Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 2.2 Permanency


When discussing permanency with state administrators, a variety of issues arose surrounding acclimating to new federal and state timelines for child permanency. Overall, administrators seemed very attentive to the legal timelines and the requirements for expedited permanency. They discussed the timing of permanency in their states, including schedules for dispositional hearings, and the complex process of working through issues and finding tools to expedite permanency. Administrators talked about the effects of ASFA on state law, and several administrators made a point of mentioning that they adhered to ASFA definitions for permanency. But we also found that some states had moved to shortened timelines prior to ASFA. One state administrator commented that her state was in the process of working through issues to get beyond the present belief permeating child welfare that permanency for a child equals adoption. Administrators also remarked on issues of least restrictive, permanent environments for children, and about the importance of meeting a child's physical and emotional needs for lifelong attachment and a permanent home.

Administrators mentioned efforts to expedite permanency, including concurrent planning, guardianship, and adoption. Concurrent planning is the process of planning two strategies for permanency for a child from the start of a case - a primary plan which usually involves a goal of reunification and working with and providing services to the family to achieve this goal and, at the same time, planning and working toward an alternative permanency goal for the child (e.g., permanent relative placement, guardianship, or adoption) in case the primary plan is not achieved within the timeline set. Establishing and simplifying guardianship policy was discussed as a way to find permanent homes for children. Guardianship is a legal means for an adult to assume parental responsibility and authority for a child without severing parental rights of the birth parents. One administrator said the guardianship policy in her state was originally designed for adults needing guardians but that the state was planning to simplify the process by eliminating reporting and fee requirements that made the process cumbersome to families. Administrators also mentioned that adoption is getting more attention, and many states are making a substantial effort to bolster adoption efforts, particularly since new timelines have been in effect.

States were asked about the types of permanency options available for children and the priority they established for those options. Every state responded that reunification with the child's birth parents or with the custodian from which the child was taken was the first permanency option.

Table 3-2.
Permanency Options
Prioritizing Permanency Options Yes No
Ranked reunification first among permanency options(a) 23 0
Ranked adoption second among permanency options(a) 15 8
Reported a relative placement option 22 2(b)
Ranked relative placement second, giving preference over adoption(a) 7 16
Reported a guardianship option (subsidized or unsubsidized) 13 10
Reported a long-term or permanent foster care option 20 3

a.  N=23; Colorado and Georgia did not give order preference. 
b.  Missouri and Wisconsin do not currently have formal relative placement options; however Missouri has multiple initiatives in the state to encourage relative placement.

The majority of states (65%) ranked "adoption" as the second permanency option, and "relative placement" (including legal custody, guardianship, or some other type of arrangement) usually ranked third (7 of 23 states ranked relative placement above adoption in importance). States' preferences for adoption over relative placement seemed to reflect their concern that relative placements may not be permanent for the child and the need to find legal permanency for a child so that he or she can exit the foster care system. Some states specifically stated a preference for relative adoption or a guardianship (if available in the state) because this secured permanency for the child and discharge from the foster care system. Twenty-two states (92%) had some type of relative placement option for children, and 13 states (56%) had a guardianship option.