Services issued a statement following the indictment of Casey and Sandy Parsons in the murder of their adopted daughter, Erica Lynn Parsons, who was reported missing in July 2013. The family was investigated twice after reports of neglect.

The Rowan County Department of Social Services’ main objective is to reunify families, but sometimes placing a child back with parents is not the best option and the end result may be adoption. The process is lengthy and very detailed.

The Salisbury Post sat down with Social Services Director Donna Fayko, who did not speak about the Parsons case, but did discuss what happens when a Rowan County child is adopted and the misconceptions that people have about the process and post-adoption support.

Unlike adoption, foster care is meant to be a temporary placement until all goals for the family are successfully completed. If those goals are not completed and the child cannot be placed permanently with a relative or fictive kin (not blood, but can be a close friend), “sometimes plans change from reunification to adoption,” said Nadean Quarterman, a licensing and placement supervisor for adoptions and foster care at Rowan Social Services.

“We are legally required to work with families for reunification,” Fayko said.

DSS is also legally required to find relatives to place the children with because it increases the connectivity with the family, she added.

Essentially, if the family has not made significant progress then adoption is looked at as an option after a child becomes legally cleared to become adopted. A child who has legally been cleared to become adopted is one whose parents, through petition, has had their rights terminated by the courts or the parent has relinquished their rights.

In most cases, adults who become adoptive parents for children in DSS custody do so by becoming foster care parents first.

Several court hearings will take place before any child is adopted, which could take anywhere from a year to 18 months.

There are several assessments that take place before a child is officially adopted. An adoption social worker is assigned to a family who has considered adoption and looks at whether they are eligible for adoption assistance. Assistance is given to families where the child may have special needs, which include: a disability, a minority who is two years old, a Caucasian child over six years old and a child who has two or more siblings.

Assessment

Families complete a home study and a pre-placement assessment, which includes a nationwide criminal background check on everyone in the house over 18, a family interview, a look at finances, previous marriages and relationships, health and other medical or mental issues, attitudes by all of the immediate family about adoption, a childcare plan and references.

A social worker goes through a multi-page pre-placement assessment checklist that includes a number of criteria that must be met before a child can be placed. The criteria includes the applicant’s emotional stability, how they cope with stress, crisis or loss; whether the applicant’s religious preference is different than that of the adopted child and how the parents will handle that, as well as attitudes of extended family and significant others toward accepting adoptive children.

A doctor has to sign off on whether the adoptive parents can physically care for a child if they should have some physical limitations.

All children over 12 years old also have to give their consent to being adopted, Quarterman explained.

If a person chooses to adopt a child of a different ethnicity, then the potential parent has to be able to answer how they will address any questions that child may have about their cultural or ethnic differences.

Adoption committee

Once the assessment is complete, the findings are presented before the adoption committee, which is made up of Program Administrator of Social Work Services Lisa Berger, a program manager, adoption social workers, and a volunteer with Guardian ad Litem, who doesn’t have a vote, but can provide input.

Before the adoption committee meets, Quarterman sends each person a summary of the assessment, the actual assessment and any other highlights taken from the adoption worker.

“They are very thorough in making the decision on whether this family is able to meet the needs of this child permanently,” Quarterman said.

The adoption worker returns to the committee with the requested information or clarifications.  The adoption worker contacts the family with the decision of the committee. The parents are not a part of the committee or do not come before the committee. Everything is presented by the adoption worker and permanency planning worker to the committee.

At this point, the adoptive family would provide to the adoption worker information, proof or a plan for supporting the child.

Once the adoption committee approves the pre-placement assessment, also called an adoption home study, the adoptive parents notify their attorney who then files a petition to adopt with the court.

The court sends the agency an order for the report, which includes information and documents on the family and the adoptive child. The adoption worker has 60 days from the receipt of that order to submit the report to the Clerk of Court.

