How Long Must They Languish in Limbo?

For a number of years it was the intent of our child welfare system that ALL efforts should be to reunify a family after a child was removed from their biological parent(s) for abuse or neglect. Because of this effort thousands of youth remained in foster care for a number of years without permanency. They languished in a state of limbo year after year; in many cases they simply in the end aged out of the system.

It was the intent of Congress and President Clinton that this would change with the passage and signing of ASFA (Adoption & Safe Family Act) of 1997. Some of the main parts of this act were:

Though reunification may still be an objective, if possible, it was no longer to be the all encompassing goal of the system; it was to just be one of many possibilities as an end goal plan

Termination of parental rights could commence when a child is in out of home care for a period of fifteen months out of the previous twenty-two month; unfortunately discretion of implementing this was left to the state and judge to determine

 An intent of this law is to move youth quicker through the system to some plan of permanency; in particular adoption

It is now ten years since the passage of this law and questions need to be asked:

Has the attitude of “reunification at all costs” been changed?

Are parental rights being terminated within a more reasonable period to allow for a plan of permanency to be established for foster youth; whether it is reunification, kinship care, guardianship or adoption?

From the government statistics available it appears that at first the new law may have helped. In 1997 there were 31,000 adoptions from foster care system wide. The numbers increased:

 1998: 37,000
 1999: 47,000
 2000: 51,000

In the years that have followed, through the last year government statistics are available, adoptions from foster care seems to have stagnated:

 2001: 50,500
 2002: 53,000 
 2003: 50,500
 2004: 52,500
 2005: 51,500 (last year available)

This is while the number of youth entering foster care has increased from fewer than 285,000 in 2001 to over 311,000 in 2005.

Though the number of youth entering care has increased the number of TPR’S has remained fairly constant at about 65,000 per year over the past five years.

This question was recently asked on a message board that I participate in, “How long have you had a child in your care awaiting reunification or termination of parental rights?”

Here are just a few of the replies that came back:

1. EIGHT YEARS for some friends of ours.

The Chancery Judge thought the druggie mom needed another and another and another chance. Bio mom finally volunteered TPR so the family that had had them for 8 years could adopt them.

Youth Court Judge does TPR’s. Chancery Judge finalized adoptions.

Hubby went to the adoption finalization. There were about 35 people there and the judge asked each and everyone why they were there. When it got to hubby he said he looked at her and said, “Judge, I mean no disrespect but it’s about damn time this happened. You made this drag out entirely too long.” He said the judge teared up.

2. Our little ones will be in FC for 35 months by the time we have TPR trial next month.

3. My friend has had her little boy for three years, since he was three months old. TPR trial has been going on for an entire year and isn’t over yet

4. I had my foster son for 4 1/2 years; they did TPR on bio mom, and then did separate TPR on bio dad. The judge did a suspended judgment on the TPR on bio dad, giving him 6 MORE months after the first 4 years, and then reunified him with the bio dad.

5. My adopted son both parents signed away their rights. But in Pa they have to have a hearing called a confirmation of consent. Anyways that hearing didn’t take place until my son was three years old. And we got him as a newborn. He was three and a half years old when he was adopted.

6. My foster son has been with us for over a year now. He went 6 years until TPR and now it has already been over a year for the appeal and we’re still waiting. I think lawyers get good at playing the system and coming up with delay tactics.

We’re just waiting till we can adopt our little man. Poor guy, can you imagine going 7+ years without permanence in your life?

7. My children were in care 40 months before TPR finally occurred.

Their former case worker has a case that she’s had for the last EIGHT years. The parents keep asking for extensions, and doing JUST ENOUGH to get them, but not enough to bring the child home.

8. Friends of ours boys TPR took over 4 years. BF was in prison and they refused to TPR while he was there and gave him a year after his release to work a plan. After all that time the BF ended up surrendering after making them wait for 4 years!!!

