NACAC has strong beliefs and positions on many key policies and practices in adoption and child welfare, as outlined in the position statements below.
We encourage advocates to use these statements in their efforts to improve outcomes for children and families.
In some cases, the statements reflect the belief that a given law, policy, or practice is not in the best interest of children. Regardless of our position on a particular law, however, NACAC complies with existing law at all times, and will continue to do so.
Scroll down to read the position statements on the following topics.
- Access to Records, December 3, 2005
- Access to Residential Treatment, December 3, 2005
- Access to Trauma-Informed Care, December 11, 2012
- Adoption Assistance, March 26, 2006
- Adoption Disruption and Dissolution, April 5, 2009
- Allegations of Abuse, July 26, 2006
- Best Interests of the Child or Youth, December 1, 2007
- Children’s and Youth’s Needs, March 25, 2007
- Data Collection, December 3, 2005
- Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care and Adoption, February 10, 2013
- Eliminating Categorical Restrictions, July 25, 2007
- Ethics in Adoption, August 4, 2010
- Fees in Adoption, December 3, 2005
- Financing of Child Welfare Programs and Services, December 3, 2005
- Gay and Lesbian Foster Care and Adoption, April 9, 2005
- Implementation of the Hague Convention, December 3, 2005
- Kinship Care, July 26, 2006
- LGBTQ Children and Youth in Care, December 3, 2005
- Native and Aboriginal Children in Foster Care, Guardianship, and Adoption, December 3, 2005
- Open Adoption, December 3, 2005
- Orphanages, December 3, 2005
- A Permanency for Older Youth, August 3, 2011
- Permanency Planning/Continuity of Relationships, December 3, 2005
- Post-Adoption Support, December 3, 2005
- Pre-Placement/Pre-Adoption Issues, December 3, 2005
- Privatization, December 3, 2005
- Race/Ethnic Background and Child Welfare, August 3, 2005
- Recruitment of Permanent Families, December 3, 2005
- Safe Havens, July 30, 2008
- Siblings in Foster Care and Adoption, December 1, 2007
- Subsidized Guardianship, July 26, 2006
- Support for Youth Aging Out of Care, December 15, 2011
- Tax Policy to Encourage Permanence for Foster Children and Youth, December 3, 2005
NACAC believes that every adopted person has the right, at the age of majority, to receive personal information about his or her birth, foster, and adoption history, including medical information, and educational and social history. NACAC supports efforts of adoptees to have access to information about and connections with their birth and foster families.
NACAC believes it is the responsibility of states, provinces, and all child-placing agencies to create, support and adequately fund adoption disclosure registries that actively seek birth relatives or adoptees, upon registration of any of these parties. If such active registries are not available, NACAC supports voluntary mutual consent registries for adults as one way for adoptees to access information.
Recognizing that many adult adoptees have a need for more complete information about their birth families, NACAC supports their right to this information and supports access to original birth certificates to any adult adoptee at age of majority.
Upon a showing of good cause, courts should have the authority to require disclosure of adoption information and birth records to adoptees, birth family members, and adoptive family members. States, provinces, and agencies must preserve birth and adoption records safely and accessibly for future retrieval.
Access to Residential Treatment
Currently, in many cases, adoptive families must place their children and youth back in foster care to receive residential treatment. Children and youth with a history of trauma, especially those with previous residential treatment experience, are more likely to need extensive mental health services even after adoption. Out-of-home mental health services should be designed to support child and family connections throughout the treatment period.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
State, provincial, and local policies should not penalize adoptive families whose adopted children and youth need out-of-home care. No family should be charged with abandonment or forced to give up custody of their child or youth in order to receive mental health services or out-of-home care.
If children and youth adopted from foster care must live away from their adoptive family in either residential treatment or foster care, the family should not be required to take on financial responsibility beyond any state, provincial, or federal adoption assistance payment they may receive.
Access to Trauma-Informed Care
Many adopted children and youth have experienced trauma in their young lives—be it related to abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic or community violence, or loss of birth family. Often, the prolonged trauma facing a child who enters foster care due to ongoing neglect or abuse can have a greater impact than a single traumatic event such as witnessing violence, natural disasters, etc. Such ongoing exposure to trauma—called complex or cumulative trauma—causes neurological changes that can result in developmental delays, difficulty with attachment, mental or physical health problems, increased risk of later victimization, substance abuse, and other behavioral problems throughout the individual’s life. The effects of trauma can influence every aspect of a child or youth’s life and often dramatically change family dynamics and every family member’s life. Trauma can also affect families for generations to come, with deep impacts over time.
In spite of these challenges, there is hope. Children and youth can heal from trauma. Healing takes time, intention, expertise, and resources; a trauma-informed system of care is one of the resources that can help the healing process. Understanding what constitutes trauma and the impact trauma can have on a child or youth and his or her family improves the ability of the child welfare, health, mental health, and other systems to meet each child or youth’s needs while promoting healing and resilience.
When a traumatized child or youth and his or her family need mental or behavioral health care, they have a right to receive trauma-informed care—care that acknowledges the effect trauma has on individuals and their families, modifies services to respond to those effects, focuses on skill- and strength-building rather than symptom management, and avoids further traumatization. A trauma-informed system is also one that acknowledges and includes parents as key participants in the healing process for a child or youth.
NACAC embraces the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s definition of trauma-informed care: “A trauma-informed child- and family-service system is one in which all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, and service providers. Programs and agencies within such a system infuse and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their organizational cultures, practices, and policies. They act in collaboration with all those who are involved with the child, using the best available science, to facilitate and support the recovery and resiliency of the child and family.”
Trauma is but one of a complex set of experiences a child or youth suffers as a result of abuse or neglect. Trauma requires holistic assessment and comprehensive treatment. Trauma-informed care recognizes a child or youth’s strengths and respects their individual challenges. Child welfare, mental health, health, and other systems are called upon to incorporate trauma-informed practices into their existing service array based upon evidence-informed practices.
Research and literature related to resilience and healing from trauma all recognize the foundational importance of lasting, stable relationships. Therefore, the provision of trauma-informed services must always be concurrent to and compatible with seeking and supporting permanent families for all children who have experienced trauma, whether in their birth family, kinship care, or non-relative adoption or guardianship.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
- The U.S. and Canadian federal governments should invest in research to identify the short- and long-term effects of trauma and to identify evidence-based clinical practices that reduce the effects of trauma on children, youth, and their families. The federal governments should widely disseminate these research findings, and encourage the use of best practices in trauma-informed care.
- All assessments for children and youth in care and adopted from care should be trauma-informed. (See NACAC’s position statement on Cognitive, Social, Emotional, Physical, Developmental, and Educational Needs of Foster and Adopted Children and Youth for more information on assessments.) Because the impact of trauma can mimic other disorders, before a foster or adopted child is given a particular diagnosis or prescribed psychotropic medication, the child or youth should be thoroughly assessed for the impact of trauma. In addition to other effective services and support provided to each child or youth in care, the child welfare system should fund and provide access to treatment to address any issues arising from trauma the child or youth experienced.
- Federal, state, provincial, First Nations, tribal, and territorial governments (hereafter called governments) should adopt a policy that all child welfare system providers are informed about the effects of trauma, appropriately assess each client’s trauma history, and offer services that facilitate recovery. These public entities should ensure providers have access to research and practice guidelines related to effective trauma-informed care.
- Governments should invest in and ensure access to trauma-informed care, and develop networks of culturally competent trauma-informed providers who can provide care that is developmentally appropriate for each child or youth served.
- Governments should fund evaluations of public mental and behavioral health services to assess if these interventions are trauma-informed, and make recommendations for changes when necessary.
- Until all services are truly trauma-informed, governments should promote and provide access to those public and private services that have been shown to be effective trauma-informed services.
- All health and mental health care systems and providers should incorporate into their services evidence-based and evidence-informed trauma-informed practices that acknowledge and respond to the effect of trauma. Such services build on respect for the traumatized individual and allow time for the individual to build trust. Each system and provider should also develop its own written policies and procedures for ensuring the provision of evidence-based and evidence-informed trauma-informed care and for educating its workforce about trauma.
- All health and mental health care providers should assess each individual’s trauma history and respond respectfully and appropriately to provide trauma-informed care.
- Parents and caregivers should be given access to information about the impact of trauma on their child, opportunities to learn about and practice trauma-informed parenting strategies, and information and support related to their own experiences with intergenerational and/or secondary traumatic stress.
- When possible, treatment should involve peer support from others who have experienced trauma and can share their stories of recovery and growth.
- Systems must seek ongoing and in-depth input from trauma survivors and their families about how services might better meet the needs of children and youth who have been traumatized and the families who care for them.
- Institutions that educate health and mental health care providers should require students to receive education on the effects of trauma and the best way to treat individuals who have been traumatized. Training should include the prevalence of trauma and its impact on individuals, how to recognize trauma-affected behavior, and what is most effective in serving individuals who have been traumatized.
- Any certification or education in adoption competence must include competency in trauma and loss issues along with the other core issues in adoption.
Federal, state, tribal, provincial, and territorial governments have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all children and youth who have been in the guardianship of the government through the foster care system (hereafter referred to as foster children and youth or children and youth adopted from foster care). All foster children and youth who are placed with adoptive families should be eligible for benefits through an adoption assistance program* (also known as adoption subsidy).
Adoption assistance is designed to supplement the resources of the approved adoptive family in order to meet the child’s or youth’s needs without creating an undue financial burden on the family. Adoption assistance programs and policies should be structured so that there is not a disincentive for a family to move a child or youth from foster care to adoption.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
NACAC seeks reforms within adoption assistance programs in the U.S. and Canada so that all foster children and youth are eligible for benefits that will enable their families to meet the children’s or youth’s needs. Specifically:
- Each state, province, territory, and the U.S. federal government should operate fully funded, child-focused adoption assistance programs.
- Children and youth who are adopted from foster care should be eligible for at least the same level of support and benefits (including any therapeutic or specialized rates) they would have received in family foster care.
- Specific adoption assistance program benefits should be determined on a case-by-case basis to meet the specific needs of the foster child or youth being adopted. Agencies must notify all prospective adoptive families of the benefits for which their child would be eligible. Agencies must be diligent and effective at providing parents with full information and equal status to ensure fairness in the negotiating process, thereby maximizing the opportunity for placement success. Negotiations should not be seen as a process to either minimize or maximize benefits, but rather a process by which the parties determine what the child or youth needs to function successfully in the adoptive family. To ensure that children and youth receive the support they need, states, provinces, and placing agencies should train workers about the purpose of the adoption assistance program and should encourage negotiation designed to achieve the right benefits for the specific child or youth, rather than the lowest possible benefits. In addition, agencies should train prospective adoptive families about how to negotiate for the benefits their new child truly needs.
- Families should be eligible for different adoption assistance benefits when their children’s needs change.
- Until adoption assistance programs cover all children and youth adopted from foster care, deferred adoption assistance agreements combined with a “high-risk” special needs definition should be used to ensure future access to necessary adoption assistance benefits for foster children at risk of developing or manifesting special needs as they age (such as those at high risk for mental illness or exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero, for example).
- When children or youth receiving adoption assistance payments need out-of-home care, the cost of care to the family should not exceed the adoption assistance payment.
- Adoption assistance agreements should clearly state that they will remain in force at least until a youth is 18. For youth with mental, physical, or behavioral special needs or other special circumstances, adoption assistance should be extended until the youth is 21. In the U.S., the federal government should continue to provide IV-E reimbursement to states for payments made to IV-E-eligible 18- to 21-year-olds.
- A financial means test should not be used to determine a child’s, youth’s, or family’s eligibility for adoption assistance benefits or the level of those benefits.
- Adoption assistance payments should not be taxable income.
Specific U.S. Recommendations
- U.S. federal law should be changed to remove the link between a birth parent’s AFDC eligibility and a child’s or youth’s eligibility for Title IV-E Adoption Assistance. Policies should be designed to ensure that every child or youth adopted from foster care has access to federal adoption assistance benefits to meet the child’s or youth’s needs.
