Changing Expectations

††††††††††††In years past, being a foster parent was simpler and much
easier. It was enough to be a good person and to provide
concerned care for children. What's more, the children in care
were far easier to manage. Children with serious behavior
problems or who didn't adjust easily to foster families were
simply sent to children's homes, group homes, residential
facilities, or institutions.

††††††††††††Within those settings, there was much more tolerance for
behavior and patterns of adjustment that would have been
unacceptable in families. Instead of helping the children deal
with and resolve their problems, they were merely seen as
children who couldn't adjust to family life and who had to have
group or residential care. Typically, the explanation was that
the children had attachment or behavior problems and couldn't
deal with close family relationships.

††††††††††††Even those children placed into care were there
conditionally. If the child had trouble adjusting or the foster
parent had difficulty managing the child, the child was moved.
The child could be 'tried' in another foster home or placed in a
group or institutional setting. Moving children around was just
business as usual.

††††††††††††For far too many children, bouncing from place to place was
how they spent their childhoods. Of course, if they didn't have
significant problems with attachment and close relationships when
this moving around process started, they usually developed them
sooner or later.

††††††††††††In recent years, many of the children who previously would
have gone into residential and institutional care are now in
foster care. Those children who do go into residential treatment
facilities are expected to 'step down' into foster care, once
their behavior and adjustment problems are lessened. The result
is that any child who comes into care is more likely to have
serious behavior and adjustment problems than would have been the
case only a few years ago.

††††††††††††This shift from institutional to foster care has been very
good news for children. Even though they do have behavior and
adjustment problems, these difficulties are viewed differently.
Instead of seeing them as 'conditions' that the children have
which are related to attachment or other disorders, they are seen
as normal and expected. Children can't just be abruptly taken
away from what they have known and put into a strange environment
without some problems adjusting.

††††††††††††Compounding the challenge for foster parents, children
coming into care today are more likely than in past years to have
been affected by unconscionable family and neighborhood violence,
drug abuse, severe poverty, criminal activity, and extreme
parental and family dysfunction. This means that children in care
may be very challenging. Simply being a good person and assuring
a safe home for them will likely, by themselves, not be enough.

††††††††††††Along with the many challenges children in care bring to
you, the expectations for foster families have changed. At the
heart of these changes are changing expectations for public and
private child protection agencies. At local, state, and national
levels, law-makers have become much more critical of what happens
to children once they come into care.

††††††††††††Hundreds of thousands of children remained in out-of-home
care for years after they were separated from their families.
These children drifted in and out of the system. They moved from
foster home to foster home. Many were uprooted from their
neighborhoods, their schools, their families, and their personal
cultures. Yes, some developed and adjusted successfully; but far
too many didn't. The urgent need to improve the life prospects
for these lost children was the main reason why caring foster
parents were no longer enough. It was clear that the children
deserved and had to have more.

From your point of view:

††††††††††††Write your thoughts after each question.

†††††††††What are the effects of family and neighborhood violence,
drug abuse, poverty, criminal activity, and severe parental
and family dysfunction for growing children?

†††††††††What happens to children when they are abruptly uprooted
from their neighborhoods, their schools, their families, and
their personal cultures?

†††††††††What happens to children who are moved into and out of the
system or are moved from foster home to foster home?

2.1.a Safety plus permanence

††††††††††††'Safety' has always been and continues to be the primary
objective for all public child protection agencies. The bottom
line is to get and keep children out of harm's way. If children
can remain safely with their parents while the adults work
through their problems and issues, the children stay home. If
not, they are placed with other relatives. In about 10% of child
protection cases, the children can't stay at home and there are
no suitable relatives to keep them safe. These children come into
care, with the primary objective being keeping them safe.

††††††††††††In recent years, it has become clear that safety, by itself,
isn't enough. Children also need permanence. They must have a
permanent, stable home where they can develop normally and go
about the business of being children. They must not fear for
their safety, worry about whether their basic needs will be met,
or wonder where they will be living tomorrow.

††††††††††††About 90% of children in care will reunify with their
families. In the meantime, they need to know that they are safe
and they won't have to move, except to go home. For the
approximately 10% of foster children who can't ever go home, a
safe, permanent home must be there for them, with no delay.

From your point of view:

††††††††††††Write your thoughts after each question.

†††††††††What do you think happens to children when they don't feel
safe and can't be sure that their basic needs will be met?

†††††††††What do you think the effects are on children when they are
abruptly taken from their homes and families and placed into
the homes of strangers?

†††††††††What do you think it does to children when they aren't sure
where they will be living tomorrow?

2.1.b Concurrent planning

††††††††††††For many reasons, including the dissatisfaction of
law-makers, the rules and expectations for placement agencies and
foster parents have changed. At the top of the change list is how
long a child can remain in care. Although the exact limit varies
some from state to state, a child can't continue on foster care
status indefinitely. Planning for the child's future starts on
the first day of placement and has to lead to permanence either
back with his family or with another permanent family. In every
case, though, foster care is a step toward permanence for the

††††††††††††Planning for permanence for children while also working with
their families so that children can return home if possible is
called 'concurrent planning.' Those working with children in care
have two goals. First, if the child's parents can work through
their problems and issues so that their child can come home
within a reasonable amount of time, that is the preferred
outcome. Second, if the first goal isn't reached, there is an
alternative permanence plan.

