Calls for overhaul of adoption laws

Hamilton foster parents have called for an overhaul of adoption laws, saying birth parents who repeatedly abuse their children should lose their rights, in the way that boy racers lose their cars.

Wiremu and Sunny Bayliss have given a young girl a safe "home for life", but are frustrated they can't make many decisions without consulting her birth mother, who is transient and only sees her daughter twice a year.

They need the mother's permission each time the girl needs major medical treatment, changes schools or the family move. Even minor events like a haircut can be challenged in court, they say.

They have been told adoption would be almost impossible under the current law because the birth mother has refused consent, so they have gathered more than 1000 signatures on a petition to change the law.

The couple, both teachers, want the courts to grant full parental rights to those who provide long-term, non-family, day-to-day care for children who have been previously subjected to repeated abuse and neglect, including the power to award such caregivers the ability to adopt those children in extreme circumstances.

Appearing before Parliament's social services committee via Skype, Mr Bayliss said a wider review of adoption laws was needed.

It was not their intent to remove any connection between a child and their birth family, but hard decisions needed to be made, he said.

"Regardless of how badly we abuse or beat or neglect our kids, at no point, ever, in our law is there consideration for the full and final termination of parental rights.

"And while that is rough and tough, it's actually an option we need to start looking at because then it actually sets that bar - you do this again, you lose your kid. We do it with cars, why don't we do it with kids."

Under "home for life" status, foster parents are legal guardians, usually with the birth parents. Adoptive parents are sole legal guardians. Mr Bayliss said he believed Child, Youth and Family were steering potential adoptive parents towards home for life status.

National MP Jono Naylor, who worked at Child, Youth and Family for a short time in the past, said he remembered that the difficulties associated with home for life status, including consulting birth parents, meant it could be difficult to get people to agree to take children on.

Mrs Bayliss said they were required to consult with the birth parents and all major decisions involving their daughter.

"That can range from education, religion, where the child lives, where we can look for jobs within New Zealand or internationally. Haircuts apparently are an issue that we can be taken to court for - if we get [the child] a haircut that the birth parents don't like."

Those requirements assumed that the birth parents were able make decisions in the best interests of the child, but that "our child's biological parents cannot functionally work for her best interests".

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has previously responded to the petition by saying a looming law change would help deal with its concerns.

The Vulnerable Children Bill created a new "special guardianship" order by which a Family Court judge will be able to share rights between guardians, from July this year. That could in effect allow the rights of birth parents to be reduced or removed, in some circumstances.

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