The recommendations from the adoption committees are sent to the clerk of superior court who can approve an adoption. The clerk reviews a 16-page report (DSS-1808 Report on Proposed Adoption), which includes the following: a summary of the adoptive family and the pre-placement assessment, along with other documents like the birth certificates, TPR orders, the child’s consent for adoption, the agency’s consent for adoption, a report to vital records (for a name change and the new parents’ name for the new birth certificate), non-identifying background information and health history of the birth parents and the adoption clearance letters that say the family meets the criteria for adoptive parents.

The clearance letter comes from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Criminal Records Check Unit in Raleigh. These are local and national fingerprinted background checks. The recommendation of the committee is captured in the pre-placement assessment and on the DSS-1808 Report on Proposed Adoption.

There is usually a 90-day adjustment period for the family before the final decree.

“The agency is no longer legally or financially responsible for the child. The child is a now a permanent part of the family,” Quarterman said.

Post adoption support

The aftercare of adoption includes a congratulations letter from Rowan Social Services such as how to obtain a new social security card or new birth certificate. The family receives an annual letter that asks them if there are any changes in the home.

Rowan Social Services works with Children’s Hope Alliance, a group that provides help with children with special needs, in-home parent coaching, education assessment, connection with therapists and support groups.

There have been cases where a family has contacted DSS years after adoption to say things have soured and adoption workers have provided referral services for counseling and other agencies for help.

But parents cannot give a child back, Fayko noted.

The adoptive parents are the legal guardians of that child, but the child can be placed with another relative informally or transfer custody to that person.

In the case of Erica Parsons, she was placed in the care of Casey’s sister, Robin Ashley.

A social worker assessed that home, helped get Erica enrolled in school and obtained a notarized statement from Casey Parsons allowing her sister to seek medical care for Erica, enroll her in school and receive her adoption assistance checks.

A neighboring county DSS continued working with Robin Ashley to obtain power of attorney for Erica and to pursue guardianship. However, federal court testimony revealed that after eight months Casey took Erica back and continued to receive the adoption assistance checks in December 2011 even after Erica was believed to be dead.

If a family is still providing some support they can still receive assistance, Fayko said.

If adoptive parents place a child with another relative, that person goes through the custody process and then adopts that child then the assistance transfers to the relative, Fayko explained.

Misconceptions

There are some misconceptions about the adoption process, Quarterman said, including the fact that people believe only married couples can adopt, that you have to be heterosexual and rich.

“As long as you are able to provide support and love, you could be a viable candidate,” Quarterman said.

Berger said a single person who works in a retail establishment, has no debt, is able to meet the criteria based on their ability and willingness to provide is a potential candidate.

There are many safeguards in place, Fayko said. No one can just walk in and adopt a child.

Berger said they also look at how invested the potential adoptive parents are in the process and follow-through.

Fayko said they want the community and extended family members to contact DSS if they believe a child is being mistreated, including children who’ve been adopted. If an adoptive parent abused a child, Social Services would still investigate the matter if it’s ever brought to their attention.

“We want our children safe,” Fayko said.

“And have permanent homes,” Quarterman added.

Other than receiving the annual letter about referral services, families who adopt a child are not tracked per se after the adoption process.

Berger said they try to respect the privacy of the family.

“Our goal is to not invade,” she said.

“We are here if you need us,” Quarterman said.

Fostering

Sometimes foster parents are asked to be a support system or co-parent for a biological parent until the birth parents meet the goals set out by DSS and the court system, Berger said.

“We are in the business of strengthening families and putting them back together. Sometimes that doesn’t always happen,” Quarterman said.

Fayko and Quarterman said they are always in need of families to foster children and families willing to adopt.

“Fifty percent of our kids are placed outside of Rowan County,” Quarterman said.

She said it’s because there just aren’t enough foster families in Rowan County.

For more information about the foster care system and adoption through Rowan County Social Services contact 704-216-8330.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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