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November 2009Vol. 10, No. 9Judges' Thoughts About Termination of Parental Rights

Some judicial and child welfare professionals have raised concerns that the shortened timeframes for termination of parental rights (TPR) mandated by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) have, in some cases, led to the creation of "legal orphans," that is, children who no longer have legal ties to their birth families, yet have no adoptive families. To address these concerns, Child Trends sponsored a study in which telephone interviews were conducted with a sample of 20 judges representing 18 States. In the interviews, the judges shared their perspectives and experiences with TPR and the challenges they face when making TPR decisions.

The findings suggest that some judges are concerned with creating legal orphans, and the absence of an identified adoptive family for a child does make some judges apprehensive about terminating parental rights. Other concerns included the opposition to adoption by some older children, the objection by some potential adoptive parents to take on the care of a child whose birth parents' rights were still intact, and the potential loss of ties between the child and birth family. Some judges noted that recent changes in case practice have provided the opportunity to make better, less divisive decisions.

The Timing of Termination of Parental Rights: A Balancing Act for Children's Best Interests, by Raquel Ellis, Karen Malm, and Erin Bishop, is available on the Child Trends website. (378 KB)