Monday, June 01, 2009

"Permanent" Foster Care

My post that caused Yondalla to have a mini-rant was written very hastily and thus I need to return to the topic and explain myself further.

If you are aware of the law, every child in foster care is to be assigned one of three plans: reunification, termination of parental rights leading to adoption, and permanent foster care. Of course, I speak in generalities, but in many cases the legal classification "permanent foster care" leaves children remaining legal orphans until they age out of the system when they turn 18.

The thing that every kid needs is one person, whoever that might be, that is committed to them for life. This often happens in an adoption situation... sometimes it does not and disruptions and dissolutions occur. And sometimes it happens when a child is in foster care and the foster parents make that kind of commitment, even though it is not asked or required of them.

The happy ending stories are ones who have had "permanent" foster parents who are willing to make a permanent commitment to them. They are the ones who end up in foster homes with a parent or parents who are involved in their lives long after the checks stop coming. But in a great deal of these situations, children who have begun to attach to foster parents have a rude awakening when they come to that magical age -- whether it is 18, high school graduation, 19, or 21, depending on the state -- and all the sudden the foster parents who in their hearts have become parents to them and done having contact with them. It is my hope that this happens seldom.

When I was quickly bashing "permanent foster care" I was certainly not talking about those people who are doing this kind of care -- but I was talking about the legal situation that lets social workers off the hook in regards to finding them a family. Sometimes the child is as young as 8 or 9 and a judge or social worker determines that they are "unadoptable" and thus they get the Permanent Foster Care status. When this occurs, there is little done to find a permanent parent for the child that will be in their corner for life.

Permanent parents is what these kids need - in whatever form that presents itself. They need to know that there is at least one person in the world that they can always turn to no matter what. I did not mean to suggest that an adoptive parent is the only person who can fulfill that role. It can be a foster parent, a birth relative, a high school coach or mentor -- anyone who is really committed to that child. But legally taking away a child's option to be adopted by assigning them the permanent foster care label prevents them for one of the options.

Last night Leon asked me an interesting question. He said, do you consider my birthsiblings (he said their names) to be your kids? And I said sure. In fact, if they wanted to be adopted by us as adults they could be. These are kids who were assigned permanent foster care status years ago. The court chose not to terminate their parental rights and thus adoption was not a possibility for them. They know they have us because we have told them so, but they could have been legally ours and not separated from their birth siblings. I don't know if they will choose to be part of our lives or the lives of their brothers in the future. Their older sister has a foster mom who has claimed her and will always be her "mom" because of the relationship, regardless of legal status. But their brother may end up with us on holidays... he's planning a military career.

So maybe I have not succeeded in explaining myself... I'd be interested in other's opinions. Maybe I'm opening a can of worms, but what are your opinions?


Kimberly said...

*sound of can of worms opening*

I do not think it is fair for the foster kids to be given the label of permanent foster care. I think that the social workers should work harder on finding them an adoptive home. I also think that people who want to adopt need to open up to the idea of adopting a child from foster care. That child may not be that prefect blond hair, blue eyed baby that you thought you saw in your dreams...but hey are still a child in need of lots of love and care.

Yondalla said...

I suspected this was probably your more considered opinion. I completely agree that social workers too often give up on kids and that too little is offered kids who age out. Here few foster teens seem to know that they have the right to stay in care until they are 19 or graduate from high school (which ever comes first).

and to respond to Kimberly:

Permanent foster care (with genuine commitment to the kids) is appropriate when:
1. there is a good reason why the parents rights will not be terminated, but they still cannot parent. (some cases of incarceration and illness come to mind).

2. teens feel a strong loyalty to their parents and don't want to be adopted. (as in my first boy whose mother died when he was 14).

3. Kids who have experienced dissolution or even disruption and have asked not to be put in that situation again.

I feel strongly that the preferences of teens should be honored. Pushing them into adoption when they are not emotionally ready can be abusive. They deserve to be safe and even loved without having to make a commitment to a family. I know that a lot of teens want to be adopted, but some don't. I happen to see those teens because of the program that I work in. It is particularly for kids for whom adoption and reunification are not good choices, and they have to want to get in.

I agree that identifying a pre-teen child as "unadoptable" is inappropriate.

Kimberly said...

I know there are reasons for older teens not to be adopted as you pointed out. I agree with those reasons and do not think that children should be forced into adoption. At the same time, kids should be given every opportunity for a forever family. Telling a child that at the age of 18, they are now an adult..go forth and take care of yourself is not good.
I don't know if I could do permanent foster care. There are so many things I want to do with my children, and having to ask permission for everything through out their whole life would be hard.

Yondalla said...

Sounds like we agree if we just take the time to get the details out.

My agency is really supportive. I've never had to do more than tell the social worker when we are going out of state in order to do it, for instance. They of course are far better than most. I would go crazy trying to do this sort of care with the state directly.

I am thinking by "whole life" you probably meant "whole childhood." My oldest kids are in their twenties and I don't have to ask anyone's permission to buy them a ticket home for holidays!

Cindy said...

Well, I'm giong to respond from the other side of the can. All kids deserve an adult commitment - I didn't quote it just right. While that may be true the families do not always deserve the child. Labeled as unadoptable at an early age. IMHO it can be appropriate - sometimes.

I'm not asking for pity so don't even go there. But what about the cute little kid who tries to kill you at age 8?
What about the cute little kid that tries FOUR times to burn your house down?

What about the cute little kid who is perping on your younger children?

What about the cute little kid who has had 5 psych admissions, 4 Level III Residential placements and is now in the 5th Therapeutic home. Oh yeh, this home is run by the most highly trained RAD mom in the state, has years of experience under her belt, does RAD training for other therapeutic parents, is a therapist herself and is begging that the kid be moved because she just can't take it anymore?

Those who commit to these particular kids get hurt. Yeh, maybe they deserve the commitment but won't accept it. These are way more than "Oh they're just not Gerber babies". These children should not be adopted. They should never have the opportunity to gain access to a family who will be hurt, sometimes ripped apart, ruin the lives of their siblings and their parents' previously good reputations with wildly false allegations.

And much as I hate to say it, sometimes being deemed "unadoptable" adn permanent foster care nade the option gets the child the services they need which simply may not be available with adoptive parents for one reason or another. Is that right? Of curse it's not right, but it's also true. If you doubt that, dig around in the older child/foster child adoption blogs and watch the movie "Esther" happen right in front of your eyes. Watch while well intentioned families lose it all trying to help one child. Or ask me what it feels like to be dying and leave ten kids, the youngest only five largely thanks to the level of stress I've lived in trying to prove that unadoptable kids really aren't.

I don't mean to rant at you in any way. You asked for oprinions and this is unfortunately mine.

In His peace - Cindy
MoM(Mom of Many)

Kimberly said...

I have taken foster kids out of state one time. In order to do that I had to notify licensing, and the children's social worker. We were going to visit my mother who lives in her own home alone in the next state over. It was approved because my mother had already completed the background/fingerprint clearance. If she had not, I think it would have been denied.
I also had to wait for the social worker to print and get signed a whole packet of paperwork 'because the kids were going out of the state.'
Yes, whole childhood. I don't think the agency cares what one adult does for another once they are past 18.

Kimberly said...

OMG Cindy!
ok..I guess there are cases where a child given the unadoptable title is a good one.
For me, I am dealing with the low level kids. Kids who are able to be part of a family and want to be here. I know my limits, and a child who has that many needs, well I know I am unable to make that commitment to them.