- Tribes should have direct access to Title IV-E funding on behalf of children in their care and custody, rather than having to negotiate individual state/tribal agreements.
- If an adoption assistance agreement is not in place at finalization, states should be able to negotiate and approve a post-finalization adoption assistance agreement without making families to go through the fair hearing process in order to maintain the child’s or youth’s Title IV-E eligibility.
- When judges order adoption assistance agreements for children or youth who are adopted from foster care, those agreements should be eligible for Title IV-E adoption assistance reimbursement.
- Until the U.S. provides universal health care, all children and youth adopted from U.S. foster care should be eligible for Medicaid.
*By adoption assistance, NACAC means the federal, state, provincial, and territorial programs that support children adopted from public foster care. Such support can include medical coverage, monthly payments, respite or day care, individual and family counseling, residential treatment, specialized camps, etc. (These services may also be available to other adopted children through a state’s or province’s post-adoption service program.)
Adoption Disruption and Dissolution
In special needs adoption today, disruptions and dissolutions do occur; therefore, adoptive placement should be done carefully and thoughtfully. (An adoption disruption is the end of an adoption placement that has not yet been finalized. An adoption dissolution is the end of an adoption after finalization.) Disruptions and dissolutions are hard on children and families.
When an adoption disrupts/dissolves, contact between the family and the child/youth should not necessarily end. Continuity of relationships is important to children/youth, and child welfare professionals should help children/youth and families maintain connections after disruption/dissolution when it is in the child’s best interests and is safe and possible to do so.
NACAC believes that many disruptions/dissolutions can and should be prevented through improved child/youth and family preparation, child/youth and family selection,* and ongoing support including complete disclosure of the child/youth’s background, behaviors, and needs. States, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations have a responsibility to implement practices to prevent disruptions/dissolutions and to support children/youth and parents when disruption/dissolution occurs. Placing agencies and organizations should never make it necessary for an adoption to disrupt or dissolve in order for a child/youth or family to access services. Support will increase chances of future adoptive placement success for the child/youth and the adoptive family.
* This has historically been known as matching. The term family selection indicates a focus on choosing a family that can best meet a child/youth’s needs.
Policy, Practice, and Research Recommendations
Preventing Disruptions and Dissolutions
All placing agencies and organizations must train staff about the importance of relationship continuity to child/youth well-being, as well as the role of family selection, preparation, and support for all parties in adoption. The training should also address the agency’s and staff’s responsibility to help prevent disruption/dissolution, and all parties’ need for nonjudgmental support in a case of disruption/ dissolution.
States, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations should do the following before each adoptive placement:
- fully investigate a child/youth’s background and life experiences, develop a detailed social history, and thoroughly assess the child/youth’s health, abilities, interests, goals, and educational and other needs (see NACAC’s statement on Cognitive, Social, Emotional, Physical, Developmental, and Needs of Foster and Adopted Children and Youth)
- assess prospective parents’ strengths, limitations, ability to parent
- children with specific disabilities or special needs, parenting style, and expectations
- assess the parents’ ability to value and support birth family connections and the child/youth’s connections to birth family members (including siblings) and other people important to the child/youth, and make placements based on whether the family’s openness to facilitating contact reflects the child/youth’s contact needs
- consider, in the selection process, the child’s language, culture, race/ethnic background and the families’ ability to meet the child’s cultural needs
- analyze the results of both the child/youth and family assessment, and match family strengths with child/youth’s needs
- prepare and support the child/youth’s foster parents so they can be supportive of the placement
- prepare and support the child’s birth parents, siblings, and other relatives through each stage of the permanency planning process
- before visits begin, ensure that both the child/youth and the entire prospective family are fully prepared for and willing to accept the placement, and that each party has detailed information about the other
- provide a trained, adoption-competent counselor to work with both the child/youth, prospective adoptive family, and current foster family to assess and address fears, concerns, possible areas of conflicts, and other issues that might affect adoption success
- plan—with the counselor, prospective adoptive family, current foster family, and child/youth—the adoption transition
Since some research suggests adoptive placements with foster and kinship caregivers are less likely to disrupt/dissolve, states, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations should:
- actively search for relatives for each child when the child enters care, and quickly place with relatives whenever possible (see NACAC’s position statement on Kinship Care)
- effectively implement programs to place children/youth with relative and non-relative foster parents who will work toward reunification but also agree to provide permanency if the children/youth do not return home
- use dual foster care/adoption licensing so both relative and non-relative foster parents can more easily transition to adoption
- ensure that workers discuss the possibility of adoption with foster parents and relatives
States, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must ensure that the adopted child/youth and the entire adoptive family are effectively supported from the selection process through the transition and throughout the adoption placement. Such support should include:
- adoption assistance that meets the child/youth’s needs
- consistent, affordable access to all needed services, including a social worker or post-adoption service worker, parent support groups, training on adoption and special needs, medical care, respite care, etc.
- access to affordable, effective in-home family therapy, other mental health services, and temporary out-of-home mental health treatment
- support in maintaining any connections to birth family members (including siblings) and past caregivers and others important to the child/youth
- crisis intervention services
Access to these services should never be contingent on the child/youth being placed in foster care or on an adoption disruption/dissolution.
(For more detailed information, see NACAC’s position statements on Access to Residential Treatment, Adoption Assistance, and Post-Adoption Support.)
Providing Support after Disruption/Dissolution
When a disruption/dissolution does happen, states, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must:
- continue to seek an adoptive family or other permanent placement for the child/youth
- assess the child/youth’s birth family and other relatives to see if they can provide a safe and permanent home for the child/youth
- work with the child/youth and family to develop a transition plan that ensures a thoughtful, minimally traumatic move of the child/youth; the plan must include opportunities for the child/youth to say goodbye to the family, as well as neighbors, friends, and others in his/her life
- support continued relationships with these individuals whenever safe and possible
- provide the child/youth and adoptive family with therapeutic support to address grief and trauma due to the disruption
- gather information from the adoptive family, others in the child/youth’s life, and the child/youth about his/her strengths, preferences, routines, behaviors, and concerns and share that information with future caregivers
- provide the child/youth and family with extra preparation and support in future adoptive placements
- provide information to families about parent support groups
- recognize the impact that disruption/dissolution has on agency staff and provide supervision and support to help staff deal with the effects
- notify the tribe and birth family, in cases of children covered by ICWA
Worker changes on a case have been shown to correlate with increased disruption/dissolution, therefore states, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must address issues that lead to burnout, turnover, and layoffs, including funding, pay, training, caseload, and other working conditions. Agencies and organizations must also recognize that disruption/dissolution can be traumatic for staff and can affect their future performance, and should provide adequate supervision and support. When any placement disrupts/dissolves, involved agencies and organizations should hold a review meeting to assess what happened and how future placements can be preserved, including resources that may have been needed and child, family, and agency factors that affected the placement.
Tracking Disruptions/Dissolutions and Conducting Research
The U.S. federal government and Canadian provinces and territories should develop a standard definition of disruption and dissolution. States, provinces, territories, and tribes should accurately gather and report the following data:
- the number of intact, disrupted, and dissolved placements each year, tracked by type of adoption (international, private domestic, foster care, etc.)
- for each disruption/dissolution:
- the reason for the child/youth’s original removal from birth family
- child/youth’s age at placement and at disruption/dissolution
- whether the child/youth was placed with siblings and the status of any sibling’s placements
- the length of time the child/youth spent in care and the number of placements
- any physical, emotional, or behavioral problems the child/youth had at placement
- adoptive family characteristics (relationship to the child/youth before placement [foster parent, relative, etc.], marital status, family size, family and child/youth race/ethnic background, etc.)
- stated cause of disruption/dissolution
- services provided before and during the adoption (including child/youth and family preparation), as well as any specific efforts to prevent disruption/dissolution
- services that were needed but were not available or provided before and during the adoption
Both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments should also fund in-depth comparative studies of successful adoptive families and families involved in disruptions/dissolutions to identify any parent or child/youth characteristics, practice issues (matching, preparation, etc.), and supportive services that are more common in successful adoptive placements versus disrupted/dissolved placements.
Allegations of Abuse
Foster, adoptive, and kinship families may be vulnerable to allegations of abuse. For these families, child welfare authorities and agencies have an obligation to ensure the safety of children for whom they have assumed responsibility. When allegations are made, agencies must keep the child or youth’s best interests in mind and act quickly, fairly, and accurately to investigate and resolve the complaint.
- Agencies should educate all prospective foster, kinship, and adoptive parents about their potential to act in an abusive manner or to be vulnerable to false allegations of abuse. Agencies should train and support families to avoid abusive behavior and keep their children and youth and themselves safe. Training should include appropriate parenting techniques for children who have been abused or neglected.
- Agencies should also encourage all family members to participate in the development of an abuse prevention and safety plan.
- Agencies should inform, in writing, and provide training to all foster, adoptive, and kinship caregivers about the process for investigating allegations as well as the parents’ rights and resources if they should be accused.
- Child welfare agencies, including child protection agencies, have an obligation to provide training on abuse and allegations to all staff as well as to community response agencies, police, schools, medical and mental health professionals, and others who respond to allegations of abuse.
- Agencies must develop a process for handling all allegations of abuse or neglect that includes the following elements.
- The child or youth’s safety and well-being are paramount. The first step must be to assess and ensure the child’s safety and well-being.
- When the child or youth’s well-being can be assured, the child or youth should not be unnecessarily removed from the family. Agencies must carefully contrast the potential long-term harm to the child or youth caused by removal from a family against the risk of harm from suspected abuse or neglect. Whenever possible, agencies must consider alternate safety provisions (such as removing an alleged perpetrator during the investigation while leaving the child or youth with the rest of the family).
- Once the child or youth’s safety has been assured, the foster, kinship, or adoptive parent(s) must be promptly notified in writing about the allegations, the process for investigating the charges, and any opportunities for response from the parent(s).
- The investigation should be timely, careful, impartial, and skilled and should take into account the child or youth’s and family’s unique history. Any agencies involved in the investigation (child protection, the family’s agency, the child or youth’s agency, etc.) should coordinate efforts and communicate roles to the family. To protect the child or youth, investigating agencies should avoid unnecessarily duplicative interviews with them. The entity that conducts an interview with the child or youth should share the results of the interviews with other agencies and departments involved in the investigation whenever necessary.
- The investigating agency should inform the child or youth’s worker of the allegation and ask for relevant information about the child or youth’s past history, especially any specific vulnerabilities or past instances of abuse or alleged abuse of the child or youth. The agency should also notify any other caregivers or providers when necessary to protect the child or youth’s safety and well-being.
- The process should include an avenue for timely appeal through administrative or judicial review.
- When allegations are found to be false, agencies should promptly provide the accused parent(s) and any other notified parties with formal, written acknowledgment of the result of the investigation.
- When allegations are substantiated, foster, adoptive, and kinship parents should be treated as any other abusive or neglectful parent, including listing in the state’s, province’s, or territory’s central registry. When it is in the child’s best interests, foster and kinship parents should have the same opportunities for support and family preservation or reunification as birth and adoptive parents in similar situations.
Best Interests of the Child or Youth
NACAC’s position statements often refer to the best interests of a child or youth, so below we detail what we believe should be included in assessments of a child’s or youth’s best interests. NACAC acknowledges that such determinations are extremely challenging and that workers and judges often must balance competing best interests such as those of the child’s or youth’s siblings or other family members, or community or cultural groups (such as a tribe).
