Adoption from foster care can be a complicated process with many moving pieces, parts and people. It includes children, adults, social workers, judges, guardian ad litem, courts, birth parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents. Already in her short life, 2-year-old ‘Baby Liberty’ has experienced all of these.
In 2016, News4 investigation was contacted by Liberty’s aunt and uncle, Keenan and Ginger Phillips concerning the placement of their niece. Liberty, at 15 months old, had been removed from their home after being with them for almost a year. She was placed in the home of another family member and they reported to News4 that this family member had a criminal record and an outstanding warrant.
According to the local News4 article, the investigation found that the home study for this family member had not included a background fingerprint check. That background check would have revealed the outstanding warrant. The news investigation team was also able to find the warrant using a public online database for their state. It was said that the home study would not have been approved with this missing piece of information.
Liberty’s birth parents had surrendered their parental rights, but wanted a say on where Liberty would be placed, which was within their rights. Even though Liberty had been placed with the aunt and the uncle, they now wanted her placed with a family member of the birth father.
State Representative Gayle Harrell is the chair of the Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee in Florida. She stated that this case has started a push for social services to have more private investigators, so information, such as the warrant, does not go overlooked in future cases.
This case also led to the enactment of Florida’s Child’s Best Hope Law. Before this law, if a parent surrendered their rights they could decide who the child would be placed with if that family passed a home study. Now, because of this new law, the child’s best interest will become a bigger factor when determining placement.
Happily, Liberty is now officially adopted and back with Keenan and Ginger after a year apart. Ginger stated, “We expected it to take a while to warm back up to us. It had been almost a year, but it fell right back into place.”
This was a case that acted as a catalyst for change in foster care and adoption across the country.