Comments OffOctober 27, 2014by admin

When the bough breaks

When the bough breaks……the cradle will fall….. AND…..

By June Bond, B.S., M.Ed.

Presented to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption

(February, 2000)

During the past five years, a growing concern has surfaced about the number of children in foster care that wait for “forever homes.”  Celebrities like Dave Thomas, Rosie O’Donell and Maury Povich bring the faces and stories of these children into our own living rooms through the medium of television. Coupled with the increased media attention, powerful legislation was signed in 1997 as a part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. This legislation mandates that no child should be left in foster care if there are resources available nationally to place the child into a qualified “forever home.” Yet, children continue to “age out” in the foster care system with no place to call home.   Is there simply a lack of qualified adoptive homes for the growing pool of children?  THE ANSWER IS NO.  There is a significant pool of waiting adoptive families and an ocean of waiting children.  But, barriers continue to exist, in spite of the 1997 federally mandated legislation.  Outlined below are actual cases that highlight how the system is failing and what can be done to make the barriers become bridges.

(Names have been altered to protect the confidentiality of families)

Case #1 – Kelly C. is a bright, educated single woman in her mid-thirties.  She has been approved for six years for a Caucasian child up to the age of thirteen.  She will take a girl or boy and potentially a sibling group of two.  She called about a child who was listed as having significant emotional problems.  When Kelly told the case worker that she did not feel comfortable with the placement’s needs as a single mother, her file was “lost” for over eighteen months.  Her file has now been found, but she has not been called back for a placement despite the fact that she wants an older child.

Case #2 – K Family is comprised of two Master’s level parents who work in the medical field.  They have two birth children that are in college.  They felt that they would like to continue to parent a child or two, but not start over with baby diapers.  They felt that they had much to offer in terms of parenting experience.   Mrs. K. called DSS to start the process of looking for an older child or sibling group.  The initial contact was so negative in terms of sensitivity and potential services that Mr. and Mrs. K. adopted a sibling group of three girls, ages 8 – 11, from Eastern Europe .  Despite the language differences and an extended time in an orphanage, the girls are thriving under the care of Mr. and Mrs. K.

Case #3 –  Mr. and Mrs. T, parents of two teens,  are college-educated well respected professionals.  They were interested in adopted a child that would not be able to maximize his/her fullest potential in the foster care system.  They wanted to nurture, love, and educate a child that otherwise would never see the inside halls of a college. They called the local social service office and were treated suspiciously of their intentions. They were discouraged about transracial adoption and told that they would have a hard time finding a child that suited them in the foster care system.

Case #4 – Gina G. is an articulate widowed African American woman in her early forties.  She has two birth children and has fostered over 12 children of different races over the past five years.  She has adopted two of her foster children.  She has had one child, “M” for six years in foster care.  Gina’s desire is to adopt “M” and make her a part of the permanent family, as well as adopt one or two more African American children who are older and legally free for adoption.  She fears that “M” will age out in the system before the adoption ever happens.  She has turned to a private agency and the Dave Thomas Foundation to help her find another adoptive placement.  She does not want to “ruffle” feathers with her case worker because she may never get to adopt “M.”  She understands that if she “ruffles feathers” an in state adoption may be out of the question for her and “M”.

Case #5 – G Family is a middle class Caucasian family that has adopted a wide variety of children with significant special needs of different races. They have adopted through both DSS and private agencies. They have become very discouraged with DSS after having to pursue private legal action to terminate parental rights of  one of their children when the BIRTH PARENTS WANTED TO GET THE ADOPTION FINISHED.  After much deliberation, they chose to complete their family through private agencies, in spite of the costs.  They recently adopted a one year old child from Haiti , even though there are many children in their home state of African American heritage that need families to adopt them.

After reading these case scenarios, one might think that my home state is behind the rest of the country in regard to adoption efforts.  The opposite is true.  My home state excels in many ways where adoption is concerned.  My state was the first state in the union to offer a state employee reimbursement for adoption.  Likewise, my state was among one of the first states to offer waiting children on the federally funded Internet site. My state is not behind in the adoption network, but leads in many ways.  BUT, the entire adoption movement in the United State is not keeping pace with the legislation of the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act that was designed to move children into permanent homes regardless of geographic, racial, and other barriers.

The barriers to adoption often exist in the form of caseworkers’ attitudes about out-of-state, tranracial and non-traditional family placements.  Many case workers do not want to place children out of state.  Like wise, many case workers do not want to look at tranracial placements for special needs children.  While we will all agree that the same race, interest levels, and IQ for adoptive parents and child would be perfect, the entire concept of adoption is founded on the precept that we live in an imperfect world.  In a perfect world, adoption would never exist.  Anyone who wanted to parent could have a biological child. And….anyone that did not want or have the ability to parent would not have a child.  But, the world is not perfect and adoption works at correcting one of  life’s most cruel imperfections…being a child that is not wanted or not cared for in a caring fashion. We must realize that the need for a family is critical to the feeling of belonging.  And, the number of children-of-color aredisproportionately represented in the waiting children’s pages.  We must begin to look at non-traditional family settings such as transracial placements, single parents, and out of state families to break the cycle of foster care and move many of these children into a permanent home.

What can be done? There are two methods by which the system will change outright rebellion or revolutionary reform. Rebellion can, and at some point, will occur, from outside the professional and legislative ranks in the form of a class action suit against the various state social service agencies in the country on behalf of the waiting children in the system.  This type of rebellion will be slow, painful and catastrophic in costs.  Rebellion can bring about needed reform, but the time lost will be futures lost for the children who “aged out” while the courts take their slow and methodical paths to reform through rebellion.

