An adoption may become contested when a birth parent is not willing to consent to the adoption or seeks to obtain custody of the child or visitation with the child. Often these cases occur when a child has been removed from the parents by Child Protective Services for abuse or neglect. When this happens, the child is placed with a foster family. It is a common practice for Departments of Social services to require foster families to indicate that they are willing to adopt if the child becomes available for adoption. The purpose of this policy is to minimize moving the child from one home to another.
Virginia law requires birth parents who have had a child removed from their home to correct the issues which led to the removal within 12 months of the date of the removal. DSS creates a Foster Care Service Plan which lays out the services which will be provided to the famiy to assist them in correcting the issues so that the child may be returned home. The goal of returning the child to his or her parents is always the intent of the law whenever it can be accomplished.
But it is not unusual for the birth parents to fail to correct the issues which led to the removal. When this happens, at some point shortly after the 12 month period has run, the Department will have to seriously consider filing a Petition with the Court seeking to terminate parental rights so that the child may be adopted.
The reason behind the 12 month period is the simple fact that a child will form a bond, or attachment, to his or her primary caregivers. This is a normal part of human development. Most parents will readily recognize that the healthy and happy development of a child is rooted in security. If the child feels safe, loved and cared for, he or she will be free to explore, learn and develop. On the other hand, if a child does not form a healthy attachment because he or she is moved from one set of caregivers to another, or if the caregivers do not possess the skills necessary to provide what the child needs, then the harm to the child may be nothing less than profound.
A comparative analysis of the bonding and attachment of a child to birth parents or foster parents may be a critical part of the evidence in a Termination of Parental Rights or Contested Adoption proceeding. This evidence is necessary for the Court to determine what is in the best interests of the child, which is one of the important considerations which the law requires the Court to make.
In recent years, bonding and attachment has become an important field of study within the larger field of psychology, and there are clinical psychologists who have acquired this expertise and made themselves available to perform attachment studies and offer expert testimony to the Court. The services of one of these professionals is essential in these types of trials.