Best interests determinations must be made on an individual, child- or youth-specific basis. The right decision for one child or youth may not be in the best interests of another child or youth, even one in similar circumstances. Best interests assessments should be ongoing, and should take into account changes in the child’s, youth’s, or family’s circumstances. In making such determinations, workers and judges should seek input from the child or youth, family members, and community members.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
Whenever a best interests determination is required, the following factors* shall be considered in the context of the child’s or youth’s age and developmental needs:
- The physical safety and welfare of the child or youth, including food, shelter, health, and clothing
- The development of the child’s or youth’s identity
- The child’s or youth’s background and ties, including familial, cultural, racial, ethnic, language, and religious;
- The child’s or youth’s sense of permanent attachments, including:
- Where the child or youth actually feels love, attachment, and sense of being valued
- The child’s or youth’s sense of security
- The child’s or youth’s sense of familiarity
- The least disruptive placement alternative for the child or youth
- The child’s or youth’s wishes and long-term goals
- The child’s or youth’s community ties, including church, school, and friends
- The physical, emotional, mental health, and educational needs of the child or youth, now and in the future
- The child’s or youth’s need for legal permanence (reunification, guardianship, and adoption)
- The child’s or youth’s need for stability and continuity of relationships with kin, parent figures, and siblings
- The risks attendant to entering and being in foster care
- The probability of success of any (permanent or temporary) placement arrangement
Financial and programmatic support and services should be available to support any placement made in the child’s or youth’s best interests.
*NACAC adapted these factors from the Illinois state statute on best interests.
Cognitive, Social, Emotional, Physical, Developmental, and Educational Needs of Foster and Adopted Children and Youth
Research has demonstrated that abuse, neglect, in-utero exposure to drugs and alcohol, and multiple placements in foster care all have damaging effects on children and youth, and that special services are often required to ensure the healthy development of children and youth who have spent time in foster care. Children and youth in foster care have been found to have disproportionately higher rates of physical, developmental, and mental health problems.
NACAC believes that the public child welfare system has primary responsibility to properly assess and address the cognitive, social, emotional, physical, developmental, and educational needs of children and youth who are or who have been in the foster care system. The child welfare system must partner with family and community to do a thorough assessment and must provide services and support that meet the child’s or youth’s full range of needs. Both assessment and service provision are necessary to ensure the best possible outcomes for every child and youth in care.
- Within 30 days of a child’s or youth’s entry into foster care, the child’s or youth’s agency should be responsible for the completion of a comprehensive, racially and culturally competent assessment of the child’s or youth’s physical health (including dental health), mental health, and developmental and educational needs. The age-appropriate and developmentally tailored assessment should be anticipatory and preventive, focusing on early identification and interventions. The assessment should include the child’s or youth’s strengths, motor skills, cognition, speech and language function, emotional well-being (including interests, family connections, ability to form personal relationships), educational level and achievement, and behaviors. To ensure accurate background information and accurate identification of issues following the child’s or youth’s entry into care, each assessment should include:
- a process—such as a family group conference meeting—for obtaining input from the child’s or youth’s family and community members who knew the child or youth before removal
- conversations with the child or youth to determine who he/she is, what is important to him/her, and what he/she needs
- detailed information about the child’s or youth’s entire family—including siblings, birth parents, and other family members.
The assessment should be updated at least every six months for the first year a child or youth is in care, and then annually thereafter. In some cases, based on the individual needs of the child or youth, updated assessments should be done more frequently.
- The child or youth must be given the opportunity to be a full participant in a meaningful and respectful assessment, and be given proper support to ensure an open, honest, and inclusive process. This support should include accommodations of age or ability or other special circumstances, the opportunity to participate by videotape rather than in person, and the chance to speak with the person of the child’s or youth’s choice (a birth parent or other relative, friend, foster parent, CASA, teacher, counselor, etc.) before the assessment and to bring that person to any meetings conducted as a part of the assessment.
- Courts should require and child welfare agencies must undertake the responsibility for identifying a community-based multi-disciplinary team to conduct a single, coordinated assessment. The team should include physicians, mental health providers, caregivers, birth and foster parents, educators, community resource providers, guardians/attorneys ad litem, court-appointed special advocates, the child’s or youth’s social worker, etc., and should use standardized instruments and assessment tools that accurately assess the child’s or youth’s developmental stage, attachment, physical health, mental health, and educational achievement and needs. The assessment must consider the child’s or youth’s history of abuse, neglect, and foster placement and how this has affected the child or youth. Practitioners conducting the assessments must be properly trained, and have experience, in these areas. After the assessments are completed, the team must develop a single written assessment report.
- To ensure the training of practitioners, schools of social work—in conjunction with child welfare experts—should develop BSW and MSW courses as well as post-certification programs that educate students and service providers on the effects of abuse, neglect, and foster care placement on a child’s or youth’s development as well as physical and mental health. Similarly, schools that prepare professionals who serve children in foster care (including schools of education, law schools, medical schools, nursing programs) should develop curricula materials and classes that highlight the effect of abuse, neglect, and foster care on a child’s or youth’s development as well as physical and mental health.
- Each assessment report should identify the services the child or youth needs (including educational supports such as tutoring), establish an effective plan for funding and delivering those services and supports, and identify a process for ensuring that services and support are actually provided. The agency should send the assessment report to all members of the assessment team, the judge, social workers, guardians/attorneys ad litem, and birth and foster parents. Teachers and others involved in caring for the child or youth should receive those portions of the assessment report that relate to the services they are providing to the child or youth. The agency should be held accountable for using the assessment in making the best placement decision for the child or youth, and determining whether, with appropriate services and support, the family of origin can meet the child’s or youth’s needs. When children are reunified with their family of origin, the agency should be held accountable for putting in place a plan to ensure that the needed services are available and accessible and ensure that those supports build on the family’s strengths. If reunification is not possible, the agency must use the assessment to make a placement decision with a caregiver(s) who can meet the child’s or youth’s needs and to assure that the appropriate subsidies and services are provided in the new permanent family. The agency must report to the court on the provision of services and supports, and the court should make a finding on whether the plan is being effectively implemented.
- The initial assessment should be considered a baseline to which subsequent assessments are compared to determine whether the supportive services are meeting the child’s or youth’s needs and enhancing the child’s or youth’s strengths. If the assessment identifies that the child’s or youth’s situation warrants, the supportive services should be changed to ensure the best possible outcomes. When services are successfully helping the child or youth, however, those services should remain in place.
- After a child is in a permanent family (whether through reunification, adoption, or guardianship), the family should have the option for an annual re-assessment of the child or youth’s needs and a plan for the provision of needed services. The plan should include a determination of how the services will be provided to the child or youth. When necessary, the services should be provided by the state or province/territory, so that financial issues do not prevent the child or youth from getting the help he/she needs. (In the long-term the provision of services is likely to be cost-effective since it can prevent the return of the child or youth to the foster care system.)
To make services more accessible to families, the government should:
- Require private and public medical insurance entities to cover mental health services at the same level of coverage as physical health services
- Review Medicaid reimbursement rules and increase reimbursements and streamline the reimbursement process so that more providers are willing to accept Medicaid
- Require HMOs to hire and retain qualified, competent service providers, and when those providers are not available, to make referrals to and fully fund treatment received out of network
- Fully support the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program through which foster and adopted children can receive assessments and services through Medicaid.
To ensure educational continuity for foster children and youth, the government should pass legislation that:
- Allows foster children to remain in their school of origin for the duration of the school year, in spite of placement moves, when it is in their best interests
- Requires placing agencies to consider school stability as a factor during placement decisions
- When school moves are necessary, requires the placing agency to request, and the schools to comply with, immediate transfer of the child’s or youth’s records to the new school, and requires the new school to immediately use the records to facilitate the implementation of needed academic support services and appropriate class placement
- Allows a foster child to be immediately enrolled in school even if all typical requirements (records, immunizations, uniforms, etc.) are not available
- Requires districts to calculate and accept credit for full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed by the student and earned while attending a public school, juvenile court school, or nonpublic, nonsectarian school
- Ensures that foster youth will not be penalized for absences due to placement changes, court appearances, or related court-ordered activities.
NACAC believes that effective permanency planning for children and youth is best done if there are accurate accountability systems that track the number of children in foster care and other out of home placements, as well as systems that assess and track each child’s well-being and permanency outcomes.
Agencies with responsibility for foster children should track, and report to their state/province and national government, data on each child in their care, including:
- data about the child’s well-being, including educational attainment and health status
- historical data on the child and his or her birth family
- a complete record of the child’s placement history, including disruptions and dissolutions
Data should be kept longitudinally so that accurate information is available on each child’s length of stay in care and specific placement outcomes. States, provinces, and federal governments should make collected data available in a timely fashion, so that data may encourage informed funding and policy decisions.
The U.S. federal Child and Family Service Reviews should include data on children’s well-being rather than simply tracking process results. The federal government should work with agencies and experts in child well-being to develop accurate well-being measures that can be used to assess the performance of states’ child welfare programs.
The federal government should adequately fund needed additional research to help guide child welfare practice. Research should include: (1) longitudinal prospective analysis of how youth who age out of care fare compared to children and youth who are adopted or are in the general population; and (2) analysis of what makes successful families, including any necessary pre-adoption preparation or post-adoption support.
Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care and Adoption
Children in foster care are more likely than children and youth who are not involved in child welfare to have been exposed to trauma, more likely to have changed schools, more likely to have moved from one home to another, and less likely to have access to comprehensive assessments. As a result of these life experiences and system failures, children and youth in foster care are more likely to have difficulty in school than other children and youth. Many adopted children and youth have difficulty as well. For example, foster children and youth are more likely to repeat a grade, do worse on standardized tests, or drop out of school. Many foster children and youth change schools far too often as they change foster care placements, and school changes hinder academic achievement. Foster children and youth and those adopted from care are also more likely to receive or need special educational services than other children and youth. Many of these children and youth also have behavioral issues or special needs that may make succeeding in school more challenging.
Too often, foster children and youth are automatically placed in special education simply because of their foster care status rather than having the benefit of rigorous assessment of their actual needs and strengths. On the other hand, due to the frequent moves and instability in their lives, there are many children and youth in foster care who could benefit from special education supports who slip through the cracks and never receive needed services.
Adopted and foster children and youth also too often face school assignments (such as family trees, autobiographies, or baby picture contests) and language (“natural” or “real” instead of “birth” parent; “children of their own and an adopted child”) that isolates them and affects their school experience.
In addition, there is growing recognition that children and youth in foster care receive harsher discipline—including more frequent suspensions, expulsions, and police intervention—than their non-foster care peers. This phenomenon contributes to significant numbers of foster youth crossing over to the juvenile or criminal justice system and it adversely affects their academic achievement.
Improvements in each school district’s special educational services for all children with special needs would help many foster and adopted children and youth. In addition, the education and child welfare systems should partner with each other to improve outcomes specifically for foster and adopted children and youth, to ensure they have greater school continuity, appropriate special education assessments and assignments, educational achievement, and academic success. Schools and their child welfare partners should see each child or youth as an individual—with strengths and challenges—and seek to provide educational and support services to meet the individual child or youth’s needs. In addition, schools and the child welfare system must actively engage families—birth, kinship, foster, and adoptive—in all areas of a child’s or youth’s education, ensuring that they operate as a team to achieve the best educational outcomes possible.
- In the U.S., ensure full implementation of the educational stability provisions of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act, and implement comparable provisions across Canada, including:
- Requiring the child welfare agency to consider school and educational issues in placement decisions
- Keeping the child or youth in the same school if possible
- If the child or youth must change schools, requiring collaboration to ensure prompt enrollment
- Allowing transportation to school to be covered as a foster care payment
- Monitoring enrollment and attendance
- Ensuring that youth at risk of aging out of care have a transition plan that includes an education plan
- In the U.S., ensure full implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and implement comparable provisions across Canada, including:
- Mandating that services be tailored to the child or youth’s individual needs instead of his or her particular disability or disabilities
- Requiring that individualized education plan (IEP) teams consider all factors—including a student’s behavior—that impede learning
- Outlining discipline procedures and services that children and youth must receive when removed from school
- Completing a student’s initial special education evaluation within a specified time, even if the student changes districts
- Maintaining comparable services in an IEP even if a student changes districts in the middle of the school year
- Ensuring the fast transfer of all school records
- Require local education agencies to help ensure educational stability, just as the Fostering Connections Act required child welfare agencies to address this issue. States, provinces, tribes, First Nations, territories, and local districts should also eliminate rules that tie attendance strictly to residence and those that require certain records for enrollment.