The second method for change is revolutionary reform.  Simple reform of the system will not be enough.  Some of the following suggestions for reform are under consideration in different parts of the country.  These suggestions represent a composite of these ideas for reform to comprise a model program that can be funded with federal money to show how these actions can be replicable in other states:

  1. Continue to have the Department of Social Services, (DSS) or Department of Family Services (DFS) supervise the business of child welfare and foster care.  The state agency should be in charge of investigating abuse and insuring that children are safe in a home.  DSS or DFS should continue to offer a program for family preservation, if preservation seems realistic and timely.  DSS or DFS should oversee foster care and the programs that relate to transition.  At the point when the child and the birth family have been separated and preservation cannot be accomplished, DSS should declare the child eligible for TPR.
  2. Some TIMELY system of TPR must be established.   No child should stay in foster care for seven years waiting for the rights to be terminated.  States across the United States are in direct violation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in this respect.  States must begin to make these reforms and the GAO must monitor the states to make certain that TPR is being accomplished according to the 1997 law.  A voucher system for foster families needs to be established in order to allow them to seek private legal counsel to terminate rights and complete adoptions.  Many times, foster families are not told that they can, after a certain time period, request independent means to push the adoption along. Tax credits for attorneys and legal firms should also be established for pro bono work in the area of child permanency and termination of parental rights.
  3. The family preparation and home study portion of adoption should be placed in the private sector of adoption.  The state has already licensed a wide range of private agencies to conduct home studies and family preparation.  Standards for the licensed private agencies are already approved and in operation in all states.  All that families need is a voucher from the state to have their home study prepared privately to seek a special needs child.  The payment goes to the agency that performs the family preparation and home study.  The payment is paid when the family is prepared and home studied for placement. The home study rests in the control of the family and private agency, NOT in a regional office of DSS or DFS.   Families that seek special needs adoption are not the property of the state, BUT A NATIONAL RESOURCE/TREASURE.

    While a public-private partnership has been initiated in the state of South Carolina , as well as other states, it has not worked efficiently.  Most agencies do not have the financial resources to work with a family until placement is made, without reimbursement.  The Dave Thomas Foundation has established a model program, with Adopt America , where families may select a private agency to complete their home study.  The home study is conducted and sent to the granting agency, AdoptAmerica .  Within a few weeks, the private agency is paid.  The private agency, family, Adopt America and FACES of the National Adoption Network labor together to find an appropriate placement for the family with a special needs child.  The family can exercise control and initiative.    The private sector is not only willing but motivated to help qualified families find special needs children.

  4. Use a voucher system to contract with the same private agencies for post placement services after the special needs placement has been made.  Usually, if services have been positive, the family will continue with the same private agency to complete the post placement reports that completed the initial home study. States should be willing to have a purchase of service agreement with private agencies.  (SIDE NOTE: In January, 2001 the Los Angeles DSS told a staff member of a private adoption agency in S.C. that the family could be approved but they had NO money for post placement supervision, thus rendering the children almost non-placeable outside California without private or federal funds.)
  5. Establish a voucher system to allow the family to use a private attorney to finalize the adoption in court.  There is no need for a child to be in a home for years waiting for finalization.
  6. Establish a nation- wide photolisting for families that detail what each family in the state will accept in terms of a special needs placement.  Allow social workers to seek and find families that are appropriate for their caseload outside of their jurisdiction.
  7. For the children already in the state system and the families that have already been home studied by DSS/DFS, establish a special centralized adoption unit OR  select and staff a private concern to get the current kids out of the system. Assign the selected caseworkers with making staffings on a daily basis.  Use the family photo listing to try to place the child within the state. If there are no families in the home state that are approved for the child, go to national registries of completed home studied and qualified families.  It’s not a revolutionary idea, IT’S THE LAW!  No child should be denied permanency based on geographic barriers.
  8. When a family makes an inquiry, do all that you can do to encourage and not discourage.  Simple examples include returning phone calls within 24 hours, use positive tones when asking questions, send written materials for exploration, make follow up calls, schedule training on a convenient basis, and treat each call as if you were the caller.

Voucher systems may seem revolutionary, but our state and other states are already paying large sums of money to employ regional adoption units and the system is not working.  The state is already paying large sums of money for DSS/DFS attorneys and the system is not working.  Someone must step up and take the lead nationally to show that special needs adoptions can work.  There is a large pool of qualified families who want special needs children in the country.  There is an ocean of special needs kids.  The state system has been a barrier, now the government must build a bridge.

We must remember that when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down come the children…    FUTURE and ALL

Update – January, 2002

Kelly C – With the assistance and intervention of a private agency, Kelly C was selected for a special needs placement of an eight year old little girl this fall. She is thriving in Kelly C’s home and has been there for over 15 months.  The parental rights to this child are STILL not terminated. Kelly C. is now seeking a private attorney to help her get through the system and get her adoption in the courts.

(Update –  May, 2004: The family finally finalized after two years of waiting.)

T Family – With the help of a private agency and the Internet, the T family is now a trans-racial family with a thriving 14 African American son. Ironically, he was within the same state in which they reside. The state DSS tried to block the adoption since the private agency did not “have a contract” with them. The private agency, with much effort, convinced DSS that this home studied family was a “gift” to their system and the child. Consequently, no contract was needed.  They finalized and are now seeking a second child from the foster care system, using the Internet.

Gina G. recently adopted a sibling group of two little African American boys and one little girl from another state with the use of a private foundation grant.  She is now looking at the Internet again, since two of her children will be leaving soon for college.

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