Permanency planning for children in custody
By Tracy Spartz Campbell
Good permanency planning starts at the very first call, as OCS workers are assessing the child’s safety and family resources to support a safe home. Likewise, should it be determined that a child must enter foster care, the ongoing assessment of child safety and family resources are key to making a determination about a permanent placement plan for the child — either through reunification, adoption or guardianship.
Often terms like concurrent planning or alternative planning conjure up sinister efforts by child welfare workers to “fast track” children to adoption or guardianship and to stop reunification efforts too soon. The reality is that good concurrent planning is the outgrowth of solid active and/or reasonable efforts to the family.
OCS must make active and/or reasonable efforts with the child’s parents to work toward reunification. The efforts are outlined in the family’s case plan, as the child welfare worker provides active/reasonable efforts to the parents and the child, the parents’ response to these efforts will demonstrate whether or not the child can safety return home. As the parents improve their skill and efforts at maintaining the child’s safety in the home, the child can return home, permanently.
In cases where, despite the active/reasonable efforts that are provided and the parents are showing tentative or no improvements in their child’s safety, it is incumbent upon OCS to begin consideration for an alternative permanent placement option for the child through adoption or guardianship. Generally, this occurs about nine months to one year into the case. At that time, OCS will establish a primary permanent plan as well as an alternative permanent plan, should the parents not be successful in improving safety to the child in their home.
As always, the courts monitor child welfare workers to insure they are providing active and reasonable efforts to the parents and child(ren). These efforts are to insure that decisions made to not return a child or children to their family home are considered thoughtfully and legally by all.
Concurrent planning allows for children to have a permanent, safe home, in a timely manner, with the goal that the child does not ever return to foster care after permanency is achieved.