Technical Details of AB370 Explained:
In independent adoptions, a parent who consents to an adoption signs a form placing the child for adoption and this form indicates their consent to the adoption. The form is called an "Independent Adoption Placement Agreement." Not all parents get to sign this form (unmarried fathers, notably, are usually left out of the picture), but that's a completely separate issue. If the parents are married, usually both will have to sign the consent form.
Once the consent to adoption is given, the parent has 30 days in California to consider their decision and if they change their mind they are supposed to be able to get their child back. This makes would-be adoptive parents nervous, wondering if the birth parent is going to "take their child back." What may be viewed as a triumph for the child - the preservation of its family - is viewed as a tragedy for would-be adoptive parents.
To combat their worries, adoption attorneys created the "Waiver of Right to Revoke Consent." If a birth parent who has consented to adoption signs this waiver, then the consent form they signed becomes permanently and immediately irrevocable. They no longer have the right to change their mind in 30 days. Existing law requires, that the signing of the waiver be witnessed by a worker for the State Department of Health and Human Services. If someone from DHHS is not available, then it can be signed in front of a judge.
Why would a birth parent sign a waiver?
No attorney who has the birth parent's interest at heart would advise a birth parent to sign the waiver. It is completely unnecessary, since the consent becomes permanent in 30 days anyway. It is only detrimental to the rights of the birth parent.
Birth parents do voluntarily sign the waiver, under pressure to make the adoptive parents feel secure. They are told that it would hurt the adoptive parents' trust in them if they don't sign. Or that they will feel closure knowing that their decision is final. This, of course, is all ridiculous. But most birth parents do not have their own attorney, and are advised against accepting the only protection the state of California offers them (and their child).
Adoptive parents, their attorneys, agencies and facilitators generally try to get the birth parent to sign the waiver as soon as they can to shorten the 30 day period. This happens as soon as a representative from the State Department of Health and Human Services can be available to witness the signature. Most adoption "professionals" consider this to be a nuisance and are agitated by the delay in getting the waiver signed and securing an adoption for their paying clients. This is why they want to change who can witness the signature in AB370.
California law defines what an Adoption Service Provider is in Family Code Section 8502. Basically it is an adoption agency or licensed social worker that has been designated by the state to have met various requirements including licensing and experience in adoptions. These Adoption Service Providers (or ASP, as they are called) have the authority to witness the signing of consent forms for independent adoptions. Although they are not usually attorneys, they are charged with the responsibility of advising the birth parent of their legal rights before signing them away.
ASPs are generally referred by attorneys, adoption agencies, or facilitators in independent adoptions to advise the birth parent and witness the signing of the consent. For this they are paid up to $500 by the adoptive parents. This poses an inherent conflict of interest. If an ASP develops a reputation for dissuading parents from choosing adoption, they stop receiving referrals. Other ASPs on the state's list will be called. On the other hand, ASPs who deliver signed consent forms get a nice stream of extra income for just a few hours' work.
What is the impact of AB370?
First, AB370 makes it so that the ASP can witness the signing of a waiver form. This eliminates the protection of having an independent third party witness the signing of that form. It puts someone who has a direct financial interest in the outcome in charge of getting the form signed. The conflict of interest is ridiculous and should be stopped.
Second, it calls for the signing of the waiver at the same time as the signing of the consent. This not only shortens the 30 day period which a birth parent has to revoke the consent... it circumvents it altogether. There is too great a risk that a birth parent will sign the waiver without understanding that they are not required to sign the waiver, and it is not a part of the paperwork being presented to them for the consent.