There are only two truly permanent outcomes for children in temporary care: reunification or adoption. For many reasons, the child suffers in limbo while we allegedly try “to get it right.” By accepting delays as long as two to three years, we are certainly getting it wrong.
Little, however, is likely to change by lecture or by fiat. Systems need to be modified. Here are ten recommendations that may help improve outcomes.
- Preserve the birth family. Improve reunification outcomes by beginning immediately upon removal with an early case plan and insisting on a commitment to specific remedies from the birth parents.
- Train caseworkers and foster parents together. Learn to understand the similarities and differences in roles.
- Change the financial incentives for agencies by rewarding them with some form of bonus for adoption so that long-term foster care can no longer be perceived as a financial loss. Encourage foster/adopt parents to apply for and accept the maximum subsidies available. The subsidy money is for the child.
- Improve professional staff with a focus on permanency outcomes. Reward case managers who monitor weekly and achieve successful outcomes.
- Encourage education about attachment and bonding in psychology and social work programs. Focus on attachment issues with caseworkers.
- Encourage law schools to develop courses and programs about foster and adoption policies and laws.
- Work primarily with and through the parents in therapy rather than the child. Healing of attachment disorders takes place in the home, not in a therapist’s office.
- Consider cooperative adoption. Fear of losing her child may be the only factor holding back a birth mother’s voluntary consent to termination.
- Involve the foster teen in planning his or her own future. Consider the approach of You Gotta Believe and Pat O’Brien.
- Include the voice of foster parents in court. Support legislation and policy strategies to provide a significant voice in conferences and courts for foster parents. They have the most day-to-day knowledge and may care the most and yet they are the only party involved that lacks legal standing.
According to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the child’s needs and rights are paramount. And every child has need for, and right to, a permanent home.
Jim Kenny is a retired psychologist with over 50 years of clinical experience. The author of 13 books on family and child care, Dr. Kenny’s recent books are Attachment and Bonding in the Foster and Adopted Child and What Foster Parents Need to Know.