Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.(Robert Frost)
The Journey of a Foster Child
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.
Maintaining the birth home is the first choice. Bonding is important and should be preserved when possible. Even in an unsafe and insecure home, the child is probably bonded to his or her parents. Disrupting this bond will cause additional trauma. The key to a wise decision is to consider the cost/benefit ratio. Does the cost of separation outweigh the risk to safety and security?
In-home support services can be offered. In-home trainers might teach housekeeping and parenting skills. Foster parents might be used as trainers, thus placing foster parents in the birth home rather than moving the child to the foster home.
If the child must be removed, reunification becomes the second option. Time is a critical factor and the out-of-home stay should be minimal. Caseworkers should provide birth parents with an immediate “to do” list of circumstances to remedy before the child can be returned, and then check regularly on the progress.
Sadly, twenty to forty percent of reunifications fail. Reunification may have been done without careful data-gathering and assessment. Perhaps a welfare department or court was overly biased toward biological parenthood. Maybe the reunification was done to save the state money. Whatever the reason, the failure rate is unacceptable high and the child pays the price.
Kin care is the third choice. The caseworker should undertake an immediate inventory of extended family members. If the child must be moved, and responsible willing blood relatives can be found, the child should be placed with them. Remaining with the extended family allows the child to continue close ties with known persons. The disadvantage is that kin are sometimes seen as a too-easy answer by the state and an excuse to keep birth parents and child together despite safety concerns.
When blood relatives want to foster or adopt a child in wardship, their home should be treated like any other adoptive home. Potential adoptive relatives should receive the same careful home study and scrutiny as other candidates. Kin adoptions make up 25 percent of foster children who are adopted nationally. This compares with 60 percent adopted by the foster parents and another 15 percent by non-relatives. (AFCARS, 2005)