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Timelines For A Foster Care Case Plan

As those of you who are foster parents or social workers know, there are a multitude of meetings, reviews and court hearings that go along with each foster child. They vary from state to state but I wanted to share the way my state does it and how the decisions are made.

Child Welfare Court Case Timeline

Day 0: Juvenile Petition and Non-Secure Custody Order filed with court [This is what gives the agency the authority to remove the child from the biological home]

Day 7: Initial hearing to determine need for continued non-secure custody which may be continued for up to ten (10) business days by consent; subsequent hearings within seven (7) business days and then thirty (30) calendar day intervals [This is when the agency presents the court with their evidence of abuse/neglect/dependency and requests that the court continue the order for the child to remain in foster care. Most of the attorneys for the birth parents will waive the subsequent hearings]

Day 60: Adjudicatory hearing no later than sixty (60) days from filing [This is when the judge hears evidence from the agency and the birth parents concerning the reasons the child was removed. The judge then makes a ruling as to whether the child should be declared neglected, abused or dependant. This ruling is very important as it determines the services that are offered to the parents and the likely length of the case]

Day 90: Dispositional hearing should take place immediately following adjudication; if not, it shall be concluded within thirty (30) days of the adjudication hearing [In my county, the dispositional hearing always was included in the same hearing as the Adjudication. The dispositional hearing is where the judge takes the recommendations from the agency and the GAL and determines what the parents need to do in order to regain custody of their child. For example- 12 weeks of parenting classes, Psych assessment and follow recommendations, Substance abuse assessment and follow recommendations, domestic violence assessment and follow recommendations, find stable housing, etc. These orders become part of the parents case plan]

Day 180: Review of custody order must be held within ninety (90) days of disposition with a subsequent review within six (6) months [This is when the judge assesses the parents progress on their case plan. The judge may add new required services based on recommendations of the agency or the GAL. Some counties do not have another Review until the Permanency planning hearing at the end of one year. My county did Reviews every 90 days to assess the parents progress]

Day 365: Permanency planning hearing must be held within twelve (12) months of initial order removing custody, and may be combined with reviews with subsequent permanency planning hearings at least every six (6) months [The one year review is typically the one where the agency either recommends continuing with reunification or changing the primary plan]

So that is the way court works. Now, we’ve covered the court hearing time line. I’m going to show you the timeline for the Agency Reviews, also called Permanency Planning Action Team Reviews. These reviews include the social worker, the birth parents, the GAL, the foster parents, the social worker’s supervisor, the court liaison, the GAL supervisor and typically one social worker from the placement division and the other 3 team supervisors.

The reviews consist of 4 parts: Summary of Case & Recommendations from last review, Issues to be addressed by team, Service Provisions and Team Recommendations.

Summary of Case & Recommendations from last review: This states the primary plan, the concurrent plan and the secondary plan. It also includes the services that the parents are required to complete and any notable information from a previous review (such as the parent refused to show up, threw a temper tantrum, etc).

Issues to be Addressed by Team: This includes what the barrier/safety issues are that prevent the plan from being achieved on that day and what it will take to get the child in a permanent home

Service Provisions: This directly spells out exactly what agency efforts have been made to achieve permanency for the child (such as referrals to parenting classes, substance abuse, developmental screenings, etc). This is also where the social worker lists the progress the parents have made towards their case plan. The last part states what services have been provided by other community agencies to help the family achieve permanency and states what other services might be required.

Team Recommendations: This is the final outcome of the review. This is the section that states whether the team decided to continue services in place, continue reunification efforts or to change the primary plan.

Review 1: Within 60 days of the child coming into custody [This review is typically scheduled for immediately(within 14 days) after the Adjudication and Dispositional Court hearing.

Review 2: Within 90 days of the first agency team review, but no more than 150 days of the child coming into agency custody

Subsequent reviews take place every 6 months unless there is a change in circumstance that necessitates a review. [In my state, a child may not be removed from a foster home (except in cases of abuse) without an action review. My family is directly responsible for this change in law. Previously a social worker could decide to move a child, and poof- they were gone. This law came about because of the catastrophic conclusion to our fostering career.]

Separate from the Permanency Planning Action Reviews are the Child and Family Team Meetings. A CFT meeting is a way to engage and partner with all the people who surround a family and to support the family in building a support network that will eventually sustain them after the case is closed. A CFT meeting is more than a way to simply show respect or “be nice” to the family; it is a way for the agency to share responsibility for protecting children/youth with their families and the community. The CFT meetings are held by the social worker with a facilitator and also include the birth family, the foster parent, the GAL, any therapists or support people working with the family and the child if they are over age 13.

Child and Family Team Meetings are required at the following times during the case:
*Within 30 days of coming into care
*Within 60 days of coming into care
*Within 90 days after 60 day meeting, not more than 150 days after coming into care
*Every 6 months thereafter throughout the life of the case
*When there is a change in the plan or family circumstance and it is necessary to reconvene the team to discuss progress

The CFT meetings are more informal than the Agency Reviews. There is more dialogue between the birth family and the agency and less pointing of fingers and blame. The CFT meetings are where a lot of the case decisions are made. I hope that gives you a clearer picture of the inner workings of a CPS case.

