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November 2019Vol. 20, No. 9Adoption Is Wonderful and We Should Reduce the Need for It

Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly

Adoption is a critically important permanency option for children in foster care who are unable to be reunified with their parents. It can allow for the creation of new families or expansion of existing families. Adoption can be a very positive thing, and we must continuously strive to improve our adoption practices from recruitment through postadoption supports to ensure stability and sustainability. We have events to celebrate adoptions and campaigns that recruit adoptive parents and draw attention to the need for specific types of adoptive homes. For the past 2 years, the Children's Bureau (CB) has focused on building awareness around the need for the adoption of older youth who are in foster care and unable to return to their families. CB recently held an adoption summit bringing together teams from every state to identify jurisdiction-specific challenges to finalizing adoptions and create state plans to address those barriers. All of these efforts are helpful when adoption is the best route to permanency for a child or youth.

In considering children and youth's need for permanency, it is equally important to be mindful of the circumstances that lead to the need for adoption in the first place. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that, in some situations, adoption can be the consequent result of failing to make reasonable efforts to prevent children's removal from their homes. The need for foster care and adoption can reflect missed opportunities to strengthen families and keep them together. For this reason, we must have a national strategy that simultaneously focuses on preventing unnecessary removals through vigorous reasonable efforts and on ensuring appropriate permanency for those children and youth for whom reasonable efforts were unsuccessful in keeping them safely within their own families.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) makes clear that reunification is the most preferred permanency goal for children who enter foster care. As all are aware, ASFA also established statutory timelines for judicial determinations pertaining to reasonable efforts and for filing petitions to terminate parental rights, absent compelling reasons. There is nothing that prohibits an earlier filing of a petition in situations that clearly warrant such filings or that meet the statutory criteria for foregoing reasonable efforts (e.g., aggravated circumstances). However, given the complex difficulties that families find themselves in and the spirit and intent of the law, we urge caution in routinely filing termination of parental rights petitions early absent clear evidence that parents have received full statutory protections. Parents deserve a chance to be the best parents they can be, and children deserve the chance to be with their parents.  

Adoption can and does provide lasting permanence in a loving home for children and youth who absolutely cannot be cared for safely within their families. Adoption can be a joyous event that best meets the needs of children and youth. We must remember that preventing the need for adoption through strengthening and preserving families are also joyous events.