Could More Parents = Permanency for Kids?

The headline reads, “Brown signs bill to allow children more than two legal parents“. While the bill may have been targeted at same-sex couples, my thoughts immediately went a slightly different direction.

After more than two decades of working in child welfare, I am keenly aware of the internal struggle many children and youth in foster care experience. On the one hand, there may be a devotion to biological parents, despite their care-giving shortcomings. This is especially true when the child is removed from their parent or guardian and placed into foster care after the age of 5 or 6 years (or later for some). By this time, they have had time to bond with the parent(s) and, in some cases, want to maintain that connection. While the desire to remain connected may be there, not all parents are capable of providing 24/7 care and nurturing to their biological children.

Despite the challenges of the foster care system, many children are able to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with their foster parents. For those who also desire a relationship with their biological parents, this can create a emotional tug-of-war, with no good solution. In order to remain with their foster parents and provide permanency, there is often pressure to severe the ties with the biological parents, thus freeing the child for adoption. An alternative permanency option is Another Planned Permanency Arrangement, or APPLA. This option is often, although not always, identified as long-term foster care. A bill recently proposed by Senator Hatch seeks to further restrict the options available in such situations by eliminating the long-term foster care permanency option. (See “Hatch Child Welfare Bill Proposes Major Reforms of APPLA Option, Congregate Care, and Chafee Education Grants” for a summary of the proposed bill.)

The foster care dilemma goes something like this: Joey and Janet have been in the same foster home for 16 months. They have a good relationship with their foster parents and want to stay in that home. At 12 and 14 years of age, they also care deeply for their biological parents who, after 16 months have shown no signs of resolving their personal challenges to the point that they can adequately parent Joey and Janet. The child welfare system is then left with a few options, none of which are ideal. They can terminate parental rights, thus freeing Joey and Janet for adoption. Or they can attempt to return the children to the care of their biological parents which is likely not a safe or healthy option. The other option is to keep Joey and Janet in long-term foster care, a state of legal limbo which retains the parental rights but fails to provide for permanency of the children. Of course, if the Hatch bill were to be signed into law, the latter option of long-term foster care would be eliminated.

paper cutoutThis is where the new California law could offer a new option: more than two parents. If the law could be applied to allow adoption by foster parents without terminating biological parents’ rights (and I don’t know if this is an option with the current law), the children could continue with both sets of parents. Of course, there are several ‘what ifs’ that would need to be resolved. For instance, provisions would need to be made for educational and medical decision-making, physical custody, and other important aspects of the relationship. Over the years, I have seen situations where a joint parenting type of relationship is exactly what the child needed, but this was not an option.  For instance, there may be situations when the mental or physical health of the biological parents presents a barrier to parenting, but the emotional bond outweighs the need for legal permanency. While this may be applicable in a relatively small number of situations; for the children involved, it may be the best option to establishing permanency.

So my question is, could more parents equal better care for kids? Could this be a new spin on the ‘open adoption’ option? Maybe the option of more than two parents is worth considering from a child welfare standpoint.

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About ckhayek

I am a Child Welfare Advocate, Data-geek, Writer (and Reader), Cheesecake Baker, and Stunt Kite Flyer .... balance is important! 8-)
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2 Responses to Could More Parents = Permanency for Kids?

  1. Dan in Tennessee says:

    This bill seems to undermine undermine permanency; it simply takes the bad situation as you’ve described in the hypothetical and says “we’ll call that permanency.” I don’t see how this provides stability. Furthermore, hasn’t our supreme court ruled, essentially, that a child cannot have more than two parents? Michael H v Gerald D.

  2. Mars says:

    Perhaps there is a better way? Let’s say, child is in foster care. Bio family is working on issues, but not making sufficient progress within the “2 year” general limit for a permanency plan. How about the foster parents become sort of like the agency – the child be placed from CINA/Social Services, to CINA/Foster Parents – so that the foster parents would be the ones to choose to allow or restrict the visits by the family members, supervise them if needed, etc. In other words, guardianship. And so that the foster parents can approve medications, schools, etc. I don’t know if this is even possible. Just an idea I’m throwing out there.

    For our personal story – we are (probably) one of the fewer foster parents that were truly in it FOR THE CHILDREN without any desire to remove a child from their bio family (unless it was in the child’s best interest for safety). We adopted our first and only two placements – a sibling group. Sure, we’d secretly hoped we could eventually adopt them, but that wasn’t our goal. We began taking them to the visitation center – where we met the bio parents and the grandparents, and cordial/nervous acceptance became friendly, and soon they were thanking us for keeping such good care of their children/grandchildren. A mutual understanding and friendships developed.

    Their mother OD’d just under three months after they entered our newly licensed foster home (in 2006 when the daughter had just turned 3 years of age – the bday party was the last time that they’d seen their bio mom before she died). A family picture of the four of them on the sofa at the visitation center, which I had taken and given to them, was the framed picture they put on the mother’s casket. After mom died, they had their father and extended family members…. dad did eventually seek treatment for his drug and alcohol abuse. Prior to the adoption, while in our foster care home, I invited/encouraged the bio dad to go along on therapist visits with his son. The decrease in anger level of the son and the communication enhancements were quite noticeable. Their bond strengthened. I’m so glad that I’d asked that of the father, that my son’s therapist agreed to somewhat unconventional situation family counseling (though I’d never gone in there with them together, I did have sessions with my son and the therapist as needed).

    At the time of the TPR request, just months after exiting rehab, the father refuted. So we went to mediation. During mediation, it was finally agreed that the father would be happy as long as he could continue to visit his children. Well, OF COURSE, he could do that (as long as he was not a danger to the kids) So we all happily left the conference room – the father agreed to the TPR, as long as 1) we are the ones to adopt the kids, and 2) he could still see the children as frequently and for as long as both families desired him to. (Both families were relieved to be out of the DSS constraints). That was in 2008…. and he has taken both children out just about every weekend since then, sometimes to overnight visits. I’m soo happy to report that as far as anyone can tell, he’s been drug free. And as for the drinking – well, it’s in a controlled environment/not around the kids and not when he has anywhere to go/has a designated driver. Kudos to him!

    We gained not only two children in our family, but a whole extended family as well. I have a new sister now – their mother’s sister/their aunt. She and her kids and I get together to celebrate holidays and birthdays. We have visited the mom’s grave during the burial gravesite service, as well as a few times on special occasions afterward. We all went to grandma’s funeral. Grandma, in particular, was a most loving and accepting woman. Her and her husband would go so far as to give evenly to their bio and non-bio, non-adopted (formerly, in the sense) children at the holidays. Sent cards frequently. Asked me to copy old family photos for her, and I did. I copied them and along with her copies, made some to keep here – with the lovely cards, notes, and letters.

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