New Adoption Law Debated

Tyquan Dean loves his new room, and his new mom. "She's nice enough to let me have my fish in my room, she's nice enough to buy this bed for me, she's nice enough to buy everything for me," he says.

Reggie and Gwen Dean adopted Tyquan last year. After a year as his foster parents, they knew they wanted him to be part of their family. "At first sight, his eyes lit up like little light bulbs, with the biggest little smile on his face," Gwen Dean says. "Just seeing that, I'm going to tell you there's no feeling like it."

A bill signed two years ago by President Clinton has attempted to spread that feeling around, putting strict limits on the amount of time a child can spend in foster care, reports CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.

In New Jersey, that means that after one year, a decision must be made to return foster children to their biological parents or put them up for adoption. Family reunification is no longer the priority.

"You don't have limitless time -- you, the parent -- or endless chances to get your act together," says Michele Guhl, Commissioner of the New Jersey State Department of Human Services. "Kids have rights, too, and we have to be sensitive to them losing their childhoods."

Eleven months ago, the Deans were asked to give another foster child a home. This time, it was a baby boy, whose identity is protected by confidentiality laws. The Deans hope to also adopt him, but it has not happened yet and there are no guarantees. "He's clinging to us," Gwen Dean says. "He knows us as mommy and daddy. He's attached to us, and I think it's frustrating, because he doesn't understand."

Jackie is a parent who understands what's at stake. Like most parents who have had their children taken away, she suffered from substance abuse. Her second baby tested positive for drugs and alcohol at birth. "It broke my heart that my children had to be removed from me because of how I was living and what I was doing," she says.

Jackie is now drug-free and back with her kids. She believes parents who are addicts need treatment, not time limits. "They seem very insensitive and uncaring when dealing with people with drug and alcohol problems," she says. "I really don't think they have any idea of what they're dealing with. I think they look on it as a moral issue and not as a disease."

There is already a severe shortage of foster and adoptive parents, leading to fears that with stricter laws will come an influx of children into an already overburdened system.

"What is going to happen to all these children who face losing their biological families and end up with no place to go?" asks Nancy Goldhill of Legal Services of New Jersey. "Will children really be served if they end up without families?"

The new law does say that a reasonable effort must be made to reunite families. However, time is now on the side of kids, and every parent knows he clock is ticking. "My children mean the world to me, and I'm going to make sure they get what they need," Jackie says. "You know, we may not have a lot of things that we want, but we have what we need."

Although Reggie Dean is happy with his role as an adoptive parent, he agrees. "I think it is still important that we cannot lose sight of the fact of the importance of children actually being with their parents, if it is at all possible," he says. "Just as we sit here and say how painful it would be for them to tear him out of here, we have to realize, too, it could be just as painful to be torn away from someone else."

The National Council for Adoption predicts that by the end of the legislative year, every state will have made changes in its adoption laws.

Reported By Russ Mitchell