††††††††††††For most children in care, the primary plan is returning to
their families. This is called 'reunification.' The second or
backup plan is permanence for the child with other relatives or
in an adoptive home. The special challenge is being sure that
both the primary and backup plans are receiving everyone's best
and most thoughtful efforts. They must work on both plans

From your point of view:

††††††††††††Write your thoughts after each question.

†††††††††What does it mean for children that a limit is put on how
long they are left in care?

†††††††††What special challenges are there for foster parents,
knowing that planning for children in care either returning
home or being in an alternative, permanent home starts on
the first day of placement?

†††††††††How important is it for the placement of a child to work
well and to avoid his being moved to a second or third
foster home?

2.2 Foster care to adoption

††††††††††††Since everyone working with children in care wants
permanence for them, let's revisit concurrent planning from a
somewhat different perspective.

††††††††††††Starting February 2, family preservation staff worked with
the Renolds family due to concerns about educational and
environmental neglect, inadequate supervision, lack of parenting
skills, and the immature judgement of Mrs. Renolds.

††††††††††††The home has been, at times, very dirty, in disarray, and in
disrepair with broken windows, torn furniture, holes in the
walls, and backed-up plumbing. Agency funds were used to correct
these conditions the week of February 4 and again the week of
March 29. Similar conditions were once more present on April 24.

††††††††††††According to neighbors, Mrs. Renolds allows teenagers in her
home at all hours of the day or night. Poor judgement about
friends has resulted in domestic violence and alleged drug use in
the home, placing the children at further risk. Money has been
stolen and the home vandalized by people who frequent the home.

††††††††††††The children are poorly supervised. Mrs. Renolds has allowed
Kelly, age 7, and Linda, age 9, to miss over forty days of school
during the current school year. Additionally, she permitted the
girls to wander around the neighborhood after 10:30 p.m. without
adult supervision. This resulted in Mrs. Renolds being unable to
find the children on the night of April 23. Her explanation was,
'They said they were just going outside to play.' Mrs. Renolds
did contact the police, at 3:15 a.m. on April 24. They assisted
her in locating the children.

††††††††††††Mrs. Renolds failed, on three occasions, to follow through
with counseling referrals, in spite of acknowledging depression
and parenting problems with her children.

††††††††††††The children are frequently dirty, improperly fed, and their
immediate needs for supervision and nurturing arenít being met.
Despite extensive efforts by the agency and assistance by
relatives, care and supervision of the children remains a

††††††††††††The children's father is currently incarcerated for a
domestic violence conviction. Neither he nor other relatives are
able to care for the children.

††††††††††††Based on its investigation and on the recommendation of the
family preservation staff, Social Services requested that the
court grant temporary custody of the children to the agency.
Custody was granted on April 24 and the children were placed into

††††††††††††There are many things you will want to think about here. For
now, though, focus specifically on permanence for the girls.
Workers are continuing services to Mrs. Renolds so she can learn
to provide a more appropriate environment for her children. This
could take many months and may not succeed. In the meantime, the
girls are having to adjust to a new school, are making new
friends, are learning about a new home with new people and new
expectations, and are re-inventing their lives. They continue to
visit with their mother. She is making little to no progress and
is unlikely to ever be a responsible parent, although she cares
about the girls and they still love her.

††††††††††††As you know, this situation can't go on much longer. They
can't remain in care indefinitely. They need and must have a
permanent home.

††††††††††††Planning for permanence started the first day the girls came
into care. The primary plan was for the children to reunify with
their mother. Since there were no other relatives who could take
the girls, 'adoption' was the backup plan.

From your point of view:

††††††††††††Write your thoughts after each question.

†††††††††How do you think that you and the girls would get along, if
they came to live at your home?

†††††††††What special behavior and adjustment problems would you
anticipate needing to deal with?

†††††††††How would you help the children stay connected with their
personal culture, e.g. race, ethnic heritage, religion?

†††††††††How would you feel about working with the children's mother
and helping with reunification efforts?

†††††††††If the children can't ever go home, would you be open to
adopting them?

†††††††††If you adopted the children, how important do you think it
would be for them to keep an ongoing relationship with their
mother, with other birth-relatives, with their friends from
their old neighborhood?

†††††††††If the girls were with you for a few months and you and your
family decided that keeping them was inconvenient or too
disruptive, what would be the effect on the children if you
chose to have them moved? Would the effect be different if
they were boys, if they were older, if they were younger?

†††††††††If you don't adopt the girls, what do you think the effect
on them would be when they have to move to a different
adoptive home? Remember that they have been with you for a
few months.

†††††††††How would you help the children (and the new adoptive
family) with the girls' transition to their new home, if
they have to move?

†††††††††What do you think the 'best' permanence plan would have been
for the children, on the first day they were placed?

†††††††††How important will it be for the children to stay together?
It isnít uncommon for brothers and sisters to be separated
and placed into different homes.

For more information and additional foster care resources, visit American Foster Care Resources (AFCR)

By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D.; Letha I. Crow, MSW March 23, 2017