The Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau completed the initial round of 52 Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) in March 2004. Among the most notable findings is that no State achieved substantial conformity on the outcome that evaluates the timely achievement of permanency goals for children in foster care. On the performance indicator that addresses the establishment of appropriate permanency goals (Item 7) only 5 States performed satisfactorily.
The CFSRs found that long-term foster care or Alternative Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) are being over-used as plans for youth and large sibling groups which contain youth due to the youth’s interest in maintaining some level of contact with the birth family.
Assumptions are frequently made that adoption precludes continuing contact with the birth family whether it be parents or siblings. In the 35 States reviewed in the CFSR between 2002-2004, while the goal of reunification was the single goal most commonly recorded for youth in FC age 13 and older (39 percent), the combined goals of emancipation and long-term foster care represented 46 percent of the permanency goals for this age group. This suggests that the plan for nearly half the children reviewed, who were aged 13 and older, was for them to remain in foster care.
The long-term implications of adoption versus APPLA are not being sufficiently explored with youth so they can be involved in an informed, decision-making process about future plans for their life. Additionally, some child welfare professionals and court personnel think that finding an adoptive home for youth is simply too difficult. Therefore, these youth, and sometimes their siblings, age out of foster care without a family they can turn to once discharged from the foster care system.
Assumptions are frequently made that impact positive permanency outcomes for youth. Barriers exist because caseworkers, attorneys and judges believe that youth don’t want to be adopted, that no one is interested in adopting them, and that adoptive placements of teens are unsuccessful. These barriers are reflected in the data reported in the Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System (AFCARS). The percent of children who are placed for adoption dramatically decreases as the child ages.At the end of FY 2000, children nine and older with termination of parental rights had been waiting to be adopted three times longer than children under the age of nine.
Preliminary analyses show that although children nine and older constitute 50 percent of the children in foster care, they are only 37 percent of the waiting population, (includes most children with a goal of adoption with or without a termination of parental rights), 39 percent of the children with termination of parental rights, but only 24 percent of the adoptions. Additional barriers to permanency include inappropriate placements, poorly selected and improperly trained foster parents, and caseworkers failing to address permanency issues early and often in their work with youth. Placements in group home settings often limit contact with a broad range of caring adults with whom the youth could establish and maintain a permanent lifelong connection.
These grants were funded because there was a need to design models of open adoption to facilitate permanency for youth in foster care over age 12 (or State’s age of consent). It is not unusual for youth to have reasons to prefer a continuing attachment to parents even though it is not safe for them to live with their own family. For example, a youth may worry about other siblings still in the home or parents challenged with lower level cognitive skills.
Open adoption can also be a model to allow siblings to have contact with each other after they’re adopted by separate families. Models which support youth in processing the implications of adoption and open adoption versus APPLA, while helping youth to address their emotional/mental health issues, either through individual counseling, or youth group adoption counseling needed to be demonstrated and evaluated.
Preparation of pre-adoptive families is required to help them be aware of the issues implicit in open adoptions such as supporting the youth in relating to and understanding their birth family and managing contact, safety, supervision and guidelines for contact with family members. Projects under this funding announcement were expected to identify, provide and evaluate the services that are required to help these families (e.g., foster families, relatives or other individuals who have already or have not yet developed other connections with the youth) successfully address these issues.
Effective models that empower and support youth in achieving permanency must be multidimensional. These include recruiting and training appropriate foster and adoptive family resources. They also include connecting youth to caring adults. This can be done through a broad outreach. Outreach can include mentoring and building connections with extended family, strategies to effectively address the emotional/mental health issues of youth including grief and loss. Strategies can also include community connections, family connections, and caseworker and supervisor support in assessing and supporting a range of permanency options early and often in their work with youth.
The grants funded under this priority demonstrate a varied mix of strategies to maximize youth empowerment and to locate and educate important adults in the lives of youth, including caseworkers, relatives, foster parents, mentors and court personnel, about the importance of long term intimate connections for every youth in foster care.
For more information about these demonstration projects, please contact:
Administration for Children and Families