Crossing Lines: When Interstate Adoptions Go Wrong

On March 26th, 2018, Jen Hart drove her SUV, with her family inside, off a cliff in Mendocino County, California.  Jen and her wife Sarah were the adoptive mothers of two groups of siblings – Markis, Abigail and Hannah and Jermiah, Ciera and Devonte (Jermiah and Ciera were renamed “Jeremiah” and “Sierra” by the Harts).  Although originally from Minnesota and living in Washington at the time of the incident, Jen and Sarah adopted all six children from Texas – even as Jermiah, Ciera and Devonte’s aunt was trying to work with that state to have them placed with her.   The Minnesotan adoption agency responsible for them had a history of violations.  As the Hart’s moved from Minnesota to Oregon to Washington, the tenuous nature of interstate adoptions between child welfare systems would become even clearer.

 

Their tragic story is easily one of the most horrific stories to come from our nation’s foster care system, but it has brought national attention to one major player in national child welfare system:  the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).  Initially conceived of almost 60 years ago, the ICPC finds itself under scrutiny today as more accounts emerge of how this agreement sometimes works against the best interests of the children interstate adoption is supposed to serve. Continue reading

The Future of Fostering: Foster Care Family Match

Technology is continuously changing the way we live our lives, whether it’s how we watch movies or the ways we form relationships.  In this digital era, Dr. Rebecca Reeder has used one intriguing new service to discover a new, loving relationship – “He moved in officially September 3 but we started meeting the last week of July,” Reeder told First Coast News.

She’s speaking about her now-adopted son Nick, 15, a young man who, after spending seven years in foster care, has come to find his forever family with Dr. Reeder thanks to a new online matchmaking service known as Family-Match.
Continue reading

Understanding Childhood Trauma: ACEs and Foster Children

Foster care may come with a stigma, especially for older youth. In the minds of many, foster children can be thought to be “too much to handle” or unruly.  Whether this is because of special medical needs or certain behavioral issues, the lives of these children are consistently misunderstood.  As child welfare professionals have come to learn, many of the stereotypical behaviors people believe are innate components of foster children are the result of the way these children have been treated.  As they grow from toddlers to teenagers, the childhood trauma they’ve experienced can and often does affect their behaviors and needs.

Foster Children Experience Childhood Trauma

Foster children experience trauma far more often than others, and this trauma can shape not only their behavior but also their worldview.  Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in foster children at very high rates – a grim testament to their experiences.  To give context to – and promote understanding for – their situation, it is important to know how trauma functions for children in care and what states can do to prevent these traumas before they can happen.
Continue reading

A Foster Child’s Family Tree: How To Find Adoption Records

In May 2014, New Jersey joined eight other states in opening up access to adoption records for adoptees. Today, the nature of open adoption record legislation across the United States is still evolving. For those foster children who were placed in care at a very young age, these records can represent a vital link to the past. Sometimes, however, the release of these records can also represent a violation of the biological parents’ wishes; the conflict between the rights of the adopted and the rights of the parents is central to understanding why many states still do not allow adoptees to find adoption records. For this reason, adoption record information is generally understood as belonging to one of two categories – identifying and nonidentifying information. As adoption law grows and adapts, more and more states are opening up these records and finding ways of navigating the complicated legal situations that spring up from these distinctions.

Find Adoption Records Legislation In Your State

What do these distinctions mean? According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, nonidentifying information includes (but is not limited to) the adoptee’s date and place of birth, physical descriptions of birth parents and their education levels . For almost every state, nonidentifying information is available to adoptive parents or adoptees, and roughly 26 states make similar information about the child available to birth parents.
Continue reading

Understanding the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

A groundbreaking piece of legislation has passed through Congress and is seeing the beginning stages of implementation across the country.  The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), originally designed as its own bill, has been passed into law attached to a government spending bill.  The FFPSA has implications for all child welfare providers in the United States but finally brings the federal government in line with what child welfare studies have been saying for years:  kinship care is the most effective form of foster care.  The provisions of the FFPSA pave the way to move foster care away from a system that relies on people who are, effectively, strangers to the children being placed with them and bolsters states’ ability to support and grow kinship care communities.  To do this, the bill will divest from congregate (group home) care and shift funds into what could be called the “Foster Care New Deal.”  This legislation has two primary approaches – it will create prevention services and family supports to address the causes that lead to foster care placement while developing the infrastructure relative caregivers need to allow them to care for the children for whom prevention services were insufficient.

What Does the FFPSA Do?

The first approach, prevention services, has the goal of reducing the need for child welfare systems entirely.  Through the establishment of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs and in-home parenting skill programs, the FFPSA will help states work with biological parents to ensure that not only do their children get to experience bright futures but also that those children get to do so in their own home, with their biological family.

Continue reading

Kinship Navigator Programs:  How the FFPSA Empowers States to Help Kinship Parents

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), recently passed through Congress, has massive implications for kinship caregivers in the United States.  As previously reported on this site, kinship care, the placement of children with relatives instead of traditional foster parents, has been increasingly viewed as the best form of foster care.  This is largely because it uses a child’s existing connections with family for placement instead of relying on people whom the child may not know and might have trouble integrating with.  Traditional foster care placement, although intended to serve the best interests of children, often introduces its own brand of pain and trauma when a child is removed from their family.  Unfortunately, existing practices in the child welfare system have created momentum in states which can lead to kinship care being underfunded when compared to traditional foster care or congregate (group home) care placements.  Over the course of more than fifteen years, Kinship Navigator Programs (KNPs) have been gaining traction as a way to bolster informal kinship care to provide better outcomes for the children living with relative caregivers.

Initially started as state and county-based initiatives, KNPs gained their first national sponsorship through Family Connection Grants provided by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.  However, with only two rounds of these grants occurring in 2009 and 2012, KNPs have not been able to truly flourish in every state.  According to Grandfamilies.org, as a result of budgetary crises, only the KNPs in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Washington state have survived into the present day.

Continue reading