- Ensure courts have oversight of foster children and youth’s education, and require educational needs and progress be discussed during court hearings.
- Enable schools and child welfare agencies to share information with one another about a child or youth’s education needs and progress, while continuing to protect the child or youth’s privacy; the U.S. Uninterrupted Scholars Act of 2012 is a step in the right direction and must be widely publicized and fully implemented to improve information sharing among government agencies to improve educational outcomes for children in foster care.
- Require the education and child welfare systems to collaborate to create an electronic, accessible educational passport for each child and youth in care, with the passport to include educational records, academic performance data, and other relevant information and to help ensure the smooth transfer of credits across jurisdictions
- Fund and implement tuition waiver programs to ensure that youth who are in foster care at age 16 or older have expanded access to education at public colleges and universities in their community
- In the U.S., maintain and more fully fund the Education and Training Voucher program for youth aging out of foster care and youth adopted as teens; implement a comparable program in Canada
States, provinces, territories, First Nations, tribes, and local educational agencies should:
- Promote collaboration among child welfare and education agencies, including co-locating staff in local offices, identifying specific educational liaisons to the child welfare system and child welfare liaisons to the education system, and coordinating and funding transportation to schools when necessary for children and youth who change placements
- Jointly train teachers, school social workers, and other educational professionals about the specific needs of foster and adopted children and youth, including attachment issues, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the effects of trauma, grief and loss, and other common issues in foster care and adoption
- Encourage parents and the school system to use all legal mechanisms to identify and support children and youth with special needs, including section 504 plans in the U.S. and the Identification Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process in Canada
- Avoid placing a child or youth into special education status simply because he or she is in foster care; instead ensure that each student receives a comprehensive assessment of his or her individual capabilities and needs
- Prevent unnecessary school moves; if such moves are necessary, ensure easy transfer of records and prevent loss of credits
- Implement credit recovery programs to help students who have lost credits due to moves
- Create flexibility in school rules and regulations so that educational systems respond to the specific needs of each child and youth, such as allowing children and youth who would benefit to attend mainstream school part of the day and attend special classes or be home schooled for other parts of the day
- Remove any policy or practice barriers so that foster children and youth are able to fully participate in extracurricular activities, arts, and sports
- Implement effective anti-bullying programs; educate teachers and educational professionals about the increased likelihood of bullying for foster and adopted children and youth and children and youth with special needs
- Educate and engage all parents and caregivers about their rights and the rights of their children and youth and the importance of caregivers’ proactive role in supporting the desired educational outcomes for the children and youth in their care
- Engage students in their education; empower them to advocate for their own educational needs and goals
- Ensure that the schools communicate clearly and regularly with foster children’s and youth’s caregivers and workers
- For foster children and youth, ensure that both their foster parent and worker are at IEP meetings and understand and agree to the plan; make allowances for birth parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents to jointly attend such meetings when a placement or permanency transition is imminent
- Create a program in each community that provides educational advocates for foster children and youth who are struggling in school to help ensure that the school is able to meet their needs
- Provide positive behavioral supports to address behavior problems, including providing services to keep children and youth in inclusive settings and offering special educational settings and classes for youth with behavior problems but not learning disabilities
- Ensure that policies and procedures are in place so that foster children and youth do not receive harsher disciplinary actions than other children and youth; train teachers and other school staff about the reality that foster children and youth often receive disparate treatment
- Ensure that school assignments are respectful of foster and adopted children and youth; train teachers to use positive adoption and foster care language choices and to avoid or provide alternatives to assignments that involve family trees or baby pictures that are difficult for children not living with their birth family
- Increase access to early childhood education programs (such as Head Start) for foster children ages birth to five and, in the U.S., ensure that foster children ages birth to five are appropriately assessed for early intervention services under IDEA Part C
- Offer services for older foster youth and youth adopted as teens to increase their readiness for post-secondary education, inform them of and connect them to post-secondary educational opportunities, and provide them with mentors and other supportive services to increase success during post-secondary education
- Collect data about educational outcomes of foster children and youth; analyze data to identify successful educational supports and programs that can be replicated
Eliminating Categorical Restrictions in Foster Care and Adoption
Children and youth should not be denied a loving family due to restrictions on particular types or categories of prospective foster or adoptive parents. Limitations that prevent classes of individuals or groups from becoming foster or adoptive parents hurt children and youth who are in need of loving families. Experience and research have shown that diverse and non-traditional families can successfully parent children and youth in foster care and adoption.
Practice and Policy Recommendations
NACAC opposes rules, legislation, and practices that prevent the consideration of current or prospective foster or adoptive parents based on any of the following characteristics: age, race/ethnic background, gender, family size (including single parent status or number of siblings in the family), marital status, health or disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, prior professional relationship with the child or youth, or status as foster care or adoption agency employee.
All child-placing agencies should fairly and equitably consider each applicant for certification as a foster or adoptive parent based on the individual’s or family’s ability to care for foster or adopted children and youth who need a family. Specific placement decisions should be made based on whether an individual or family can meet a specific child’s or youth’s needs.
Ethics in Adoption
Every child or youth, birth family member, and adoptive family has the right to ethical adoption practice focused on the best interests of the child or youth. All parties to the adoption have the right to honest and complete information about the adoption. All actions and payments by parties to the adoption must be legal and ethical.
To ensure ethical practice, the following principles should guide all adoptions—including those made by agencies and those arranged independently:
- The primary focus in adoption should be the child’s or youth’s needs (rather than the needs of the adults or parents). All adoption decisions should be made based on the child’s or youth’s best interests over his or her entire life. (see NACAC’s statement on Best Interests of a Child or Youth)
- Adoptions should never result in undue profit, and children and youth should never be treated or seen as a commodity. If fees must be charged, they should be fair and reasonable (based on the complexity of the particular adoption). Information about the fees paid or to be paid should be made available to all parties to the adoption, including birth family members. Fees should never be based on the race or ethnic background of the child or youth to be adopted. (See NACAC’s statement on Fees in Adoption)
- In cases of foster care adoption, the rights of the birth parents (including fathers and non-custodial parents) should be protected as long as the safety of the child or youth is kept paramount.
- In cases of voluntary adoption, all parties to the adoption must respect the legal and moral rights of both birth mothers and birth fathers to consent or not to the adoption. Agencies and independent agents must proactively identify and inform non-custodial parents of any pending adoption.
- Before adoption is pursued, diligent efforts should be made to keep the child or youth with his or her birth family or community or country of origin. Diligent efforts to find relatives and kin, of both birth mothers and birth fathers, should be undertaken early in the process. (See NACAC’s statements on Permanency Planning/Continuity of Relationships and Kinship Care)
- If developmentally appropriate, the child or youth to be adopted has a right to be consulted about the adoption. Agencies should provide children and youth with counseling to prepare them for adoption.
- Every agency should make every effort to find an adoptive family for all children/youth who do not have a permanent family resource, regardless of the child’s/youth’s age. Children/youth should not be able to completely opt out of adoption without first receiving information and counseling about adoption, and without the approval of the highest level of leadership in their state, province, territory, tribe, or aboriginal authority.
- The child or youth has a right to maintain safe connections with important people (including siblings and other relatives, former foster parents, fictive kin*, and others) and places (former neighborhoods, country of origin, etc.) from their past. (See NACAC’s statement on Open Adoption)
- The adopted child or youth has a right to information about his or her birth parents and history, including access to the original birth certificate. (See NACAC’s statement on Access to Records)
- Every child or youth should be placed with a family who recognizes preservation of the child’s ethnic and cultural heritage as an inherent right. Agencies and independent practitioners must follow the spirit and letter of the Indian Child Welfare Act. (See NACAC’s statements on Race/Ethnic Background in Child Welfare and Native and Aboriginal Children in Foster Care, Guardianship, and Adoption)
- Adoptive families have a right to complete, accurate, and written background information about the child or youth, including birth family history, past experiences, and special needs. (See NACAC’s statement on Pre-Placement/Pre-Adoption Issues)
- There should be no exclusions of categories of adoptive parents based on age, race/ethnic background, gender, family size, marital status, health or disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, prior professional relationship with the child or youth, or status as foster care or adoption agency employee. (See NACAC’s statement on Eliminating Categorical Restrictions in Foster Care and Adoption)
- Each adoption agency or practitioner should maintain and follow a code of ethics that guides all aspects of professional practice (such as that of the National Association of Social Workers in the U.S. or the Canadian Association of Social Workers). All parties to the adoption should be treated with respect and consideration.
- Agencies and independent practitioners must ensure that the child or youth to be adopted was not made available for adoption through coercion (including bribery of birth parents), fraud, kidnapping, trafficking or other unethical practices from the family of origin or any third party to the adoption.
- Agencies and independent practitioners have an obligation to assure that adoptive and birth families receive ongoing supportive services either by providing those services themselves or connecting families with other effective service providers. Agencies and independent practitioners must provide support to all parties in cases of disruption and dissolution (See NACAC’s statements on Post-Adopt Support and Adoption Disruption and Dissolution)
- All adoption agency professionals and independent practitioners involved in adoption should be required to have extensive training related to adoption. This should include but not be limited to cultural competency, loss, rejection, grief, identity, and special needs (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attachment disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavior disorders, etc.
* Fictive kin are those who are unrelated by birth, adoption, or marriage, but who have an emotionally significant relationship with another individual that would take on the characteristics of a family relationship.
Fees in Adoption
Although there are legitimate costs in providing adoption services, financial issues should never be the deciding factor in matching a child or youth with adoptive parent(s). Rather, placement decisions must be based on each family’s ability to meet an individual child or youth’s needs, including his or her cultural needs. Unfortunately, adoption fees and other related costs often present a barrier to the prospective adopters who may be best able to meet a child or youth’s needs. NACAC believes that adoption fees should never serve as a barrier that keeps a child or youth from achieving a permanent family.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
For adoptions from public foster care, governments agencies—federal, state, provincial, territorial, and tribal—should fund adoption services so that prospective adopters bear no costs (including home studies, legal fees, pre- and post-placement support services, etc.). In the United States, all fees paid by state or county agencies should be reimbursable by the federal government through Title IV-E funding.
For private agency adoptions, adoption agencies should find creative ways to provide the entire array of culturally competent adoption services at no charge, including seeking government and private funding, partnering with legal organizations, and waiving fees for families.
Financing of Child Welfare Programs and Services
NACAC recognizes the important role of national governments in providing policy leadership and financial support to child welfare programs. NACAC supports the creation of adequate and targeted federal funding streams for public child welfare programs that preserve safe and stable families, or when necessary find and support alternative permanent families for children and youth, through the implementation of best practices. NACAC also encourages states, provinces, territories, tribes, and aboriginal authorities to adequately fund child welfare best practices in order to provide the full array of services from prevention through post placement.
NACAC recommends that national governments develop a policy of fiscal incentives that encourage the permanent placement (including reunification, adoption, and permanent placement with a relative, or guardian) of a child or youth, ideally within two years., State, provincial, territorial, tribal, and local governments should additionally be required to devote adequate resources to permanently place any child or youth who has been in care longer than two years.
Adoption Incentive Program
NACAC supports reauthorization of the U.S. federal adoption incentive program with the following changes:
- The baseline should be based on the percentage rate of the jurisdiction’s foster children and youth who achieve permanence through adoption.
- Incentive payments should be used solely for post-placement services and adoption promotion.
- States should be alowed two full federal fiscal years to spend the adoption incentive awards.
- Tribes should be directly eligible for the adoption (including customary adoption) incentive program.
- Customary adoptions under tribal law should be eligible for inclusion in each jurisdiction’s adoption incentive statistics.
- As part of reporting finalized adoptions for this program, states must provide data on adoptions that are dissolved after finalization.
Gay and Lesbian Adoptions and Foster Care
Children should not be denied a permanent family because of the sexual orientation of potential parents.
