Intervention: An Improved Model for Foster Children
We celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month in November. It is a time for adoption celebrations gargantuan and intimate, private and public. We celebrate the creation, or in many instances, the expansion of forever families through adoption. However, as a Florida-licensed attorney and champion of adoption for over thirty years, I submit that there should be a calendar-long “all hands on deck” effort to grow adoption, especially in the public sector where there are over 400,000 children in foster care. While November may get the publicity, the work to grow adoption needs to endure each day of every month.
The traditional method by which many children are placed for adoption relies on a birth parent’s selfless decision. Yet, for a parent whose child has been removed by the state and placed into protective custody or foster care, that parent often no longer enjoys the right to make a private adoption plan for her child or foster children. It is as if that parent is labeled not worthy and stripped of the constitutionally protected right to determine her child’s future. Regrettably, it is a scenario that has played out countless times in the juvenile courts across the United States, and one that prolongs permanency for children.
A positive and emerging change has begun to take root, albeit slowly and unevenly. In Florida, through a statutory mechanism known as intervention, a parent whose child has been removed by the state retains the right to make a private adoption plan, provided that parent’s parental rights remain intact. This option allows a parent to consent to a voluntary adoption, select adoptive parents, and receive information about the child in the future. Contrast this with the inexorably lengthy and expensive process associated with having parental rights involuntarily terminated by a judge, and the parent’s exclusion from any permanent decision-making for the child.
Intervention also accomplishes the laudable goal of removing a child from the state system. It frees up the juvenile court’s resources to address those cases that desperately need attention. It dramatically decreases and virtually eliminates the substantial public cost attendant to having a child remaining foster care. Most importantly, intervention quickly creates a “forever family” by obtaining the approval of the birth parent. With nearly 50,000 children remaining in foster care five years or more, there can be no doubt about the benefits for both the children who await adoption and for society as a whole if adoption of children in foster care was made easier, faster, and more frequent.
In working with a legion of dedicated child welfare professionals, I have come to understand one universal truth: the state does not make a good parent. Developmentally speaking, remaining in state care disadvantages a child, whereas adoption into a “forever family” yields the most positive outcomes and is the place where a child thrives. Moreover, nearly 30,000 children in foster care age out of the system annually with no hope of a permanent family. These children struggle in inordinate numbers with homelessness, lack of education, unemployment, poverty, unwed pregnancy and criminality. These children are our responsibility.
November sees the dawn of new families sewn and grown together by adoption. That effort needs to continue throughout the year, and if a birth parent elects to make the difficult decision to place a child for adoption, the Department of Children and Families and the courts should applaud and honor this choice, and move the child out of state custody to the safe, loving environment of a “forever family.”
Submitted by Guest Blogger,
Jeanne T. Tate,