Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Guest Post - The Child Welfare System: Has the Pendulum Swung too Far? By Amanda Preston

The Child Welfare System: Has the Pendulum Swung too Far? By Amanda Preston

Family Finding 

The history of the child welfare system is riddled with a dark past and misguided beliefs. From the death of children in foster care, to the secrecy of adoption, to the abuse from professionals and caregivers, there is no shortage of distrust towards professionals and government officials involved. In an attempt to right past wrongs and improve the child welfare system (and justly so), there has been a massive swing to correct these misguided attempts to care for vulnerable children. 
One of the big steps the government and professionals have taken has been shifting the goal towards keeping children in families. This is an excellent goal. I am a social worker, adoptive parent and foster parent and have experienced all sides and can attest to this approach. Reunification is always the first priority. When parents cannot care for their children, however (as this does occur often), children are placed with extended family members in an attempt to keep children connected to their relatives, their culture, and their biology. In theory, this is exactly what we should be striving for. Theory, however, is where I believe the pendulum receives it first massive shove in the wrong direction.

Case Studies 

Let us examine two examples using the above theory. 

Example One: A 5-year-old boy is removed from his mother due to severe abuse and neglect. The mother has extensive history with the child welfare system and the social worker is aware there is a lot of work that needs to be done before it is safe for the child to return home. After speaking with the mother, the social worker discovers that there is an aunt who is done raising her own children, and would be a great support to help take care of this little boy during this challenging time. The little boy is able to stay within his culture, live with a woman he has a prior relationship with, and easily maintain contact with other extended family members. The theory of family first is ideal in this situation and has kept the child out of the foster care system. 
Example Two: A newborn is placed in a foster home due to her mother's drug addiction. The mother is living on the streets and is not ready to get clean. Social workers begin to work with the mother over the next two years in an attempt to support her and the reunification of her child. After two years, however, it is concluded that she is not able to win the battle of addiction at this time and will not be able to care for her child. A year later, due to court delays and social worker turnover, the judge terminates the parental rights. The child is now legally available for adoption at 3 years old. Unfortunately, more turnaround begins. New social workers enter and old ones leave. The foster parents express interest in adopting this child, who now calls them mom and dad. The guardianship worker is on board with this adoption plan, and attachments are further established. Another year goes by due to bureaucratic red tape before the child's case is finally moved to an adoption worker. This new adoption worker notices that family finding has never occurred. The wait list for a family find worker, however, is 6 months. Family finding eventually begins and takes roughly a year to complete. At the end of their search the child is now 5 years old and entering kindergarten. She has a strong attachment to her foster family, and views them as the only mom and dad she has ever known. She is attached to her two foster siblings, and her pet dog. She is attached to her foster grandparents and is well integrated into the extended family. The social worker informs them, however, that they have located a family member. There is a great aunt's, brother's son, and he is a single man living in a remote community over three days drive away. The social worker informs the family that this child will now be moved to live with this relative whom she has never met. He does not live locally, has a different way of living and there is no relationship. She is moved to the new home, breaking her attachment to her foster parents and the only mom and dad she has ever known. The result is severe trauma, the feeling of abandonment, and fear in an unknown community. This child, who had previously never known this level of trauma before, who was loved, securely attached, and had a forever placement, was emotionally brutalized in an attempt to follow a theory. Mental health issues are guaranteed. 


I cannot get on board with example two. I understand the theory of it, but the execution and ramifications are too damaging. Does the ability to live with a "family member" in the second case, outweigh the benefits of staying in a secure attachment? Does it outweigh the prevention of another trauma in the life of a child who has already lost her biological mother? NO! The pendulum has swung SO far the other way in an attempt to follow this theory, that children are getting traumatized again and again. Furthermore, more often than not, that trauma yields trauma related behaviors, and the family member is often not equipped to parent these kids. I have seen children returned to their foster home again and again because a family placement has broken down. How are we helping these children? How are blanket decisions based off of a theory rather than their own unique needs, in the child's best interest? 

What is the solution? I believe it is crucial in approaching each situation as its own unique case with its own "best outcome." Theories do not have the ability to take individual circumstances into account, nor is a theory able to see the child as a human being with real life human connection and feelings. In many cases, extended family is ideal and can prevent children from moving from foster home to foster home, while maintaining their familial connection. In other cases, however, the attachment of a child in care needs to be considered, and their permanency taken into account. In these situations, openness is an amazing alternative in maintaining family relationships without breaking an attachment and creating more trauma. Visits, e-mails, phone calls and pictures are all great ways for a child to stay connected to relatives, while still being raised in the home their attachment is established. In essence, time and attachment can yield this theory ineffective and it should no longer be used as the guiding paradigm. 

Today, children are being raised in adoption through a new lens. Openness is the new guiding beacon and children are growing up connected to their family and culture like never before. Their identity and well-being are no longer rooted in their living arrangements alone, but their connection as well. Many of us can attest to a deep, meaningful connection to our grandparents, without ever residing with them. 

Somehow, we need to firmly grab a hold of the child welfare pendulum and position it back in the middle. Taking each child's needs into account is vital in moving forward and we must mold this theory so that it includes openness as a vital piece of the puzzle when ensuring the child's best interest is being met. Attachment should be brought to the forefront of the child welfare system, and trauma taken into consideration with all decisions. The notion of child resiliency needs to be re-examined, though that shall have to wait for another post. 

Amanda Preston is an adoptive and foster mother to 8 children, a social worker, blogger, and runs a national charity focusing on advocacy, awareness, education and support for all things adoption and foster care related. She is passionate about special needs, and is an advocate for change in the child welfare system. 

You can find Amanda at 
or on Facebook at @mylovelycrazylife

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