OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES ‑- ADOPTION ‑- CHILDREN ‑- PREPARATION OF NEXT FRIEND AND PREPLACEMENT REPORTS BY DEPARTMENT
Discussion of the circumstances under which the department of social and health services is either required or authorized to provide next friend and preplacement reports in connection with proceedings for adoption of child; authority of the department to charge a fee for such services.
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April 26, 1977
Honorable E. R. Whitmore, Jr.
P.O. Box 1622
Wenatchee, Washington 98801 Cite as: AGLO 1977 No. 18
By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion from this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:
(1) Under what circumstances is the state department of social and health services legally required to provide "next friend" and preplacement reports in connection with proceedings for the adoption of a child under chapter 26.32 RCW?
(2) When and if it prepares such reports, is the department of social and health services legally authorized to charge a fee for that service?
We answer the foregoing questions in the manner set forth in our analysis.
The first statute to be noted in connection with your questions is RCW 26.32.090. That statute provides, in material part, as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"Upon the filing of a petition for adoption, the court shall cause an investigation of the propriety of the adoption to be made. The court shall appoint an approved agency or any qualified salaried court employee or any other suitable and proper person as next friend of the child to make such investigation. The investigation shall be made without expense to the petitioners. . . . Any preplacement report on the petitioner required by this chapter to be filed with the court shall be made available to the next friend; the next friend may in his discretion rely on its contents and adopt its recommendations and may incorporate the same in the report of the next friend.
". . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
RCW 26.32.210, in turn, provides, in part, that:
"(1) No petition for the adoption of a minor shall be granted unless a preplacement report and petitioner's sworn statement that he has caused to be filed all reports known to him on preplacement studies made of petitioner are on file with the court except as provided in RCW 26.32.270(2)."
The contents of a preplacement report are then prescribed by RCW 26.32.220 as follows:
"(1) The preplacement report shall consist of a written report to the court setting forth all relevant information relating to the fitness of the petitioner as a prospective adoptive parent. The preplacement report shall be based upon a study which shall include an investigation of the home environment, family life, health, facilities, and resources of petitioner. The preplacement report shall provide the court with such other information as may be relevant to the placement of a child in the petitioner's home. The preplacement report shall include a list of the sources of information upon which the report is based. The preplacement report shall include a recommendation to the court [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] as to the fitness of the petitioner as a prospective adoptive parent and as to whether it would be in the best interest of a child to be placed in the home of the petitioner. The recommendation shall be advisory to the court. The preplacement report shall be dated and verified.
"(2) A single preplacement report may be filed for a husband and wife who join as petitioners in an adoption proceeding."
Finally, note must be made of relevant portions of RCW 26.32.230, which read as follows:
"(1) The preplacement study shall be conducted by an agency or a qualified salaried court employee.
"(2) An agency may charge the petitioner a fee for the preparation of a preplacement study and report. The fee may be waived or reduced in the discretion of the agency if a waiver or reduction is warranted by the financial condition of the petitioner. The court shall set a reasonable fee to be paid by petitioner where the study is conducted by a court employee, which fee may be likewise waived or reduced. All fees charged pursuant to this section shall be reasonable and based on time spent conducting the study and preparing the report, and in addition, shall be subject to review by the court upon request.
". . ."
Your first question inquires as to the circumstances under which the state department of social and health services may legally be required to prepare either of the foregoing two types of reports in connection with adoption proceedings.
Insofar as the "next friend" report is concerned, we repeat so much of RCW 26.32.090,supra, as provides that:
". . . The court shall appoint an approved agency or any qualified salaried court employee or any other suitable and proper person as next friend of the child to make such investigation. . . ."
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
The term "approved agency" is specifically defined in RCW 26.32.010 to mean:
". . . any public or private association, corporation or individual who has custody of a minor child with lawful authority to place such child for adoption."
Accordingly it follows that the department of social and health services will only constitute an "approved agency," within the meaning of RCW 26.32.090, in those instances in which the child involved is then in the custody of the department itself. Given that circumstance, and given the further entry of a court order appointing the department as next friend, the department will obviously comply.1/
Conversely, however a review of the foregoing statutes lead us to conclude that the department of social and health services, although clearly authorized to do so, is in no case legally required to prepare a preplacement report in connection with adoption proceedings. Unquestionably, the department is an "agency" within the meaning of RCW 26.32.230,supra, by reason of the express definition of that term appearing in RCW 26.32.200(4); i.e.,
"'Agency' means a licensed child-placing agency as provided in chapter 74.15 RCW or the state department of social and health services;"
Thus, the departmentmay prepare a preplacement report whenever it is requested to do so by the petitioner in the adoption proceedings. But neither that statute nor any other law would appear to us to require the department to prepare such report.
[[Orig. Op. Page 5]]
The question of fees in connection with the foregoing two types of reports is readily answerable. First, insofar as a "next friend" report is concerned, RCW 26.32.090, supra, expressly provides that:
". . . The investigation shall be made without expense to the petitioners. . . ."
Accordingly, no fee may be charged by the department of social and health services for the preparation of a "next friend" report. Conversely, however, in those instances in which the department prepares a preplacement report under RCW 26.32.210-26.32.230, supra, it may charge a fee pursuant to the express authorization contained in subsection (2) of the latter statute; i.e.,
"(2) An agency may charge the petitioner a fee for the preparation of a preplacement study and report. The fee may be waived or reduced in the discretion of the agency if a waiver or reduction is warranted by the financial condition of the petitioner. . . ."
We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
WALTER E. WHITE
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/WAC 388-70-410, 388-70-420, 388-70-430, and 388-70-440 describe the policy of the department regarding both next friend and preplacement reports. It is our understanding of these regulations that it is not the policy of the department to contest an order appointing it "next friend," even in those situations in which the department is not directly involved with the adoption services. It would comply to the fullest extent possible with such an order if the court had concluded that no other community resources were available.