Practice and Policy Recommendations
All prospective foster and adoptive parents, regardless of sexual orientation, should be given fair and equal consideration.
NACAC opposes rules and legislation that restrict the consideration of current or prospective foster and adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation.
Implementation of the Hague Convention
NACAC supports a system of safeguards and cooperation to protect the best interests of children, birth parents and adoptive parents in intercountry adoption.
NACAC supports ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which provides for high quality, accessible services, and expediency of process. NACAC supports the development of an affordable accreditation process and standards based on quality of services other than size or structure of the providers. NACAC also supports a central authority system that functions to facilitate and oversee intercountry adoptions, recognizing that timely permanency is in the best interest of a child. The central authority should never use adoption as instrument of foreign policy.
NACAC recognizes that children and youth have a right to be connected to kin and to other significant family and community members. NACAC encourages kinship foster care as a preferred alternative placement when the kinship care provider is able to ensure the child or youth’s safety and well-being.
NACAC also supports placing children or youth with relatives as an alternative to placement in foster care, and believes that relative caregivers in such placements deserve support to help them ensure the safety and stability of the children or youth in their care. Too often, relative caregivers are told that they must accept responsibility for their kin or else the child or youth will be placed in foster care. These caregivers often need support, and should not be forced to choose between raising a child or youth with no support or having their kin enter the foster care system. Placement decisions should be made on an individual case-by-case basis based on the child or youth’s best interests.
NACAC recognizes that even if relatives are not able to provide care for a child or youth, they may have a positive role to play in the child or youth’s life.
Practice and Policy Recommendations
Kinship Foster Care
Diligent searches must occur for maternal and paternal relatives or others with established relationships with the child or youth in a timely and effective manner prior to or immediately when a child or youth enters care. A diligent search must include identifying, locating, contacting, recruiting, and supporting relatives and others with significant connections to the child or youth, and then exploring with them their interest and capacity to provide a temporary or permanent placement for the child or youth. Children and youth should be actively involved in identifying those connections.
If a diligent, culturally appropriate search has been completed and no kin placement resource has been identified, and the child or youth is in an approved permanent placement, any further searches, if conducted, should not be allowed to disrupt the permanent placement. Any searches after this point should be conducted solely to provide the new permanent family with relative or kin connections that can enhance the child’s or youth’s life.
Kinship foster families should be reimbursed at standard foster care rates, and adoption or guardianship should be options when they protect the best interests of the child or youth. When adoption or guardianship is considered the best option, the federal, state, or provincial government should also provide subsidies when they are in the best interests of the child or youth or when required by law. (see Adoption Assistance and Subsidized Guardianship statements)
Kin foster families should be evaluated to assure that the child or youth will be safe and nurtured in the care of the family. These families should also be provided support and services to ensure that the child or youth’s needs are continuing to be met.
Recognizing the unique value to children and youth of placing them with kin, NACAC opposes federal regulations mandating that all kinship foster parents be subject to the same licensing requirements as non-kin foster parents in order for states to be reimbursed through Title IV-E for payments made to kinship foster parents. Notwithstanding the exemption from licensing requirements, the safety of the child should be assured in any placement.
Placements with Kin to Avoid Placing a Child or Youth in Foster Care
Children and youth who are placed with kin through the child protection system or by the department of social services to avoid entry into foster care should be eligible for relative assistance payments equal to the foster care rate the child would have received if in care.
The department of social services should evaluate these kin caregivers to assure that the child or youth will be safe and nurtured in the care of the family. These kinship families should not, however, be subject to the same licensing requirements as foster care providers.
LGBTQ Children and Youth in Foster Care
NACAC believes children and youth in the foster care system who are—or who are perceived to be—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender*, and questioning (LGBTQ) deserve loving and permanent families and should be afforded the same rights, services, and protections as those who are [or are perceived to be] heterosexual. Statistics show that, at a minimum, 5 to 10 percent of children and youth in care are LGBTQ. The numbers are likely much higher due to the parental abuse, neglect, and rejection too often experienced by LGBTQ children and youth. Unfortunately, many LGBTQ youth are in care solely because of their family’s reaction to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many LGBTQ youth in foster care are also members of minority groups whose cultures often support only traditional heterosexuality.
The prejudice, family rejection, and mistreatment experienced by LGBTQ youth —or those who are perceived to be LGBTQ— have a tremendous negative impact. Statistics shows that 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ and that LGBTQ youth face higher rates of suicide and suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers. For LGBTQ foster children and youth, discrimination, neglect, and mistreatment by peers, foster families, caseworkers, and other agency staff compound the problems facing many foster youth, resulting in higher risks of health and mental health problems, school failure, homelessness, and suicide. LGBTQ children and youth have a right to live in an environment that is safe, understanding, and supportive of their needs.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
- Programs and services for LGBTQ children and youth — Immediate measures must be taken to ensure the safety of LGBTQ children and youth in care. Agencies should work to:
- seek and train foster and adoptive parents who are supportive of LGBTQ children and youth
- identify and share information about existing national, state, and community resources available to LGBTQ children and youth
- designate and equip specific foster and group homes as short-term safe havens for LGBTQ children and youth
- make all group and family foster homes safe for LGBTQ children and youth
- designate LGBTQ “ombudspersons” in child welfare offices to respond to questions and problems, and advocate for LGBTQ children and youth
NACAC strongly opposes the use of conversion or so-called reparation services that are designed to involuntarily change the sexual orientation of youth.
- Non-discrimination policies — States, provinces, tribes, and public and private agencies must adopt and enforce explicit policies prohibiting any discrimination based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status of children and youth in foster care, foster or adoptive parents and other members of their household, and child welfare staff.
- Parent and staff training — To ensure that non-discrimination policies are effective, all foster/adoptive parents, child welfare staff, child advocates (such as guardians ad litem, children’s attorneys, and CASAs) should be required to participate in training that addresses:
- the purpose and operation of non-discrimination policies
- sensitivity about sexual orientation and gender identity issues
- how to make supportive and sensitive placement decisions for LGBTQ children and youth
- how to non-judgmentally support children and youth who are coming out
- the availability of community-based resources for LGBTQ children and youth
- how to educate the school system and protect LGBTQ children and youth in school
- how to provide appropriate sexual health education
*“Transgender” refers to individuals (regardless of their sexual orientation) whose appearance, characteristics, or personal gender identification differs from their biological gender or traditional gender stereotypes.
Native and Aboriginal Children in Foster Care, Guardianship, and Adoption
NACAC recognizes that children and youth of Native American tribes, First Nations bands, and recognized aboriginal communities have an inherent right to continued and positive contact with their tribe or band. Such contact is in the child’s best interest.
All child protection and child welfare decisions should be made by officials of tribes, bands, or recognized aboriginal communities. In the rare cases when this is not possible, decisions must be made consistent with the cultural norms of the tribe or First Nations related to child rearing. NACAC strongly believes that all native children and youth deserve culturally competent permanency options.
Policy and Practice Recommendation
Federal, state, and provincial laws should be adopted that are consistent with the principles stated above.
NACAC encourages tribes and bands and other governmental (state, provincial, federal) organizations to collaborate to achieve children’s best interests. State, provincial, and federal governments should provide indigenous governments and organizations with adequate and sustained resources to ensure that indigenous children and their families receive equivalent benefits under laws impacting their safety, permanence, and well-being in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
NACAC believes that openness is in the best interest of adopted persons. Open adoptions are one effective way to reduce the complications that adoptees face. By definition, adopted children are connected to both the family into which they were born and the family into which they have been adopted. Since those two families now belong to an extended family kinship network, open adoptions provide a greater potential for the families to work as allies on behalf of the well-being of the children.
Openness in adoption includes a range of options from no contact (confidential) to mediated (sharing non-identifying information through an agency intermediary) to ongoing fully disclosed adoptions (direct, identified contact) between birth and adoptive families. Examples of openness in this range include:
- social, health, and cultural information is shared
- pictures, ongoing information, or gifts are shared through an intermediary
- contact is maintained through electronic means
- birth and adoptive parents have met but plan no ongoing visits
- adopted child visits with siblings or extended family relatives
- adopted child maintains some form of contact with foster families and other significant people
- adoptive family maintains phone or mail contact with birth family
- adopted child visits with birth parents (either in neutral locations or in one another’s homes)
- child has been legally adopted, but the child’s parental rights are not terminated and contact continues
NACAC recommends that agencies and families pursue as much openness as possible, taking into consideration the best interests of each child on a case-by-case basis. Considerations for limiting openness should focus primarily on the child’s safety and well-being.
Research demonstrates that openness is most successful when all parties involved believe in the value of the connection. As a result, agencies and workers should work with birth and adoptive parents and the adopted person to explain the value of openness and to work out the most helpful adoption arrangement that is as open as possible.
NACAC believes, and decades of research affirm, that children and youth fare better in families than in orphanages. Families are best suited to advocate for their children, teach them about culture, care for them when they are sick, and support them into adulthood. In families, children learn family skills, including how to parent the next generation of children. Institutions can never provide for children’s mental and social health the way that families can.
Research clearly demonstrates that institutions frequently produce adverse psychological effects that may affect people throughout their lives. In addition to the psychological harm done to children and youth, institutions are extremely expensive and create unnecessary financial burdens. Yearly care in an institution costs at least four times as much as foster care. The harmful effects of institutionalization for vulnerable children and youth do not only occur in places called orphanages. Today, orphanages may take many forms, and use many names: residential educational facilities, residential academies, boarding schools, and children’s homes. Regardless of the name, NACAC is opposed to the placement of foster children and youth in any congregate care facility that limits family involvement, isolates children and youth from their communities, does not focus on family preservation and permanency planning goals, and does not provide appropriate treatment. Long-term custodial care in orphanages for poor or abused children and youth is too costly, both in human and financial terms.
NACAC believes that a child or youth in foster care should only be placed in an institutional setting when such a placement will meet a specific need for intensive residential treatment services that cannot be provided in a family setting. Residential treatment should engage parents or a person closely connected to the child or youth, plan for post-treatment support, be time-limited, and have a goal of preparing the child or youth to return to a family.
Tax dollars need to be directed to programs that find permanence for children and youth, either through effective family preservation or through adoption or other permanent family based solutions. NACAC acknowledges that the foster care system needs reform and improvement. While there is room for additional creative solutions, NACAC believes there is a need for commitment to improving the system and implementing comprehensive best practices. NACAC strongly recommends that child welfare policy makers look to birth, foster, and adoptive families to meet the needs of vulnerable children and youth. Child welfare practice should be guided by the principle that children and youth do best in families.
Permanency for Older Youth
NACAC believes that every child and youth—regardless of age, special needs, or length of time in foster care—has a right to a permanent, legal connection to a caring family. The child welfare system has an ethical obligation to ensure that no child or youth leaves foster care without a real opportunity to achieve permanency, whether through reunification with birth family, placement with relatives or other kin, guardianship, or adoption (including customary adoption). The key to achieving such permanency is determining and implementing the right plan for each individual child or youth and providing all needed support to the permanent family.
NACAC also believes that older children and youth should have a powerful voice in any decisions made about their future, including in their permanency planning process. Children and youth, as developmentally appropriate, should be actively engaged in decisions to seek permanency, recruitment and family-finding efforts, and in the transition to permanency. We believe that older youth should only have the option to opt out of permanency options such as adoption after a serious and youth-centered process of education and counseling that explores the importance and the legal implications of achieving permanency. If a youth does choose to opt out of a specific permanency option after this process, the system should seek and support stable, committed lifelong connections for that youth.
Opportunities for achieving permanency should not end when a child turns 18 or ages out of foster care. Workers should explain to any youth who appears likely to age out of care that it is never too late for them to achieve permanency, and that legal adoptions can happen even for adults.
The key to successful permanency planning for older children and youth is an ongoing, individualized process that focuses on preparing and engaging the youth, working to identify potential families, and supporting a successful transition and placement. The process should start with a comprehensive, individual assessment for all children or youth that explores—within a framework of lifelong development and needs—their permanency options, their wishes, and their current and former connections.