9. My former foster daughter was taken into care at 5 months old… her TPR was not completed until she was nearly 6.5 yrs old…..appeals were finalized at 7.5 yrs and adoption completed 6 months later.

10. We had our soon to be adopted son for 33 months before TPR was granted, appeals took another 5/6 months, then we sat in limbo for almost a year until we signed the adoption papers last week to get the finalization rolling. It was 4 years last Monday that he came to us – the same day we signed the papers!

11. Friends of mine just adopted three foster children they have had for SIX years. They had to hire their own lawyer because after five years in foster care the county was still trying to reunify. They spent tens of thousands of dollars but they finally got TPR.

From just the examples above it appears the attitude of “reunification at all costs” remains in the lexicon of social workers and judges.

Bear in mind; I am all for reunification if it is possible and it is able to be accomplished within a reasonable period of time. A youth should not be held in limbo year after year in hopes the bio parent(s) will get their act together.

It has been shown that the longer a youth remains in care, the more moves a youth experiences and the older the youth gets; the lesser opportunity for adoption.

While the number of adoptions has been fairly stagnant the past fiver years the number of youth aging out of the system has increased from 20,000 a year just a few years ago to over 24,000 last year.

Recently I listened to a documentary on Minnesota Public Radio produced by American Radio Works entitled, “Wanted Parents.” It was a program dedicated to the need to finding adoptive families for eligible teenagers before they age out of the system.

One statement during the program caused me to call in after the documentary aired to participate in the discussion program which followed.

The statement was:

An adoption recruiter for The Homecoming Project in Minneapolis arrives at the group home to meet a new client, and tell a worker why she’s there: 

“My goal is to find this teenager an adoptive home.”

“He’s 17,” the worker says. “Why bother?”
Having spent my youth in foster care and being very familiar with this type of attitude caused my blood to rush to my head in anger towards this worker…no wonder an adoptive home was never found for me!

I however loved the response of the adoption recruiter.

She calmly says to the worker:

“Let me ask you something: do you still have family that you talk to, family who are important to you, family that you visit with or call when you have a problem that you’d like to talk to someone about?”

She sees a light bulb go on inside the worker. “Well, of course I do,” she says softly.

The recruiter finishes, “You say to me ‘He’s 17, why bother?’ and my answer to you is this: because he’s only 17.”

During the discussion program that followed I called in and said how the group home worker’s comment truly bothered me. The recruiter said it obviously did her as well and unfortunately this is an attitude she finds still very prevelant within the system.
The text of the entire documentary (not the discussion) may be found at:

How many times have workers said, “Teens are too old to be adopted.” “Don’t get his/her hopes up.” “No family would want to adopt a teen.” “Don’t disturb her foster home placement.” “Let’s leave him in the treatment center until he isn’t angry anymore.”

What will happen to these youth when they turn eighteen if they don’t have an adoptive family? Because the truth is, most teens skip around from placement to placement like stones across water. Eventually they turn 18 and age out of the system.

For teens that age out, research tells us that their future is bleak: many don’t finish high school, become homeless, jobless, addicted, incarcerated, pregnant, pregnant again and many times their own children end up in foster care repeating the vicious cycle all over again.

It is wrong that these teens are moved around, ignored, unprepared for adulthood, and then bounced out of the system at an age when most kids are still either living at home or financially supported by their parents.

It appears the system today continues to allow youth to languish in limbo and to move children from one home to another with no apparent reason. This does not take into account the emotional costs to the child of being raised in a non-stable environment. They also separate siblings, often allowing no contact between those siblings.

You can quote the Adoption and Family Safety Act of 1997 and get a totally blank look from the people who are supposed to be in charge of enforcing the act. They need to get “all their ducks in a row” and follow the intent of the act which is “the best interest of the child is uppermost”. As it stands now, it’s the rights of the parents.  Their “civil rights” have to be protected no matter how much further damage is done to the children already scarred by the placement in the system.

Overall it appears to me that ASFA of 1997 has been a failure!

