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New Adoption Law Will Help Foster Parents and Pregnant Moms

A new state law aims to make adoption easier in the state of Ohio. The legislation makes it easier for foster parents to adopt and could lessen burdens on mothers who choose to give up their babies for adoption.

Ronda Hobbs and her husband, Robert, had their first child 15 years ago. But the couple felt their family was incomplete, and they started trying to have another baby. But Hobbs could not get pregnant again. So the couple decided to become foster parents in hopes of being able to adopt one of them. Six years and ten foster babies later, Hobbs said it happened. They were able to adopt a little boy named Samuel.

"It's been a roller coaster," she said.

Up until now state law has not made the process any easier. Under the old law, foster parents had to wait a year before they could apply to adopt a foster child. The new bill, signed by Governor Ted Strickland earlier this month, cuts that waiting period in half.

Hobbs said the new bill would have been particularly helpful with their second adoption in 2007.

"Our Joseph, his parents just abandoned him. They never came back, never called to even see anything about him. And he should have been able to be adopted at six months," she said.

Columbus adoption attorney Tommy Taneff worked on House Bill 7. The waiting period for foster parents exists to give birth parents and other family members a chance to regain custody of the child. When asked if six months was too soon for a foster family to adopt, Taneff said, no.

"If it was up to most people they'd want the adoption done within a month. They can always ask for more time, and the probate court always has discretion to give more time especially if it's in the best interest of the child. So, I'd rather see the law shrink the amount of time that a child has to wait for permanency, for finality, for a permanent family," Taneff said.

The state also could save some money. As a foster parent to an infant, Hobbs said she received up to $12,000 a year. In theory, the state will save money by allowing foster parents to adopt sooner. But Hobbs underscored it's not about the money, it's about the children.

"The children deserve to start their life as soon as possible. The children are in limbo. A few of the children that we had, they were older, and we would drive them down to visit their parents and they just never would show up. It's devastating to a child when their birth parents do not show up and just walk away from them. And to do that for longer than six months? It's sad," Hobbs said.

The Bill also helps pregnant women who choose adoption for their babies. Old law prohibits birth mothers from receiving any money other than reimbursements for medical and legal expenses. The new bill allows for adopting parents or agencies to pay up to to $3,000 for living expenses during pregnancy and up to six months after birth.

Taneff said because of the old law up to half of local pregnant moms choose out-of-state couples for their child because those states allow for living expense payments.

"We have Ohio couples that want to adopt. And why shouldn't they be allowed to adopt babies from Ohio birth mothers. It makes sense whenever we can keep Ohio birth moms' babies in Ohio for Ohio couples. It just helps everybody all around," he said.

A 22-year-old woman living in Marion was in that very situation five years ago. She asked to be identified only as Kelley for privacy. She was a junior in high school when she got pregnant and chose to put her child up for adoption. But because of the cost of the pregnancy, Kelly said she chose a couple in Texas to adopt her daughter. Texas law lets pregnant birth moms receive payment for living expenses. She said if that had been the case in Ohio her daughter could be living in-state right now.

"I would have greatly reconsidered placing my child in Ohio if I would have gotten help. It would have paid for gas in my car to get to the doctor's appointments or to school. It would've helped for maternity clothes because those aren't cheap and you only wear them for a couple of months," Kelley said.

And for birth mothers who choose an open adoption the bill may make it easier to keep the child in Ohio and easier to stay in touch...something Kelley wishes she could do.

"Placing her in Texas it's kind of difficult because I don't really get to see her. I mean I talk to her parents a lot and they e-mail me, and they send me pictures of her and stuff which is really nice. But it would've been nice for her to be in Ohio I think looking back now, but..."

The bill goes into effect in April.