Each child and youth should also receive education and counseling related to the importance of permanency and the legal implications of having a permanent family. No youth should be allowed to opt out of permanency planning without such in-depth counseling and education. For youth who do opt out of permanency, as long as the youth remains in care, workers should continue these discussions about permanency options and should continue permanency efforts for the youth.
The permanency planning process must also include a process of working with the child or youth and an identified family during the transition and placement to help them build a real bond and to overcome any hurdles. The process must also include ongoing post-placement support.
Specifically, child welfare agencies should:
Engage in Family-Finding from a Youth-Centered Perspective
- Work closely with and engage older children and youth in exploring all permanency options and identifying existing and potential connections that may lead to a permanent placement
- Use as the primary strategy child-specific recruiting, which relies on reviewing social histories and case files to identify individuals who have, have had, or could have a connection or relationship with the child or youth
- Invest in targeted family-finding efforts where experienced individuals search for relatives and fictive kin who may serve as a permanent family for the child or youth
- Think inclusively and creatively about expanding the pool of prospective parents, including professionals who may know the child or youth and maternal and paternal birth family members as prospective permanency resources
- Engage and support administrators, supervisors, and front-line staff who believe that youth permanency is possible and necessary; implement rigorous efforts, including ongoing training and permanency-oriented supervision, to ensure that all staff understand that permanency is possible and valuable for all children and youth
- Work closely with prospective families to ensure that they understand the specific needs of the older children and youth who need a family; establish supportive services throughout the preparation and transition process to reassure families and respond to any questions and concerns they may have
- Use all available resources to find adoptive families—state/provincial, regional, and national photolisting services; interjurisdictional placements, and emerging or creative technologies and options
Prevent Group or Residential Placements from Adversely Affecting Permanency
- Ensure that older children and youth have the best chance for achieving permanency by placing them in the least restrictive setting for the shortest time possible, so that each child and youth has the opportunity to build and maintain connections with a family
- Continue to actively engage in permanency planning for all youth in group or residential placements, including planning for wraparound and other supportive services they will need during a transition to and after placement with a family
Empower Youth in Their Own Permanency Planning
- Work with children and youth to identify key adults who might be prospective permanent resources, and fully engage children and youth in their own permanency planning efforts
- Help children and youth examine their fears and other feelings about adoption and other permanency options, and make sure they understand the lifelong value of having a permanent family
- Pair foster youth with mentors who spent time in care and either achieved permanency or aged out of care, and who can serve as role models and enable the youth to build another positive relationship
Integrate Independent Living Services into Permanency Planning Efforts
- Provide life skills support and independent living services to all older children and youth in foster care and integrate those services into permanency planning, so that children and youth do not have to choose between permanency and support
Provide Sufficient Post-Placement Services to Support Permanency
- Provide specialized post-placement services for families who provide older children and youth with permanency through reunification, kinship placement, guardianship, or adoption; services should be tailored to the needs of the individual child/youth and family, and the lack of supportive services should never be a reason that a child or youth remains in care
- Provide equitable support and benefits in foster care, adoption, and guardianship
NACAC seeks reforms to current adoption policy in the U.S. and Canada that serve as barriers to permanency for older children and youth. Specifically, federal, state, provincial, territorial, tribal, and other government entities should ensure that:
- Laws require true permanency for every child and youth by embracing permanency goals of reunification, kinship placement, guardianship, and adoption, and by acknowledging that goals such as emancipation, independent living, long-term foster care, and another planned permanent living arrangement are not permanency goals.
- Youth consent-to-adoption laws give children and youth a strong voice in their permanent plan without enabling them to opt out of legal permanency without a thoughtful, ongoing, youth-centered process that includes discussion and counseling about the importance of legal permanency.
- Benefits for foster youth who age out of care (such as tuition waivers and independent living supports) are available to all older foster youth even after they achieve permanency, so that no youth is placed in a position between having a family and going to college or preparing for life.
- Family members and other kin who were once ruled out as permanency resources can and are reconsidered as permanency options, when it is in the child or youth’s best interests.
- There is a legally recognized path to permanency (such as reinstatement of parental rights or adoption by birth parents) with birth parents who are found to be able to safely care for their children and youth, when it is in the child or youth’s best interests.
- All qualified families are included in the pool of prospective permanent families by removing any legal restrictions to certain categories of individuals or families (such as LGBT families, single or non-married families, or larger families).
Permanency Planning/Continuity of Relationships
NACAC recognizes that each child is an individual and therefore each situation requires careful evaluation, looking at the best interests of each child. In all placements, consideration of a child’s well-being must be paramount. The family should be selected based on the child’s needs and acknowledgment that age, race, and cultural considerations are necessarily important, as is appropriate input from the child. Agencies must prepare families to cope with the child’s physical, mental, learning, cultural, and emotional needs. Each adult who becomes a caretaker for a child should have a strong commitment to parenting the child, with an emphasis on developing a life-long relationship.
Practice and Policy Recommendations
Permanency planning must begin before a child or youth enters foster care. The first choice, of course, is to help a birth family stay intact. If that is not possible, the next choice would be appropriate relatives. Other appropriate people connected to the child or family should next be considered to parent the child or youth until he or she returns home. Finally, after a timely, diligent, and effective search, when an appropriate relative or family friend is not found, then a child or youth ideally should be placed with an appropriate foster family. Caregivers should be evaluated in a concurrent planning process prior to decision making concerning termination of parental rights. If there is no possibility of a return home, these families are then ready to provide a permanent home for the child or youth, either by adoption or guardianship. If a child or youth cannot return to his or her birth family, adoption or guardianship are the next best options regardless of the child’s age. Subsidies should be provided when they are in the best interests of the child or when required by law.
The best possible outcome for the child or youth is ensured when parallel, but separate efforts are made to: (1) strengthen and reunite the birth family; (2) document requirements for a termination of parental rights; (3) prepare the child or youth and address issues of loss; and (4) seek a permanent family for the child or youth.
An assessment of child well-being, family strengths and weaknesses, and the resultant likelihood of reunification should be performed immediately upon removal of a child or youth from his or her home. Concurrent planning should be an early and continuing process. As it becomes clearer that a child or youth is at increased risk of not returning home, additional resources should be directed to concurrent planning and obtaining a permanent home for the child or youth.
NACAC recognizes that adoption creates a dynamic of its own that requires the commitment of families and communities alike. Children and youth adopted from foster care have often experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment, which may lead to unique post-adoption needs. In addition, throughout an adopted child’s life, there are expected developmental stages that may require additional support. For adoptions of these children and youth to succeed, NACAC strongly believes that quality post-adoption services must be available to meet the adoptive families’ needs.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
Post-adoption services must be available to families—including all members of the adoptive family and the birth parents—whenever they are needed. Preventive and proactive services are more effective and more cost-effective than crisis-oriented services, which are often slow to be approved. Each state and province should develop a system for ensuring that all families who adopt children and youth with special needs—especially children and youth adopted from the foster care system—have access to the services described below. NACAC also urges governments at all levels (federal, state, provincial, territorial, tribal, etc.) to fund post-adoption services in the U.S. and Canada.
Agencies that provide placement services for children and youth have an obligation to assure that adoptive families receive ongoing supportive services either directly or through linkages with other appropriate service providers. Professionals working with individuals touched by adoption have an obligation to avail themselves of ongoing, accredited adoption-competent training.
Services should be provided by people and organizations that are adoption-competent, and should include (but not be limited to) the following:
- contact from the agency or post-adoption service provider at the time of placement to explain the specific child or youth’s need for post-placement support and available services that will be helpful to that specific child or youth and family
- complete information about the child or youth’s social, medical, and behavioral history, including experiences with the birth family and any previous foster or adoptive families, as well as what the history may mean for the child or youth’s future
- information and referral from a single entry point
- support groups for adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees
- support for connections with birth parents and other birth family members and former foster families, whenever possible
- ongoing training and educational resources
- respite care
- case management services
- advocacy and support for school-related problems
- adoption assistance payments (subsidy for children and youth adopted from foster care)
- other financial assistance when needed
- crisis intervention
- mental health services, including therapeutic counseling, in-home and residential services.
When a child or youth is adopted from foster care, he or she should continue to receive the same benefits and services as he or she received in foster care as long as his or her needs have not changed. In fact, additional services should be provided when necessary to meet the child or youth’s needs and maintain permanency, even as those needs change over time.
NACAC recognizes that there is a specific and large component of the adoption process known as “pre-placement” or “pre-adoption,” which covers the time period from the earliest steps to the date of placement. Effective pre-adoption practices are the foundation of building strong and successful permanent families. In all types of adoption, policy and practice should reflect an understanding of the needs of all parties to the adoption process (child/youth, birth family, foster family, adoptive family, tribe, band, agency, and social worker).
NACAC believes that foster, kin and adoptive families have a right to full disclosure of background information (non-identifying and identifying when needed or when agreed upon in an open adoption). This information should include but not be limited to information from family, agency, court, school, mental health, and medical files. Such information is critical to the success of placements. The comprehensive and continuous collection and permanent retention of information is the responsibility of the agency/authority with the child’s guardianship. There should be an active effort to continue collecting information from the birth family even after the child is adopted regarding social, medical information and contact information. Families should ask for and receive the child’s information prior to the adoption order being granted.
NACAC believes that agencies must ensure that proper preparation is ongoing throughout the adoption process. Worker training must include how to prepare and support each party to an adoption throughout the transition to adoption, including assisting birth parents and adoptive parents around disclosing information and discussing life story books with children and youth. States, provinces, and placing agencies have a fiscal responsibility to adequately fund preparation and support services, support manageable caseloads, and develop management plans so that the provision of these services is possible.
States, provinces, territories, and tribes have a fundamental responsibility, which must never be relinquished, to ensure that children and youth in foster care are safe and secure and find permanent families as quickly as possible. While these government entities may choose to contract with private organizations to enhance services to foster children and their families, these contractual arrangements should not diminish the public responsibility toward the foster children. Children’s best interests must never be sacrificed for financial gain or efficiency.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
NACAC opposes privatization efforts in which the public agency abdicates responsibility to a private entity.
Public and private partnerships are the best way to ensure accountability for outcomes for children and youth while taking advantage of the flexibility and efficiency that are sometimes found in private agencies. In such arrangements, all lines and levels of accountability need to be clearly documented and readily available to parents (birth, foster, adoptive, and kin), advocates, and the general public. Critical to the success of public-private partnerships is true collaboration, along with monitoring, measuring, and linking payments with successful outcomes for children and youth.
Race/Ethnic Background and Child Welfare
It has long been recognized that children of racial and ethnic minority populations are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system in the United States and Canada. What is less clear are the causes of this disproportionality. NACAC believes that it is the responsibility of all professionals in the child welfare system to scrutinize their practices to better understand how they may contribute to this disproportionality. NACAC acknowledges that profiling of minority communities often leads to differential reporting of children of color to the child welfare system. Mandatory training is needed for workers on reporting as well as to gain knowledge and understanding about diverse cultures. Moreover, emphasis must be placed on getting services, funding, as well as parent advocates and peer mentors for birth parents whose children are at risk of removal or who are in the system. African American, Native American, and Aboriginal children are not only disproportionately represented in the foster care system, but enter earlier and remain longer than other children. We must take action to remedy inappropriate representation of minority children within the child welfare system.
Practice and Policy Recommendations
Children are denied permanent families because people of color face systemic and individual discrimination in the child welfare system. Research shows and NACAC believes that race matters and impacts policy and practice decision making in child welfare. We do not live in a color blind society. The placement of children with a family of like ethnic or racial background is preferable because these families have historically demonstrated the ability to equip children with skills and strengths to combat the ill effects of racism.