Too much discretion has been left to states and judges to determine when a TPR may occur or whether it occurs at all. Youth are being allowed to languish in the system year after year with permanence being no more than just a word in their vocabulary.

When a child is removed from their home and placed in care after all other alternatives were researched I believe that the ASFA law should be changed as follows:

1.If the reason for removal was neglect: the parent(s) should be given a case plan which MUST be accomplished within ONE YEAR otherwise TPR MUST proceed. Biological parent(s) cannot be allowed chance after chance after chance while the youth remains in foster care.

2.If removal has been for severe physical abuse or sexual abuse: the person allegedly responsible MUST be charged. If convicted TPR MUST begin immediately. No child should be placed in the position of the offender having yet another opportunity to harm the child

3. Red tape Must be streamlined to make it easier for foster parent(s) or others to adopt youth from care. This is one of the main complaints from those who end up adopting overseas rather than domestically.

4. More effort needs to be concentrated toward finding adoptive homes for teenagers.

I am sure there are other changes that need to happen with the law but these are the few primary ones I will address in this blog entry.

According to most childcare experts, children need four things:

1) Connectedness; “children need to feel that someone is there for them and they are a part of someone’s life”

2) Continuity; a sense of continuous belonging with another person

3) Dignity; all children are worthy of respect caring, love, thought, and courtesy

4) Opportunity; children need an opportunity to grow and develop- need to be able to explore and express their capabilities-access to quality education, recreation, and leisure appropriate to their developmental levels

The best way to achieve all the above is a permanent, stable, loving family rather than years of languishing in limbo within the system moving from one temporary home to another!

They need someone to adopt them and treat them as their own son or daughter long before they face aging out of the system and possible destruction of their lives!

Today there are 114,000 youth eligible for adoption across the country. Many of them are teenagers who have been in foster care five years or longer…far too many of them face the prospect of aging out of the system. 
All must be done to make a youth’s time in foster care short and with as few moves as possible. Any decision made MUST be made in the child’s best interest…this needs to become the reality rather than the myth it is today!

The sooner youth have permanency in their lives the better the opportunity for them to become stable, productive members of society as they reach the age of maturity.


10 Responses

  1. Now if only the people who make policy would read this and take it to heart. Our kids were in care for 6 years before tpr and another year until they were adopted.

    Keep pushing this, maybe someone will wake up one day and follow the law.

  2. One issue I didn’t see addressed is the drug problems of many BP. Many times birth parents on drugs do not begin to work their plans until just before the case turns to TPR. That is what happened in our case. After doing nothing for 10 months, BM started rehab and is still there. Of course she joined a program with a good success rate, but it also lasts 18 months. So my DS who’d been in care 10 months already (since birth) now has to wait 18 more months for a chance at RU. When our case was heard on Oct. 29th (in care 15 months), the judge actually ruled in our son’s favor saying he needs permanence and it’s not fair to him to make him wait for his BM. BUT he also wouldn’t grant TPR – instead we received Guardianship – a permanent home and family, but definitely not adoption.

    As the DSS attorney stated to us, the system is designed for the BP that do everything to get their children back or the BP that do nothing to get their childen back. What happens to all the children that have parents who work part of their plan, but not all? They languish in the system for months and years while continuances and extensions are granted!

