Following a complaint of abuse or neglect, the CPS (Child Protection Services) worker is required to investigate immediately. If the abuse/neglect is substantiated, four future directions or choices present themselves.
Every important plan should have a backup. Most ordinary events pale in importance when compared to planning for a child’s life. Even a scheduled picnic will usually have a rainy-day plan. Each state, in compliance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), should build in a contingency plan from the moment a child is placed outside the home.
When a child is removed for abuse or neglect, healing and reunification are the primary permanency goal. If, however, reunification should fail, an alternative permanency plan should already be in place. ASFA lists three other possible permanency plans which must be considered should reunification not be possible. They are adoption, kin care, and permanent legal guardianship.
While kin care and legal guardianship may be legally identified as “permanent,” in practice they are not. Both can be easily dissolved. Reunification and adoption are the only true permanent resolutions.
A good contingency plan should identify the alternative choice and be specific. If kin care or legal guardianship is to be an option, the relative or guardian should be identified from the very start, not searched for after reunification has failed. Ideally, the child should be placed with appropriate members of the extended family upon removal.
If adoption is the backup plan, foster parents should be selected who are open to adoption so that this can immediately become the contingency plan. By considering alternative plans in the beginning, the necessity of later shuffling the child around can be minimized.
The benefit to the child of contingency planning is immense. No more starting from scratch should reunification founder. No more late searches for willing kin. No more bypassing a foster parent offering permanency to consider other adoptive situations which may or may not materialize. Contingency planning will shorten the time in foster care and minimize the number of placements necessary to attain permanence. ACT applauds the efforts of child welfare departments to follow the law and initiate contingency planning.