Main Page
This Issue
Next Article

2011 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 16, No. 3
July 2011

How Do You Contribute to Your Agency's Adoption Efforts?

Everyone in child welfare, regardless of their area of concentration or expertise, influences permanency outcomes. As you read this article, consider how many of the statements apply to you and how you can strengthen what you do to benefit children who proceed to adoption.

“I embrace concurrent planning.”
Concurrent planning means “working towards reunification while at the same time establishing an alternative permanency plan in an effort to more quickly move children from the uncertainty of foster care to the security of a permanent family” (Mallon & Serafin, 2003). From intake on, every person in the agency must think about permanency alternatives and consider how his or her work supports permanency. “Caseworkers and their supervisors must accept the philosophy of concurrent planning and believe that it is possible to work in good faith with parents while at the same time planning for an alternative permanency goal” (USDHHS, 2005).

Concurrent planning is not easy. It requires us to envision two different outcomes. On the one hand, we maintain a strengths-based approach with parents, identifying and building on their strengths and support system to try to help them successfully care for their children. On the other, we must ask parents to consider that they might not be reunified, and to help us identify other potential caregivers for their children.

One of the keys to concurrent planning is sharing information up front with parents. See the box below for questions to help you assess whether you are providing parents with the information they need. We show we value parents when we anticipate and provide the information that helps engage them in the planning process.

Questions to Assess Your Use of Concurrent Planning
Adapted from Mallon & Serafin, 2003

Have you talked with the birth parents/family about. . .

  • Their rights?
  • Your role as a representative of the agency?
  • The role of the foster parents?
  • Their understanding of why placement occurred?
  • Permanency planning time frames?
  • The range of permanency planning options?
  • Concerns about past involvement or present barriers to permanency planning?
  • A mutually satisfactory visitation plan?
  • The purpose, types, and behavioral expectations of visitation?
  • The service plan and assessment process?
  • The consequences of following through/not following through with the plan?
  • Additional planning resources (i.e., relatives, friends, service supports)?
  • Your feedback regarding progress being made/not being made?
  • Any ambivalence they may have about the case planning process or goals?
  • Also, have you asked the foster family about their willingness to adopt, if reunification cannot occur?

Concurrent planning is also about gathering information from other sources and always keeping an alternative permanency plan on our radar. See the box below for a snapshot of how different people in child welfare can contribute to concurrent planning.

Supporting Concurrent Planning at Every Phase of Child Welfare

CPS Intake

  • Go beyond reporters’ immediate concerns to ask about kin and other informal and formal family supports

CPS Assessments & In-home

  • Have respectful, honest conversations about different possible family outcomes; be clear about specific risk factors that need to be addressed
  • Listen for and document family connections; when possible, involve them as collateral contacts
  • Ask youth to identify important people in their lives through conversation and tools such as an eco-map or Connectedness Map (Louisell, 2008)

Placement

  • All of the above
  • Maintain the important connections in a child’s life through visitation and other types of contact

Licensing

  • Emphasize a foster/adopt message in recruitment, training, and support efforts
  • Use the term “resource families” to emphasize the inclusion of foster, kin, and adoptive families in permanency efforts
  • Educate foster parents about the importance of permanence for children and the financial and support resources available to adoptive families (for more on this, click here)

Supervisors & Administrators

  • Educate court personnel and other partners on permanency outcomes and concurrent planning, and work closely with them to achieve timely permanence

“I involve families in meaningful ways.”
Your agency’s approach should send a consistent message to young people that adoption doesn’t mean giving up your birth family. Involving family members from the beginning through child and family teams, active involvement in developing case plans, outreach to absent parents, finding and notifying kin, creative visitation plans, and shared parenting are all ways to maintain and strengthen family connections for children in foster care.

If parents are reluctant to include others in planning, explain why this is important. If they are resistant, continue to diplomatically revisit the subject.

Broadening the pool of potential placements early on for a child doesn’t guarantee adoption down the road, but it gives those who are close to the child and family an opportunity to consider what commitment they are willing to make.

Encourage parents, kin, foster parents, and youth to contribute photos, messages, and other mementos to the child’s lifebook. Seeing a photo in their lifebook may help young people think of individuals who should be included in the pool of possible adoptive families.

Agencies can also demonstrate the importance of birth families by involving them on committees, seeking their input on policies and procedures, and engaging them for training and other staff development and community education efforts.

“I make sure records are complete and I document children’s significant supports.”
Good recordkeeping provides adoption workers with key information for finding and notifying potential adoptive parents. As much as possible, document names, phone numbers, and addresses of kin and other important people in the child’s life, such as coaches or mentors.

Recordkeeping is also key in legally clearing children for adoption. Intake workers, CPS workers, and others play an important role in finding out who is legally responsible for the child. They also help set the tone: the relationship a birth parent has with agency staff and foster parents often has a big influence on how smoothly the process of relinquishment or termination of parental rights proceeds.

Extended family and tribal connections are also critical to document. Federal law requires agencies to ask whether a child is a member of, or eligible to be a member of, an American Indian tribe. Many tribes have strong formal and informal support systems that can facilitate timely permanence through reunification or kin placements. If someone in a tribe can legally step forward as family for the child, we need to know as early as possible. It can be heartbreaking and complicated for everyone when tribal connections are discovered just before adoption finalization.

“I use social networking to support relative notification and adoptive parent recruitment.”
When AdoptUsKids surveyed child welfare professionals in 2010, 35% of respondents said they use social media for professional purposes, while 59% said they would use social media for adoptive recruitment purposes if they had access to it at work.

Social media can be an effective way to share adoption stories and highlight your agency’s need for adoptive families, as well as providing “a place to listen, build community, and exchange tips, ideas, and encouragement.” (AdoptUsKids, 2011). A group of public DSS agencies in the eastern part of the state has created a joint Facebook page for their foster and adoptive parent support program. The page is used to post information about upcoming events and trainings, and is a forum where current and potential resource families can network.

AdoptUsKids found that one common barrier to using social media for adoption efforts is staff’s lack of comfort or skill in using it. If you have the skills to show others how to use these tools, or are helping your agency communicate through social media, then you are a resource for your agency’s adoption efforts. For ideas and suggestions on this topic visit <http://tinyurl.com/42e43ob>.

Of course, social networking also comes with challenges, so be sure to explore the cons as well as the pros before you make social networking part of child welfare practice. These are explored by many of the articles in the 2011 issue of the publication CW3600, which can be found at <http://cehd.umn.edu/ssw/cascw>.

Conclusion
Did you mentally put a check mark next to at least one of the statements in this article? Adoption staff alone cannot create the agency-wide culture of urgency that’s necessary to make real improvements in getting children and youth adopted. Even if your job description doesn’t mention “adoption,” you can be part of helping children across North Carolina find permanent families.

References for this and other articles in this issue