  3. Thanks for posting this. We have 3 cases, involving 5 children. One is a sib set of 3 (same bio), whom we’ve had for 23 months. TPR has been filed, but no end in sight, despite that neither parent has seen their children in this time, nor even STARTED any type of services. We recently got their 1/2 brother (same mom) and DCS is pushing reunification. CW is against it, but her supervisors tell her reunification is ALWAYS the goal, despite mom’s issues with her other children. Neglect and drugs were most of the reasons in this case.
    Our other case is going on 17 months in care, and more disappearing bios. Bio dad had not seen child since she was 1 week old, due to being in jail. Bio mom had not seen her since she was 11 months old when she first came into care. Lo and behold 11 months later both bios show up wanting their child back. Turns out bmom is pregnant again and realizes she could loose this baby too. Bio dad ended up back in jail for quite sometime. I don’t see bio mom having the staying power for my fd, let alone her new baby. She sees her daughter as nothing more than a toy that she can play with for 1 hr a week. DCS plans to let her keep the new baby for now……till she proves neglect or abuse…which given to the issues my FD has, won’t be long.
    What frustrates us the most is how long the courts drag this out. In the cases I’ve mentioned, the CW’s would love to speed things up, but its the judges who delay hearing after hearing. I don’t know if its because the CW’s don’t always present all the facts beforehand or what. No one ‘sees’ the kids, they are just another file.
    I feel such heartbreak for those who spend years and years waiting for a forever family. To know that some may never find that…..its just wrong.

  4. First let me say that I didn’t have time to read your entire blog…I’m sorry but I just couldn’t concentrate, I have a bunch of kids here (teens) and the chaos and noise won’t allow me to overpower my ADHD.

    I do want to add something though…One thing that would drastically improve the rate of RU or adoption is for CPS to remove children for CRIMINAL child abuse. If a child is removed, CRIMINAL charges should be filed. If there is not enough evidence for a charge, then home services should be provided and the child should be returned to him family.

    Another issue is that social workers are keeping kids from being adopted as a way to punish parents who do not go along with the Gestapo way of doing things. Foster parents who advocate and fight for their CHILDRENS’ rights are blackballed and kept from adopting the kids they love.

    I’m A-Ok to foster an 18 yr old hard to place teen, but I’m not good enough to adopt (2) 15 yr olds and 3 little ones that were previously with me and want desperately to come home. Why? What is my crime? I pissed off the Gestapo and now I’m being punished…what they don’t realize (or just don’t care about) is that they are punishing the KIDS right along with me.

  5. Another thought-provoking article. How would I go about sending some of these articles to our local newspaper? We need to get the word out to the general public.

  6. Thank you for your article. The system grieves me as I see child after child “parked” in a foster home while the system caters to birth parents as they do nothing to help themselves. Judges need to be educated about bonding and attachment and how the relationship that child has with his caregivers is much more important than a blood tie. As far as the radio program you spoke of, I am tired of hearing the call for adoptive parents. We are here!! We are waiting but the system keeps our kids tied up and won’t let us adopt.

  7. We need more media coverage on this ever emerging topic of social workers not doing what is in the best interest of the child.
    Several Million dollar lawsuits have been won this year, 2007.
    WE NEED MORE MEDIA COVERAGE on incompetent social workers.

  8. Wow, great article. It’s really criminal what “the system” can do to these children. My fs was TPR’d after 6 years and we’re still 1 year and counting in the appeal process.

    Somebody needs to be held accountable. They need to start following the Adoption and Family Safety Act of 1997 and stop catering to the birth parents. DSS may talk tough, but they really need to get things in gear. Our children unfortunately are depending on them.

  9. So why isn’t this being done?
    I am tired of the argument when ti comes to international adoption, “What about adopting our OWN?”
    Truth is, the system is mangled and in dire, desparate need of reforms. At least we HAVE a system, but how much sense does it make delaying TPR for 6 years?
    How much sense does it make to keep children in the system until they are teens who don’t even have a place to go to for Thanksgiving or the holidays because of how the system bungles things?:
    It must become more streamline, no more multiple second changes for folks who don’t deserve it, no more holding kids hostage in a system that isn’t caring for them enough.
    As much as I want to adopt from the system, I cannot bring myself to do it (I’m not ready yet though, I’d need a job first, insurance, I don’t have any of those things yet.) at this moment because of how the system is set up. it has to start becoming more about the children and what they need.

  10. I have two grandchildren in foster care in another state who I have been trying get but the county CPS in my state are dragging their feet. I have been trying since March to get a home inspection! The system is crazy. I now drive 12 hours round trip for a 2 hour supervised visitation when these kids should be with me.

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