Law Changes Child Placement in Arizona

Arizona family lawThe state of Arizona will soon change how it handles drug-exposed infants and toddlers. Under Arizona Senate Bill 1473, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey last month, the state will be given one year to find a permanent housing solution for children under the age of three who have been exposed to drugs.

The bill comes as a significant update to the failed State Senate Bill 1452, which demanded an even shorter deadline and faced significant opposition from various special interest groups. The new law settled many of those concerns and was approved by all but one member of the state legislature.

Effects of Senate Bill 1473

AZCentral reports some of the ways the new law will impact families struggling with drug abuse. The goal of the law is to help children in a highly sensitive and influential period of their lives find a stable home quickly. To that end, SB 1473 reduces the current 24-month goal to a 12-month goal for finding a permanent housing solution for children under three years old. Children who come into state care at age three or older will still fall under the old system.

In addition to the shorter time period, the law grants foster parents more power in court.  The existing law stated that priority for housing would be given, after parents and grandparents, to “kinship care with another member of the child's extended family, including a person who has a significant relationship with the child.” That section has been amended to include the statement that “a foster parent or kinship caregiver with whom a child under three years of age has resided for nine months or more is presumed to be a person who has a significant relationship with the child.” This gives foster parents who have had an infant or toddler for at least nine months much more power in adoption hearings.

SB 1473 also added or changed language throughout the existing law to reflect a singular focus for child placement. Phrases such as “according to the needs of the child” or places where a specific outcome was stated have been replaced with language that prioritizes the “best interests of the child,” and the “best interest” phrasing has been added to places where criteria for certain decisions were listed. This could shift the way placement decisions and adoption hearings are carried out. By altering the balance of legal power and putting the interests of the child first, Arizona has ensured that cases must focus much more on the well-being of children in state care. “Best interest” language may also be open to more interpretation than “needs” language was.

More than ever, parents who need court intervention on the long-term placement of children need help from a family law lawyer experienced with adoption, child custody and parental rights concerns. Contact us today to learn how the new law may impact your case.

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