UNDERSTANDING CONCURRENT PLANNING IN FOSTER CARE
When we started our foster care journey, Mr. Bean and I got lots of questions. The foster care system is complicated to say the least, and most people do know know much about how “The System” works. (We certainly did not prior to our pre-certification trainings, and even now, with a few years under our belts, I’m not sure its all crystal clear!) So imagine how people feel if they have never met a foster parent or child before!
I want to say up front that I believe people generally mean well when they ask questions. They are showing interest, and doing their best to carry on a conversation in an area in which they are incredibly uninformed (or perhaps even misinformed). That can make it difficult to know how to approach a conversation. And I believe that most often, even when questions are inappropriate or nosy, that is not actually the intent. (Sometimes it is, and we’ve had that, too.) But by far the most common question we have gotten regarding our three foster placements has been, “So, are you going to try to adopt him?” (Or her.) Each time I would get this question, I found myself grasping for words, for one reason …
Its not up to us.
We could not change the outcome of this, no matter how hard we tried.
This is one of the parts of foster care that is very hard to understand, and today I’m going to break it down. The reason that we could not try to adopt him was because that is not the intent of foster care. Its just not how things work, and here is why.
In a best case scenario, kids who are removed from their birth family’s home and temporarily placed with a foster family would eventually be reunified with their birth family. During the time that the child is in foster care, the birth parents must appear in court, and the judge will order the parents to complete services. Services can take on a variety of forms, such as taking parenting classes, attending rehab for substance abuse, or finding a job or place to live. I’m going to be really blunt here. The only reason that a foster care case (i.e. child) is sent to the adoptions department is that the birth parents were not able to do what the court asked of them to make the home safe and functional again within the given timeline AND there was no one else from within the extended family to step up and care for this child on a permanent basis. Which means that, …
Adoption is, at best, a Plan B.
Kind of reframes it, right? I know this will shatter the illusions of many who feel that foster care adoption is a “beautiful thing,” but that is the harsh reality. There is no adoption without first, a catastrophic loss. So, because there is always a chance with a foster care case that the birth parents may not be able to follow through with their services, and because the child is deserving of plan for a permanent, forever home regardless, two plans are put into place at once. This is what is known as concurrent planning.
Concurrent planning is where the county puts two plans for the child into place simultaneously:
- Plan A: The county will support the birth parents in their efforts to get their kids back. The county will offer them classes. Guide them to government assistance. Check in regularly to see if they are on track. Grant them regular visits with their child(ren) so that they can stay connected while they are getting themselves back together.
- Plan B: The county will ensure that the child is placed in a foster family that is prepared to adopt that child should Plan A not work out.
As time marches on in a foster placement, the permanent plan for the child begins to become more clear. In some cases, unfortunately for the child, this can take years. (Little Bean’s case went very quickly by foster care standards.) But at the beginning of the case, the plan is always for reunification with the birth family as the first and best option.
It is not about which home is best.
It is not about who can provide more for him/her, take him/her to Disneyland, get him/her into the best schools, or has the biggest house.
It is about fixing what was broken in the original home for this child, first and foremost. And also … having a back-up plan.
Hence, why I found myself at a loss for words when so many would ask if we were trying to adopt Little Bean (or either of our other placements for that matter). I guess that a better way of thinking of it is that we are making ourselves available, should the case go that direction. Which is without a doubt the hardest part of foster care for the foster parents … being available to love that child as if they are already a part of your family forever, while at the same time, knowing they may only stay for a while.
One of my biggest motivations for blogging, besides my passion for real food of course, is to give enough information to help people understand a little bit more about the foster care system than they did before. And hopefully, to encourage people to find a way to support the foster kids (or birth families) in their lives. May God bless you as you do so!