NACAC believes that every child should be placed with a family who recognizes preservation of the child’s ethnic and cultural heritage as an inherent right. Therefore, education regarding ethnic and cultural heritage must be a local and federal priority. We encourage agencies and parent groups to offer training and support to foster and adoptive families. This will ensure that children have ongoing opportunities to develop an understanding and appreciation of their racial and cultural identity.
NACAC recognizes that the MEPA and IEPA require that public and private agencies not delay or deny the placement of any child for adoption or into foster care on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the child or adoptive or foster parent. NACAC also recognizes that MEPA and IEPA require public and private agencies not to delay or deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or foster parent on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the prospective parent or child.
Recruitment of Families of Color
NACAC believes that child welfare agencies should work to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and bias in adoption recruitment, selection, and placement procedures. Active and creative efforts are needed to recruit parents of every race and culture for children needing foster and adoptive parents. NACAC urges public and private agencies to provide for diligent and continuous recruitment of potential foster, adoptive, guardianship, and kinship families who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in the community for whom permanent homes are needed. These recruitment efforts should be documented, which will include measurable outcomes including increased numbers of permanent families of color.
Specialized minority recruitment efforts have been documented which successfully demonstrate that minority families exist for minority children, and which facilitate minority placement. NACAC encourages agencies to hire minority staff, provide specialized counseling, utilize parent support groups, assist with obtaining subsidies, provide information and community resources, and implement public awareness and recruitment campaigns. NACAC is committed to the creative expansion of such methods, which include but are not limited to: utilization of minority adoptive families as recruitment specialists, specialized minority counseling and referral services, mobile community service units, and adoption fairs.
NACAC strongly urges states to comply with, and the federal government to enforce, the Multi-ethnic Placement Act provision that requires recruitment in communities that reflect the racial and ethnic background of children in care.
NACAC believes that community-based (i.e. churches, advocacy groups, and other organizations reflective of populations of color) minority and specialty foster care and adoption agencies offer excellent opportunities for recruiting families who reflect the racial and ethnic background of children in care. States and counties should partner with existing agencies and help develop additional programs to support the recruitment of families of color.
Diversity and Cultural Competence
NACAC urges agencies to undertake adequate training for adoption workers to enhance their knowledge of identity, cultural, and ethnic issues in working with African American, Latino, Aboriginal, and Native American children and families. In addition, NACAC believes that adoption organizations and agencies should actively recruit African American, Latino, Aboriginal, and Native American social workers. Foster care and adoption agency staff should receive training to: a) partner with communities of color to assess strengths of potential foster and adoptive families; b) identify barriers which prevent families from successfully adopting; and c) better understand MEPA guidelines for diligent recruitment.
Support of Transracially Adopted Children and Families
Children’s opinions should be taken into consideration in deciding whether transracial placements are in their best interest. If a transracial placement occurs, agencies should be required to provide additional support to preserve children’s racial and cultural connections.
Families who do adopt children of ethnic backgrounds different from their own must recognize and understand that the ethnic and cultural heritage of the child is an essential right. The agency should help the family explore the realities of race and racism using resources which include multi-ethnic families and the minority community. It is important for families to consider seeking services and personal contacts in the community that will support the child’s ethnicity. NACAC also urges agencies to aid in the development of post-adoption support services for transracial families.
When transracial or multi-ethnic placements are made, full appreciation and consideration should be given to the child’s need for close identification and interaction with his/her culture of origin. Appropriate family assessment tools should be used when considering all adoptive placements.
Families who adopt transracially should have access to ongoing support services to ensure that children of color have an opportunity to develop a complete understanding of their racial and cultural identity.
Recruitment of Permanent Families
NACAC believes that every child and youth has a right to a permanent family, and that states, provinces, counties, tribes, and placing agencies have a responsibility to seek permanent families for all children and youth, including adolescents who will not return to their birth families. Recruitment efforts should include seeking kin and foster parents first, but in some cases may require the recruitment of other possible families. Such recruitment efforts should include both targeted recruitment and child-specific recruitment.
NACAC strongly supports targeted recruitment to increase the pool of families most likely to adopt foster children and youth who have special needs. Targeted recruitment should focus on prospective adoptive parents who reflect the racial and ethnic background of waiting children and youth (see position statement on race and ethnic background), as well as communities who have historically stepped forward to meet the specific needs of foster children and youth, including the faith community and the gay and lesbian community.
NACAC believes that states and provinces should require the use of child-specific recruitment (developing a plan for a particular child or youth based on his or her background) for every child, youth, and young adult who has been or is in the foster care system. Prior to recruitment efforts, a child or youth should be carefully prepared, informed, and involved in a developmentally appropriate manner. While a family is being sought, it is essential that the child or youth be involved in his or her recruitment efforts and receive regular updates about the recruitment efforts being used. The child or youth deserves the support of caseworkers, therapists, and foster parents during this vulnerable time.
Child-specific recruitment should always include:
- involving the child or youth in recruitment activities and plans
- searching diligently for relatives, both maternal and paternal
- reviewing the child or youth’s case history to search for neighbors, caregivers, teachers, and other important adults (including professionals who have worked with the child or youth in their professional capacity) who may be positive adoptive resources for the child or youth
- making every effort to place siblings together
All avenues of child-specific recruitment should be explored for a child or youth, as long as each recruitment effort is in the child or youth’s best interests. As recruitment plans are developed, placing agencies must work with children and youth so that they understand the value of a permanent family and the need for a variety of recruitment activities. Children and youth should have the right to veto particular options if it is not in their best interests. If a child or youth objects to certain recruitment activities, however, recruiters should explore with the child or youth flexible recruitment avenues to allay his or her concerns.
Child-specific recruitment may include publicity in venues such as televised waiting child features, newspaper columns, Internet sites, video shows, and photolisting books. When using such strategies, NACAC believes:
- Recruiters should use a high-quality photograph of the child or youth and update it regularly as the child or youth grows.
- Public recruitment efforts should be strength based. Waiting children and youth are best served when accurate, personalized, respectful, and positive information about them is publicized for prospective adoptive parents. Descriptions should routinely discuss children’s personalities, hobbies, talents, likes, and dislikes. If children are eligible for adoption subsidies or need to be adopted with siblings, this should always be included.
NACAC also believes it is imperative that certain protections are built in to all public recruitment efforts:
- Public descriptions never merit full disclosure. The child or youth’s last name, the name of the foster family or where the child or youth lives should never be disclosed in photolisting descriptions.
- Information must be honestly disclosed, but information-sharing is a process that occurs over time. The goal is to introduce the child or youth, not tell his or her entire story.
- Children’s health histories, educational abilities, and medical conditions should be included in child descriptions only after the child’s worker or guardian has explained the implications to the child or youth at his or her level of understanding. Older children and youth should have the right to grant consent to the release of this type of information. Medical conditions should be included only if they are confirmed diagnoses and are fully defined in the description. This more detailed information should be released to prospective parents as they move forward to adopt a particular child or youth.
In the United States, every state now has legislation establishing so-called “safe havens” where parents can anonymously and legally abandon infants or even older children—without question or punishment. While NACAC strongly supports policies and practices that protect the safety and health of all children and youth, we do not believe that safe haven legislation is an effective way to meet this goal.
Studies that track abandonment show that the laws have not succeeded in eliminating unsafe, illegal abandonment. Other research suggests that the laws may encourage women to abandon infants who would otherwise have been raised by relatives or placed for adoption through established means. In addition, safe haven legislation deprives one of the biological parents (often the father) of their parenting rights and precludes the abandoned infant from ever knowing his or her genealogical or medical histories.
NACAC believes that children have a right to information about their identity (their birth mother, birth father, or other family members; their heritage; their culture; etc.) and that they—and their adoptive families—will benefit from having this information. Birth mothers and birth fathers also have the right to supportive services, counseling, and information that will enable them to make the best possible decision for themselves and their children. In addition, American Indian children have the right to the protections of the Indian Child Welfare Act and to the rights and resources accorded to members of federally recognized tribes. We believe that a more effective, humane, moral approach to protecting children at risk of abandonment would be the funding of programs for at-risk mothers and fathers.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
NACAC strongly encourages states, provinces, tribes, and territories to rescind existing safe haven legislation. Where such laws exist, however, NACAC encourages the following policies and practices. Safe haven laws should:
- Build in safeguards (such as having police investigate reports of missing children) to ensure that the child has not been abducted and that the person turning in the child is the child’s legal parent.
- Require the child welfare agency to check the putative father registry before filing a termination of parental rights petition, and ensure a process for the non-relinquishing parent to assert his or her rights.
- Encourage and allow the parent to volunteer family and medical background information (including identifying information at the parent’s option) at the time of relinquishment or a later date, and ensure that this information is available to the child later.
- Encourage and allow parents to volunteer tribal membership information.
- Provide parents with a reasonable amount of time (such as 30 days) and a process by which either parent can reclaim the child without any court action related to the act of leaving the infant at the safe haven, unless the parent is found to be unfit for other reasons. Parents should be informed verbally and in writing of the process and time limit for reclaiming the child.
- Be limited to infants 72 hours old or younger (those whom these laws were originally intended to serve and whom research has shown might possibly be helped by such laws).
- Provide free counseling and other supportive services to either parent.
- Limit safe havens to medical or child welfare facilities and require the child to be left with an individual who has expertise and experience to properly care for the child and to work with the parent(s).
- Include provisions to invest in prenatal and other family support for young, single, or at-risk parents or prospective parents.
- Create and fund a community awareness campaign about the option of the safe haven, as well as information about adoption, kinship care, and family support; include a child welfare helpline in the campaign.
- Create and fund programs to educate teachers, parents, doctors, counselors, and others about how to identify concealed pregnancies and support affected women.
Require states, provinces, territories, and tribes to collect data on the use of safe havens and fund research on whether safe haven laws have the desired impact.
Siblings in Foster Care and Adoption
In foster care and adoption, too many siblings are needlessly separated from one another. Over the years, no bond is typically longer, stronger, or more comforting than that between siblings. Especially when children and youth have been separated from other birth family members, the connection between siblings is critically important to their emotional health and well-being. Siblings often provide continuity and family stability during a separation from home and family. Separating siblings can intensify a child’s or youth’s grief or trauma.
Foster children and youth should be able to identify whom they consider a sibling, which might include full biological siblings (whether or not they have lived together), half siblings, step siblings, adopted siblings, and foster siblings with whom they have a strong connection. Placement decisions made to keep siblings together are particularly important for children and youth who have been raised together as siblings.
When it is safe and in the best interests of the children and youth involved, agencies and courts should strive to place siblings in the same foster home, and maintain the goal of keeping children together until they can be reunited with birth families or placed in the same adoptive or guardianship family.
Siblings can and should be placed together in foster and adoptive families. In those situations where siblings cannot remain together because it is not in their best interests or where improper practices have separated them, agencies, courts, and foster and adoptive families must dedicate themselves to maintaining or building connections among the siblings.
State, provinces, territories, tribes, and all placing agencies should establish a written policy on sibling issues that includes the following provisions:
- A broad definition of siblings that includes children’s and youth’s own perception of who their siblings are, including relationships with siblings that they may not yet know.
- Sibling interests must be considered at each stage of the placement process and at each placement decision.
- Keeping siblings together or reuniting them as soon as possible is a paramount priority whenever it can be done safely and is in the best interests of the siblings.
- When a child or youth has a sibling who has previously been placed for adoption, the placing agency must contact the adoptive parents of that sibling and, if the parents are interested, the agency must consider them as a resource unless the placement would not be in the best interest of the siblings.
- Agencies must be required to show cause before separating siblings, rather than needing to show cause to keep siblings together.
- Where foster care and adoption licensing requirements limit the number of children who can be cared for in one family, exceptions should be made to keep sibling groups together.
Agencies and courts should consider sibling issues at every decision point and in every hearing related to foster children and youth. Agencies should include information on sibling issues in every report to the court, and courts should hold agencies accountable for building and maintaining sibling relationships.
Keeping Siblings Together
- Placing siblings with kin (including older siblings) increases their chance for retaining family connections not only with one another but with other family members, and such placements should be pursued whenever possible. (See NACAC’s position statements on kinship care and subsidized guardianship.)
