For parents like Albert Galvan, whose daughter was seized by social services as soon as she was born, Senate Bill 117 offers new hope.
The bill -- also known as the Sunshine Gates Act, for the little girl who inspired its creation -- would require social workers or police officers to obtain a court order before taking a newborn away from its parents. When Albert's situation was explained to the bill's sponsor, Senator Paula Sandoval, she said, "That sounds exactly like the situation we're trying to prevent. The caseload for social workers is so great that it's often easier for them to remove a baby than to truly analyze a situation. The whole idea is that if you have to justify to a neutral third party why you're taking a newborn, you're going to make sure all your T's are crossed.
"According to some child experts, it's not traumatic to take away a child when it's that young. The rub comes later," Sandoval continued. "What happens is the case keeps getting delayed. Meanwhile, the baby is attaching to another person, and as time goes by, the judge becomes more reluctant to break that attachment."
Opponents charge that child safety will be compromised if the bill passes, but amendments were added to the bill to allow authorities to immediately seize babies if they're in danger or if they show signs of withdrawal due to the mother's drug use.
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Another bill that would ensure additional parental rights may make its way to the legislature next year. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, "In the decades since 1960, out-of-wedlock births have increased dramatically. While much research on childbearing trends and the characteristics of unwed mothers exists, very little is known about putative fathers, the alleged or reputed father of a child born out of wedlock. However, there is an expanding population of putative fathers who wish to play a role in their children's upbringing. Consequently, their legal rights have become increasingly important." Oftentimes, when a woman decides to relinquish a child for adoption, the man has no idea that he even fathered a baby.
Last summer and fall, Colorado lawmakers, adoption agency representatives, human- services officials, attorneys and other child advocates met to discuss the creation of a putative-fathers registry. Registries have already been created in 22 states, giving such fathers a chance to be notified when a baby that might be theirs is born so that they can contest the adoption if they want to. Right now, putative fathers in Colorado only learn that their baby is up for adoption -- and that their parental rights are about to be terminated -- if they read a public notice about it in the newspaper. "Ours was a loose proposal where, as soon as you have sex with someone, you can sign up to be notified if a baby results from it," says Adoree Blair, public-policy chair for the Colorado State Foster Parent Association.
Registries could be available at human-services offices, health departments and hospitals, where prospective fathers would provide their contact information, the name and birth date of the prospective mother, and the date that a baby might be due. Blair would like fathers to be notified when their babies are either put up for private adoption or placed in foster care.
"Our last meeting in December was contentious," she recalls. "The people who were against it were angry that if a dad didn't show up, we were assuming he'd never come forward, and that to terminate his parental rights wasn't fair." Members of the group weren't able to resolve their differences or work out the details, so they put it off until next year. "I'm coming at this not from a fathers'-rights perspective but from a babies'-rights perspective," Blair explains. "We shouldn't give babies to strangers if there's a willing dad in the picture."