Foster care is not something that just happens in the United States. It is a global issue and each country handles the caring of children in need in different ways. We spoke with Collie Crisman, a Foster and Adoptive Family Services staff member, who grew up in the UK and has seen how the foster care system works on two continents.
1. How is the foster care system (including adoption) different in the UK compared to NJ?
One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed between the UK and the US adoptive processes is the presence of private adoption agencies in the US. In the UK, regardless of whether a child is removed by the state, or voluntarily placed for planned adoption at birth, the case will always be handled by either a local agency or a “Voluntary Adoption Agency” (a charity-run, independent agency that specializes in adoption and post-adoptive support).
Individuals or families looking to adopt a child in the UK first need to be approved by one of these agencies, and all domestic adoptions go through the state. Whilst a private adoption in the US can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $40,000, UK adoptions – much like adoptions through the state in the US – are almost entirely without cost, with UK parents often paying just a small court fee to apply to adopt their matched child. The licensure process for adoption, on the other hand, is much the same in both countries, with orientations, applications, initial background checks and references, trainings and assessments all taking place over the course of about six months, before prospective parents can move forward with being matched with a child.
A second, notable difference is the UK approach to the ‘foster to adopt’ process, which is still a relatively new concept over there. Fostering for adoption has a number of advantages for children in care: the stability brought about by continuity of care, reduced attachment trauma and often, faster identification of a permanent home. Fostering for adoption, also known as “dual approval” or “early permanence,” is still in its early stages in the UK, with only some agencies offering the dual licensing route to families. Of the agencies that do approve families to be dual licensed, some will only consider it in relation to a named child, whereas others won’t mind if there isn’t yet a specific child of interest. Usually, in the absence of dual approval, if a family is looking to adopt a child they’ve been fostering, they have to be reassessed and reapproved prior to applying to the UK courts to adopt the child.
When it comes to fostering, there are more similarities between the two countries than differences. Much like in New Jersey, there are multiple formats for fostering in the UK, although these do differ from the more general “kinship” or “regular foster” routes over here. Prospective UK foster parents are encouraged to consider whether they’d like to do short-term fostering (anything from an overnight stay to two years or more), “short break” fostering (known in the US as respite care; a temporary, brief stay that may be a one-off, or may reoccur weekly or monthly), or “long-term and permanent” fostering. Unlike in New Jersey, long-term fostering is a formal permanence option for English children in care, and aims to provide an experience of a “normal family life” for the child. Long-term foster parents are given greater authority to make decisions on behalf of the child, but the local authority retains parental responsibility. There’s also a “Remand” route, whereby UK foster parents take in young people remanded by a court to be looked after by a trained foster parent, a “Friends and Family” (the UK version of Kinship) route, and a “Specialist Therapeutic” route, whereby foster parents specialize in caring for children and adolescents with highly complex needs of behaviors.
2. How are the needs of the children in care different in the UK compared to NJ?
Just like in New Jersey, the need for foster and adoptive parents is especially great for older children, groups of siblings and disabled children in the UK. Recent research by The Fostering Network, a UK-based charity, found that 97% of fostering services had a specific need for foster parents for teenagers and that 86% needed foster parents for sibling groups. Across the UK, 60% of children in care are adolescents. In England alone, approximately 455 sibling groups have been separated since being assessed to live together.
In terms of more recent changes, there’s a growing need for foster parents for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in need of homes and for foster parents for “parent and child” placements. These placements provide care for young mothers and fathers who are experiencing challenges with their babies and who need help to develop parenting skills in order to increase the likelihood that their baby will remain with them in the long term.
Truthfully, though, children are children, and no matter where they’re born, there will always be some that need homes, or extra support, for a huge array of reasons. Both the UK and the US badly need foster parents, and every family that signs up makes a huge difference in the lives of the children they care for.
3. What’s been your personal experience with adoption or foster care in the UK? Can you relate that to any families you’ve worked with here?
I grew up with two siblings who both spent time in foster care prior to their adoption into our family. I was six when my brother came to live with us and twelve when my sister came along six years later. My initial experience with fostering and adoption was through them, and it was their experiences that encouraged me to pursue a career in this field. My family’s experiences of adoption and foster care are, in a lot of ways, very similar to the experiences of the families I work with. Many of the frustrations and worries that I hear about as a Family Advocate were present for my parents as they moved through the process of adoption. Having that understanding of what it’s like going through the foster/adoptive process means I can really empathize with all the highs and lows that are part and parcel of the experience.
4. What has been your personal experience with foster care and adoption at FAFS? How does NJ rate in your estimation in the level of care given to parents, especially with what services you and the others provide as advocates?
My experience with foster care and adoption at FAFS has been really positive, and I feel fortunate to be working with New Jersey’s child welfare system, which is now one of the best in the country, Nonetheless, all systems have their glitches and frustrations, and I hope that with the services that we can provide as Family Advocates at FAFS, those issues become easier to navigate and understand. I love that, within my role, I’m able to provide both support and advocacy services for issues ranging from subsidy and policy questions to interstate queries and behavioral/medical concerns. I get to meet all sorts of wonderful, incredibly kind and dedicated resource parents, and I’m learning so much as every week passes.
To learn more about the foster process abroad, click here.
To learn more about fostering in NJ, click here.