For Brodie Lytle, a 17-year-old living in transitional housing in Concord, California, he feels lucky that he gets to see and talk to his biological brothers on a regular basis. However, that wasn’t always the case.
“I was split up from my two younger brothers when I was adopted,” Lytle said. “My parents decided to do a closed adoption, so for those first couple of years, my brothers couldn’t even talk to me and I wasn’t able to have any communication with them for about three years.” According to Lytle, it wasn’t until his parents decided to begin the process to adopt his brothers that he was able to connect with them.
Lytle isn’t alone. Approximately 37,891 foster children in California have siblings who are also in the child welfare system: siblings who aren’t always adopted at the same time or by the same family. However, Governor Jerry Brown now has the chance to sign a new piece of state legislation into law that would alleviate the trauma and uncertainty associated with sibling separation within the state’s child welfare system. Senate Bill 1060 (SB1060), which was authored by Senator Mark Leno(D-San Francisco) and sponsored by the California Youth Connection, aims to maintain sibling relationships during the adoption process by strengthening the use of post-adoption contact agreements between prospective adoptive children and their brothers and sisters before any adoptions are finalized.
“Reunification is always a top priority for our foster youth but short of that, adoption is one of the desired outcomes,” Leno said. “But we know that, unfortunately, siblings in foster care are sometimes separated through the adoption process.”
According to Leno, the trauma and separation experience by foster youth can be remedied through maintaining meaningful relationships with siblings. “That’s what this bill does,” he said. “It better facilitates post-adoption contact agreements between siblings and prospective adoptive children.”
The California Youth Connection, a powerful advocate within the state’s child-welfare community, sponsored SB 1060. The organization boasts a long list of legislative accomplishments that impacts California foster youth – including AB 12 – and included direct youth input, such as Lytle’s, when drafting the bill.
If SB 1060 is passed, county placing agencies will be required to convene a meeting between the prospective adoptive child, any siblings, the prospective adoptive parents, and a facilitator – most likely a social worker – to decide whether to voluntarily sign a post-adoption sibling contact agreement. If signed, these agreements would permit contact between a child’s adoptive family and persons with whom the child already has an established relationship (such as the birth family and a foster parent) even after the child’s adoption has been finalized.
Depending on the circumstances, a court can rule that if such an agreement between siblings is deemed to be a threat to the health or safety of the adopted child, a post-adoption contact consensus is not necessary.
Leno is hopeful that Governor Brown will sign SB1060 into law soon, although he didn’t know exactly when the bill would come under the governor’s pen. “We know that we will have a response from him within a couple of weeks,” Leno said. There is no listed opposition to the bill.
Had SB 1060 been around seven years ago, Lytle admitted that things would have been easier for him and his brothers.
“If I’d been able to keep contact with my brothers, it would have kept my morale high,” Lytle said, “and I would have been able to visit them and it wouldn’t have been as stressful for me.” According to Lytle, he had no idea that just a few years down the road, he would all be reunited with his siblings. He felt “lucky” when his adoptive father and stepmother decided to adopt his biological brothers.
According to Lytle, his brothers were getting to the age where it was becoming hard for them to get adopted. “In a last effort to try to get them a home,” Lytle said, “the social worker called my parents that had adopted me. They ended up agreeing to adopt them as well.” Had that not happened, Lytle would not know where his siblings would be today.
When asked what he would say to Governor Jerry Brown regarding SB 1060, if given the chance, Lytle said that he would want the governor to protect the relationships of siblings within the foster system. “This piece of legislation goes so far in life for foster youth,” Lytle said. “We need to keep the communication lines open to give us the chance to have a relationship with our siblings in the future.”
“SB 1060 would give us the chance to have somebody, a sibling, to talk to when we’re down, or when we’re going through hard times.”