Academic journal article Child Welfare

Partitioning the Adoption Process to Better Predict Permanency

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Partitioning the Adoption Process to Better Predict Permanency

Article excerpt

Under federal outcome standards established by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, discharges to adoption are expected to occur within 24 months of the most recent removal from home for at least 32% of cases. In the research recounted here, adoption is treated as a process composed of two discrete steps: adoptive placement and adoption finalization. It was hypothesized that the predictors of completion may differ for each step, offering direction for practice and policy. Predictors included child characteristics, maltreatment history, placement history system variables, and service delivery variables. Children's adoption event history was viewed through five annual entry cohorts, including all children with adoption case plans, rather than the exit cohorts of the federal measure, which includes only adopted children. Over this five-year period, the length of time from removal to adoption finalization decreased significantly, primarily as a result of decreased time from adoption placement to finalization. Child and family characteristics and abuse /neglect history were found to be much more predictive in the analysis of timely adoption placement than of time from placement to finalization. These and other significant predictors suggest strategies for improving timely adoption outcomes.

The practice of permanency planning with children in the child welfare system has long been used as a tool to decrease the length of time a child spends in foster care awaiting permanence through either reunification with their family of origin or through placement and finalization with an adoptive family. Research suggests that these practices alone do not necessarily reduce the amount of time these children spend in limbo. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (PL. 105-89) established policies and outcome measures that reinforce the importance of timely permanence for children in foster care. In order to measure up to the outcome standards set by the federal government, states must examine their service delivery systems in an effort to understand why some children spend extended periods of time waiting for a permanent placement and what can be done to improve programs.

Several factors have been identified as predictors in timely permanence in the child welfare literature including child characteristics, adoptive family characteristics, biological family characteristics, the type of abuse /neglect experienced by the child, the placement history of the child, as well as characteristics of the caseworkers, social service and court systems and the community.

Child and Family Characteristics

Much of the research on the length of stay in foster care has examined specific characteristics of children in foster care and how these characteristics affect timely permanence. Characteristics consistently associated with timely permanence include age at removal, gender, being part of a sibling group, emotional or behavior problems, ethnicity, and disability. Although criteria may vary from state to state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified the following as characteristics appropriate for special needs, or challenging, adoptions: physical or health problems, older age of child, children of ethnic or racial minorities, emotional problems, sibling groups, HIV positive, documented conditions predictive of future problems, and prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol.

Several research studies have indicated that older children experience more delays in the foster care system than infants and toddlers (Albers, Reilly, & Rittner, 1993; Avery, 2000; Avery, 1999; Barth, Courtney, & Berry, 1994; Courtney & Barth, 1996; Kemp & Bodonyi, 2000; McDonald & Parry, 1996; Potter & Klein-Rothschild, 2002), and that male children wait longer in foster care than their female counterparts (Albers et al., 1993; Avery, 2000; Avery, 1999; Kemp & Bodonyi, 2000). Other studies (Leung & Erich, 2002; Smith, Howard, & Monrode, 2000; Erich & Leung, 1988; Rosenthal, 1993) have identified sibling groups as "high risk" for not achieving timely adoption. …

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