Married couples would get a leg-up over any single person in adopting a child under the terms of legislation given preliminary Senate approval on Wednesday. Existing law says that any Arizona resident "whether married, unmarried or legally separated is eligible to qualify to adopt children.'' SB 1188 adds new language spelling out that the Department of Economic Security and private adoption agencies must to choose a new family who "best meets the child's needs by considering all relevant factors.'' But the change, in defining who can best meet those needs, says preference must be given to placing the child with a married couple "if all other relevant factors demonstrate that placement with that married man and woman is in the child's best interests.'' Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, said her measure, in essence, is designed to say that, everything else being equal, a married couple is a better placement.
Gray said the legislation does not preclude single people from adopting. She said that there are circumstances where placing a child with an individual versus a couple may meet the definition best meeting that child's needs. For example, she said, the youngster may have already been in foster care with a single person. Gray said it might make sense to let that person adopt rather than uproot the child. But Gray told Capitol Media Services the Legislature needs to provide specific direction giving preference to married couples rather than leaving the more general requirement to act in the child's best interests.
"There may be a married couple available and there may be a single that wants the child,'' she said. Gray said there was a recent situation where a child was taken out of a married couple's foster home in an effort to reunify the youngster and the parents. That did not work out. "When the child came back to Child Protective Services, because the parent's aren't good, a CPS employee took the child and gave it to a single person,'' Gray said. "That couple wanted to adopt the child,'' she continued. "They had a relationship with it.''
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the only issue that should be considered is the child's best interests. Sinema said she believes the measure will actually result in situations where DES and adoption agencies are forced to reject what might be a better situation with a single parent. "A pediatric nurse who is a single woman is often the best option for a child who had a congenital heart defect, or a child born with a severe physical deformity,'' she said. Sinema said that language about giving "primary consideration'' to a married couple could override those other issues. Gray disagreed, saying those who make the decisions on who gets a child will still have broad latitude to conclude that other factors override placement with a married couple.
Sinema was not convinced, saying that the new requirement will only further delay getting children into permanent homes. "There are thousands of children who are waiting to find a forever home,'' she said. "This legislation makes it more difficult for those children to find a forever loving home.''