SD15 - Study of Adoption Laws

Executive Summary:
Pursuant to SJR 366, the Commission on Youth undertook the study of the Commonwealth's adoption laws to determine whether the laws could be rewritten and/or reorganized in such a way as to give clearer and more consistent guidance in adoption procedures. Many patties become involved in the adoption process, which entails both the severing of parental rights and then the establishment of parental rights through a new legal relationship. The courts in Virginia have held that there is no common law basis for adoption and therefore a strict adherence to the statutory procedures is essential. (*1) Given the importance of statutory construction in the adoption process, the study was designed to improve the usability of these statutes.

The findings of the study are based on several different methodologies. Information gathered through telephone surveys of adoption specialists, (social workers, attorneys, adoptive parents, birth parents, adoptees) provided the basis for the identification of key study issues. Each of these constituent groups was represented on a study Workgroup convened to provide input and expertise to the commission. Staff attorneys from the Division of Legislative Services also participated in the Workgroup and drafted proposed legislation. Commission staff designed and disseminated surveys to all 32 of Virginia's licensed child placing agencies in order to gather feedback. Finally, as part of its review of the Adoption Assistance Program, Commission staff analyzed data provided by the Department of Social Services and received feedback on proposed policy changes from several directors of local departments of social services.

There is consensus among members of the adoption community that the statutory framework of Virginia's adoption laws is lengthy, complex and confusing. Adoption reform efforts in Virginia over the last decade have led to multiple changes to the Code. Selected sections and subsections should be reorganized to read more clearly. Language in some sections is ambiguous and needs clarification. The Adoption Assistance Program, which provides money and/or services to adoptive parents of children with special needs, is not implemented consistently throughout Virginia. Additional statutory and policy guidance is needed in order to ensure that the program meets its stated goals.
(*1) Virginia CLE. "Adoption Procedures and Forms: A Guide for Virginia Lawyers," 1998.