Without exception, perhaps the most tangible reward for a job well done in the child welfare service is seeing a young child find their forever family via adoption. Yes, it’s great to see children go back home to their birth families as well. To say that I enjoyed witnessing the adoption of a child is not to say that I prefer that outcome to the latter. Birth family reunification is a wonderful sight to see, but to see a child whose parental rights have been terminated emerge from the precipice of disaster to now having a place to call home for life is amazing. It’s like a 4th quarter comeback in football where the odds of success were slim to none.
Those viewing the child welfare system from the outside are unaware of just how close to disaster youth who are adopted have likely come. Those of us who spent any time on the inside of the field of adoption know the dangers all too well. So, if I have your permission, I’d like to take a few minutes and document the play by play of what takes place prior to this adoption. In doing so, I think you’ll come to celebrate the success that is adoption with more vigor and enthusiasm in the future.
It is Appropriately and Disappointingly Hard to Terminate Parental Rights
At the end of the day, it should be difficult to terminate the rights of one or both parents. Yet, at the end of that very same day, it is frustratingly difficult to watch a child languish in foster care while this process drags on. I’m not smart enough to offer a solution, and it is unlikely anyone would listen to me if I did, but I do want you to understand what this means for the youth in care, namely, that they will spend a very long time in care. Years in care as I’ve never seen a quick solution to this dilemma.
Now, I don’t think that I need to share with you all the dangers associated with prolonged stays in the child welfare system. That’s not to disparage the staff, foster parents, agency works, and others involved. It’s just a messy system, and even when it goes well, it’s still messy. So what’s the harm of waiting years of care if the child is already living in their soon to be forever home? Over 13 years working in the field has taught me that no home is forever until the judge makes it official.
Permanency Only Matters If It Is Permanent
I’ve watched loving families take in a 2-year-old under the hopes of adopting them, but by the time the parental rights were terminated, that couple now had a kid of their own and are no longer interested in adoption. So the kid, who is now 4 or 5 years old, must leave the only home he remembers. I’ve seen a moderately well-behaved 10-year-old land in his potential forever home, and then, by the time the parental rights are terminated, he is an angry 13-year-old, and the parent can no longer handle his behavior. I’ve seen a potential adoptive parent back out the week the adoption was to be finalized.
My friends, permanency only matters if it is indeed permanent. A forever family is only forever if it lasts. So when I see a child in a “forever home” while awaiting the termination of parental rights, I watch it with a great deal of anxiety. When the forever family is in court for the finalization, and the judge makes it official, I cheer like I’ve been watching a last-second hail mary float through the air for three years and finally come down and land in the endzone. So what’s the point of this story, and what can you do?
Leave Nothing to Chance
If you should find yourself working in the child welfare sector today, my best encouragement is to leave nothing to chance and never give up the pursuit of a forever family. Dedicate yourselves to utilizing data-driven evidence-based practices. Equip your staff and team with the most up to date tools as if you were NASA trying to land on the moon. Yes, I know all about budgets, but the money is out there if you know where to look. After all, we may not be working with billion-dollar satellites, but we are working with little human beings who deserve our best. Don’t leave anything to chance because chance, the adoption process, and Murphy’s Law have a weird twisted relationship.
For all the tragic stories I mentioned above, I could share dozens of success stories—the adoption of 6 siblings into one home. The adoption of a medically fragile child they thought would never live to the age of 5. The adoption of a teenage boy merely days before he turned 18. Yes, the wait for permanence is filled with anxiety, frustrations, and setbacks—fortunately, the victory and joy of seeing permanence that is indeed permanent tastes ever so sweet. Be sure to follow us (Call to Action) or sign up for (newsletter), and we’ll do everything we can to help equip you in this noble effort.