Parents have the right to choose the religion of their child, place the child in public or private schools (or home school), select health care providers and make a myriad of decisions affecting a child's life. Parents do not have the right to abuse a child, and if state social service officials believe parents are abusing their children physically or sexually or are neglecting the children or have abandoned them, state workers have the right to remove the children from the home and place them in foster care or institutional care.
Parents may voluntarily choose to place their children for adoption. This involves a formal termination of rights. Adoption author and expert Marietta Spencer sees this process as a "transfer" of parental rights, rather than a "surrendering" or "giving away" of a child. What the parent is relinquishing or giving up is parental rights to the child, not the child her- or himself.
States also have the right to terminate parental rights, although rights are usually only involuntarily terminated in the most extreme cases. (For a detailed discussion of voluntary and involuntary ending of rights see TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS.)
In most cases, if a biological parent expresses a desire to retain parental rights and appears willing and able to work toward correcting the condition which led to the child's removal, then parental rights will not be terminated.
Parents have the right to appeal when a child is removed from the home if they feel the charges of abuse or neglect were unfair; however, there are often periods of weeks or even months before a court will decide whether or not to return the child home.
If the state social services department decides to initiate action to terminate parental rights, then the parent may appeal these actions as well. If the court does terminate parental rights, the parent has no further recourse (presuming all appeals are exhausted.)
Most children needing adoptive families under the control and authority of the state social services system are over age eight, even if they entered foster care three or four years earlier, because few states comply with federal laws requiring action be taken on a child's case 18 months after entry into foster care.
Part of the problem is the difficulty in preparing a case for court to terminate parental rights, and another part of the problem is many caseworkers and/or judges who are extremely hesitant to terminate parental rights, even in the face of extreme cruelty or obvious parental abuse or neglect.
Find more information on parental rights
©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
To see local Adoption resources, please select a location (U.S. only):
Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.