Last Thursday, the Minnesota House passed the Family Reunification Act of 2013. The Act establishes a process to restore a parent-child relationship between a child who is at least 15 years of age and a parent whose parental rights were previously terminated. The bill, with bipartisan support, awaits signature by Governor Dayton.
Here are the key provisions of the Act:
- Only a county attorney may file a petition to reestablish the parent-child relationship;
- Relief may be granted if the following is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence:
- The county attorney and social services agree that reunification serves the best interest of the child;
- The parent has corrected the condition leading to termination;
- The parent is able to provide for the child's day to day needs;
- The child has been in foster care for at least 36 months following termination;
- The child is at least 15 years old; and
- The child has not been (or soon will be) adopted.
- No petition may be brought if a parent whose rights were terminated is found to have sexually abused a child, inflicted "egregious harm" upon a child, or caused the death of a child.
- The parent does not have the right to appointed counsel as part of the reunification proceeding.
Although a relatively small number of children are likely to fit the criteria found within the Act, the bill certainly provides a meaningful second chance for parents who have turned things around.
Like so many, I endorse the Act. I question, however, the need for a mandatory three year gap between the time of termination and the option for a petition for reunification. If only a county attorney may petition, and agreement among the county attorney and social services is required in order to bring a petition, it seems the county attorney can serve as gatekeeper.