Understanding Reunification and 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. I would venture to say that most people have no idea how “The System” works. (We certainly did not prior to our pre-certification trainings, and even now, years later, 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 believe people generally mean well when they ask questions. The questions are attempts in showing interest in a topic they don’t know much about. I also believe that more often than not, even the nosiest, most intrusive of questions are not intended as such. (Sometimes they are, and we’ve gotten that, too.)
But by far the most common question we ever received regarding our first three foster placements was, …
“So, … are you going to try to adopt him?”
(Or her.) And each time I heard it, I found myself cringing and 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 goal of foster care. Its just not how things work, and here is why.
Let’s be clear. The goal is actually reunification.
In a “best case” scenario, kids who are removed from their birth family’s home and temporarily placed with a foster family will eventually have reunification with their families. During the time that the child is in foster care, the birth parents will work a service plan with the family court system. To make the home safe for the children to return.
I’m going to be really blunt here. The only reason that a foster care case (i.e. child) is sent to the adoption 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 the family (or close family friend groupto step up and care for this child on a permanent basis. Which means that, …
Adoption is, at best, a Plan C.
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 go to great lengths to find a family member (or non-related family member who is close) to place the child with.
- Plan C: The county will ensure that the child is placed in a foster family that is prepared to adopt that child should Plans A and B 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. 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 is to help shed light on these topics and help spread awareness about foster care, reunification and adoption. 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!