- States, provinces, territories, and placing agencies must dedicate resources and funding to identifying and replicating strategies that successfully keep siblings together, such as placement with kin or recruiting and supporting foster and adoptive families who are willing to take sibling groups.
- Sibling relationships should be considered in each and every foster and adoptive placement decision, along with the child’s or youth’s other needs. Simply because siblings were separated once in foster care, they should not have to remain separated throughout foster care or into adoption.
- Training should be required for all in the child welfare system (agency staff, CASAs, judges, prospective parents, etc.) on sibling issues and rights, and how to weigh competing interests in determining children’s and youth’s best interests.
- Before any attempt to separate siblings is made, the placing agency should first work to overcome any barriers to keeping the siblings together. The siblings should receive intensive, dedicated services to address those barriers before a decision is made to separate them.
- Foster and adoptive families must receive specific information about specific sibling dynamics they may face, including any potential conflicts or sexual acting out among siblings that are being placed with them, and must be provided services to address these issues in the family. When necessary, parents should receive training on how to respectfully and gradually help children or youth who have become a parent figure let go of this role with their siblings.
- When children or youth have lived together as siblings in foster care and consider themselves siblings (whether or not they are biologically related), the placing agency should consider these relationships along with any other biological relationships when making placement decisions.
- Each case is unique and should be handled on an individual basis. Agencies must explore the individual circumstances of each case, including the quality of attachments among siblings and foster or adoptive parents, and make decisions based on the best interests of the children and youth involved. Whenever possible, the siblings themselves should be involved in the decision-making process both about placement and fostering connections. Placements should not be automatically disrupted to keep siblings together.
Maintaining Sibling Connections
- If intensive services to keep siblings together are unsuccessful, siblings who are separated should be encouraged to maintain significant connections with one another, with safeguards in place to protect the safety of all parties. When siblings are separated, keeping those siblings geographically close to one another should be an important consideration during placement decisions.
- Agency staff should discuss thoroughly with prospective foster and adoptive parents each child’s or youth’s siblings and the need to either accept all of them in one placement or to keep connections among siblings who cannot be placed together. Agencies should never underestimate foster or adoptive families’ creativity and willingness to preserve sibling ties and assume care for multiple children. Families considering placement of siblings who have been separated should be committed to maintaining relationships with the siblings and their new families.
- Agencies must schedule and facilitate visits among all siblings in foster care who are placed apart beginning no later than two weeks after placement. The visits should be frequent enough and of an appropriate length to develop and maintain meaningful sibling relationships. In addition, agencies should encourage and facilitate weekly phone conversations, teleconferences, e-mail with web camera, or other communication among the siblings. Less frequent visitation is acceptable only if so ordered by a court.
- Under no circumstance should any foster parent, group home, or agency be permitted to restrict contact between siblings as a form of discipline. The placing agency should be responsible for ensuring that visits and other communication among siblings take place.
Federal, state, provincial, territorial, and tribal governments have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all children and youth who have been in the care of the government through the public foster care system. As a result, all foster children and youth in the guardianship of a public agency who are placed with permanent guardians should be eligible for subsidized guardianship. In a majority of cases, guardians are related to the child or youth, but foster parents and others with a strong connection to the child or youth or his birth family may also become permanent, legal guardians.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
- States, provinces, territories, and tribes should offer permanent legal guardianship as a permanency option for foster children and youth for whom reunification has been ruled out. States, provinces, territories, and tribes should set eligibility criteria for guardianship including:
- The state, province, territory, or tribe has responsibility for the child or youth, and the child or youth has been removed from his or her home.
- A court has determined that reunification is not feasible and that guardianship is the best permanency option for this particular child or youth.
- A strong attachment exists between the child or youth and a potential guardian who is committed to caring for the child permanently.
- Before a decision to pursue guardianship is made, a social worker should explain to the potential permanent family the differences between adoption and guardianship as permanency options. The family and the worker should carefully consider the legal distinctions between guardianship and adoption (including that guardianship ends legally at age 18), and should determine together which option is best for this particular child and family.
- Foster children and youth who are placed in permanent guardianships should be eligible for at least the same level of support and benefits (including any therapeutic or specialized rates) they would have received in family foster care.
- Guardianship assistance benefits should be adjusted as the child’s age or needs change.
- In the United States, guardianship assistance should be a Title IV-E reimbursable expense, reimbursed at the same rate as foster care and adoption assistance.
- Children and youth who are receiving guardianship assistance should maintain their eligibility for future adoption assistance benefits, including Title IV-E adoption assistance in the U.S. should there come a time that adoption becomes the preferred permanency option for a particular child or youth.
Support for Youth Aging Out of Care
NACAC believes that every child and youth—regardless of age, special needs, or length of time in foster care—has a right to a permanent, legal connection to a caring family. A permanent legal family should be the ultimate goal for every child and youth, as outlined in NACAC’s position statements on Permanency for Older Children and Youth; Permanency Planning/Continuity of Relationships; and Kinship Care.
Unfortunately, however, many youth leave foster care without a family when they reach their jurisdiction’s age of majority (typically 18 but sometimes as old as 21). Known as emancipation or aging out, such exits often leave youth at tremendous risk for poor outcomes such as homelessness, unemployment, teen pregnancy or parenthood, incarceration, and more. To reduce the risks of poor outcomes, the child welfare system has an obligation to both thoroughly prepare youth for emancipation and support them after they exit foster care. Youth who emancipate from care must be provided a safety net for years after they exit care. Because the government took responsibility for these youth when it brought them into care, it must continue to be responsible until the youth are living self-sufficiently in the community. Providing such ongoing support will help improve youth’s chances of being successful members of the community and will reduce societal costs in the long-term as youth avoid expensive negative outcomes.
Youth who emancipate from care, and those at risk of doing so, must be full partners in any decisions made about their lives. They must be actively involved in their own transition planning and be partners in preparing for life after foster care.
The U.S. Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 increased opportunities for states to support foster youth until age 21 and required states to improve transition planning for youth exiting care. Much more remains to be done in both the U.S. and Canada. The following policy recommendations should be implemented to ensure improved outcomes for youth who emancipate from foster care:
- Extend foster care to age 21, enabling all youth to either remain in care until they turn 21 or, if they emancipated early, to return to foster care until they turn 21
- Provide additional funding, in the U.S., for the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (Chafee program) so that youth who exit foster care have necessary access to housing stipends, mental health services, mentoring, independent living services, and education/training vouchers; extend availability of these services through age 25
- Ensure that each Canadian province and territory provides youth who exit foster care, through age 25, with necessary access to housing stipends, mental health services, mentoring, independent living services, and education/training vouchers
- Provide comprehensive physical and mental health coverage (through Medicaid or a similar program) through age 25 to all youth who emancipate from care, regardless of whether the youth meets a particular educational standard (such as school enrollment) or immigration status
- Create and fully fund comprehensive support services that are available for all youth through age 25 who have emancipated from care, with such services to include housing support and financial assistance, educational support (including both high school completion, post-secondary education, and vocational education), access to physical and mental health care, and employment training and support. Ensure that such services are available immediately upon emancipation but also at any time the youth needs support before the age of 26.
- Implement and fund tuition waiver programs so that emancipated youth in every state, province, and territory can attend their local public colleges and universities with no tuition fees; ensure funding for grant programs to help offset the costs of room and board, books, and other expenses
- Expand or implement federal laws that allow undocumented foster youth to live legally in the country for five years and then apply for citizenship; eliminate current U.S. restrictions based on the youth’s HIV or marital status, among other things, and ensure that youth will not be deported for filing a petition for this status
Preparing Youth to Emancipate
Every youth in foster care 15 and older who remains in care longer than 90 days should have a concurrent plan—an ongoing process and plan that both seek permanency (reunification, kinship placement, adoption, or guardianship) for the youth while also preparing the youth for life after foster care. (For more on permanency, see NACAC’s position statement on Permanency for Older Children and Youth.)
Preparation for life after emancipation must be comprehensive, ongoing, and tailored to the youth’s specific strengths and needs. The youth’s caseworker, or an independent living specialist, must work in collaboration with the youth and his or her foster parents, relatives, current care providers, and other supportive adults to develop an individual transition plan. The plan must take into account the youth’s long-term goals and current skills, abilities, and challenges, and identify steps necessary to achieve those goals. The dependency court and child welfare supervisors should review the transition plan and ensure that progress is made over time.
Child welfare professionals should ensure that foster parents or other primary caregivers receive ongoing training on how to help teens develop life skills, including experiential learning related to budgeting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and more.
Key to the preparation is the identification of at least one, preferably more, responsible adult who will serve as a committed resource or mentor to the youth after emancipation. The caseworker must partner with the youth to identify possible resources, explore those options until at least one committed adult has been identified, and build a relationship between the youth and the adult(s).
Before the youth emancipates, the youth’s caseworker, with the support of independent living specialists, must ensure the youth has:
- completed the Ansell-Casey Life Skills Assessment (or a similar tool) to assess his or her readiness for independence
- received comprehensive, in-depth training, tailored to needs identified in the above assessment, on general life skills such as budgeting, cooking, shopping, cleaning, taking public transportation, financial literacy, self-advocacy, self-esteem, communication, obtaining financial aid, applying to school or work, and problem solving
- support to receive a high school diploma, preferably, or GED, if the youth is cognitively able to achieve this goal
- all necessary documentation (school records/transcripts, health records, birth certificate, U.S. Social Security or Canadian Social Insurance number/card, and driver’s license or other legal identification)
- a comprehensive physical and mental health assessment and any necessary services to address identified needs
- if applicable, a formal classification as disabled or developmentally delayed to ensure access to services for adults with these classifications
- services to address substance abuse or other addictions
- information about maintaining his or her health, including family planning and sex education, personal safety, nutrition, and healthy choices
- internships, mentoring, job shadowing, job search assistance, work readiness training, and other employment support services
- active engagement with community and school activities
- knowledge of and connections with government and community resources and organizations that can provide supportive services
- support for building or maintaining safe relationships with birth family members
Providing Support after Emancipation
During and after the emancipation process, child welfare professionals must ensure each youth has:
- at least one committed adult to provide mentoring and support
- a safe, healthy place to live and a means to pay for that housing for at least one year after emancipation, including a back up plan if the first housing option falls through
- a plan for continuing his or her education or obtaining a job, and support systems in place to ensure progress on educational or vocational goals
- applied for all available, relevant, and necessary public support, including Medicaid, Social Security Insurance, services for adults with mental health issues, physical or developmental disabilities, food stamps, job training, education, housing support/vouchers, etc.
- access to cash assistance if needed to pay for housing or living costs
- access to ongoing assistance with obtaining housing, educational, employment, and emotional support until age 25
To ensure the best use of resources and the most effective support of youth emancipating from care, states, provinces, tribes, bands, and the federal governments should fund pilot programs to rigorously evaluate which types of supportive services, provided for how long, are most effective at serving youth who emancipate from foster care. Final evaluations should be disseminated widely with information to help other sites replicate the most successful models.
Tax Policy to Encourage Permanence for Foster Children and Youth
NACAC believes that federal, state, and provincial governments bear a responsibility to children and youth who leave foster care to join a permanent family. These children and youth often have lifelong special needs and disabilities that can create a financial burden on their families for years to come. Therefore, tax policy should focus on supporting the transition of children and youth from foster care to permanent families, including adoptive families, customary adoptive families under tribal law, and permanent legal guardians.
To encourage permanency for foster children and youth and support families raising children and youth with special needs, NACAC supports flat, refundable tax credits for families who adopt or take permanent legal guardianship of foster children and youth. Flat tax credits would reflect the reality that these families may not have significant adoption expenses in the process of legalizing their family arrangements, but are likely to have higher expenses over time as they raise children and youth with special needs. Refundable credits will make the tax benefit available to the many families who permanently care for former foster children and youth but do not have a tax liability.