Different Types Of Foster Care Permanency Goals

There are only 5 possible Permanency Goals in my state. There is always a primary goal and then a concurrent secondary goal. In my state, the primary goal is almost always going to start as Family Reunification. There are a few exceptions to that rule, however. If the parents have had their rights terminated on 3 or more children and the conditions that led to those terminations still exist, they are not offered reunification services. If the parents were responsible, either directly or indirectly, in the death or serious bodily injury to another child, they are not offered reunification services. If the child is being brought back into foster care after two unsuccessful reunification attempts with the same parent, they are not offered a third reunification plan.

Each state has different ways of accomplishing permanency for the children in state’s care. Here is how my state describes the Case Goals and ways to meet those goals:

Family Reunification:
Reunification means that the biological parents or caretaker from whom the child was taken regains custody of the child. In most cases reunification is the primary permanent resolution sought, and reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the parent must be demonstrated and documented to the court. Reunification is appropriate when the parent is capable of providing minimum sufficient level of care, even when there are areas of concern. A return to even marginally adequate parents is a better alternative than years in foster care, as long as the safety of the child can be ensured.
Reunification should be considered when:
• The issues that precipitated the child’s removal have been addressed and resolved, and
• Risk to the child has been reduced to a reasonable level; and
• The parents have made changes in their behavior and circumstances that were identified as needing to change before the child could be returned safely to the home; and
• The parent has demonstrated capacity and willingness to provide appropriate care for the child; and
• The child’s safety and care in the home is reasonably expected to remain secure; and
• Supports from the agency and community are in place to assist the family to remain intact
Reunification should not be considered when the court has found that such efforts would be futile or would be inconsistent with the juvenile’s need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time.

Legal Custody:
Legal custody is an acceptable permanency option, although it does not have the same level of security or permanency as adoption or guardianship. Custody can be challenged before the court at any time there is a change in circumstances, regardless of the fitness of the custodian.
A judge can order legal custody of a child to a relative, foster parent, or other adult person deemed suitable by the court. The specific rights and responsibilities of the legal custodian are spelled out in the court order and may be as extensive as that of a guardian or limited. Legal custody is not well defined in statute, but typically implies responsibility for the oversight of a child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.

In my state, Legal custody is literally the last resort to achieve permanency. The agency will not support a plan of Legal Custody unless all other avenues have been exhausted because there are too many loopholes in which the birth parent can regain custody of the child without the agency being made aware.

Legal Guardianship:
When reunification efforts are determined to be contrary to the health, safety or best interest of a child who is in the legal custody or placement authority of the agency, the county shall assess relative or kinship placements as a permanency option, including the child’s birth father and paternal relatives. If the family is willing to provide a permanent home for the child but is not willing to adopt, then guardianship and custody should be offered to the family as alternatives. Guardianship shall only be considered when reunification and adoption are ruled out as permanency options. Juvenile Court Guardianship assigns legal authority for the guardian to act on behalf of the child without further agency involvement, but with continued supervision of the court. The legal authority of the guardian includes:
• the care, custody and control of the juvenile,
• the authority to arrange placement for the juvenile,
• the right to represent the juvenile in legal actions before the court,
• the right to consent to actions on the part of the juvenile including marriage, enlisting in the armed forces, and enrollment in school.
• A guardian may consent to remedial, psychological, medical or surgical treatment for the juvenile.

In concurrent permanency planning, relatives and kin should be identified early and assessed for their potential as a possible permanent placement for the child. State law requires the judge who orders a child’s placement or continued placement to consider whether an appropriate placement with a relative is available. If the judge finds that a relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision in a “safe home,” the judge must order placement of the child with the relative. When placement with a relative for the purposes of foster care is made, consideration should be made as to the potential for that placement to become permanent through adoption or guardianship if reunification with the parent is not possible.

Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement:
APPLA means Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. It is only an appropriate primary permanency goal for youth who are between the ages of 16 to 18, or as a concurrent permanency goal for youth ages 14 to 18.
• A permanent living arrangement for a youth age 14 or over who resides in a family setting which has been maintained for at least the previous six concurrent months; and
• in which the youth and caregiver have made a mutual commitment of emotional support and
• the youth has been integrated into the family; and
• the youth and caregiver are requesting that the placement be made permanent; and
• other permanency options, including adoption, guardianship, and custody have been determined to be inappropriate for the situation due to the youth’s long-term needs.

APPLA may be appropriate for relative or non-relative placements in licensed or court-approved non-licensed homes when the above criteria are met. The agency retains legal custody of the youth for the period of the APPLA. If the family is a licensed caregiver or becomes licensed, they shall receive standard board payments to help support the placement. If they are not a licensed foster care facility, they shall be informed of and given the opportunity to become licensed.

Adoption is the permanent plan offering the most stability to the child who cannot return to his/her parents. Factors to consider include whether or not the child is likely to return home and whether the child can be freed for adoption. In order for the child to be adopted, both parents must voluntarily relinquish their parental rights or their parental rights must be terminated by the court. The agency shall file a petition for termination of parental rights within 60 calendar days of the agency’s decision that the permanent plan is adoption or within 60 calendar days of the hearing that determines that the plan is adoption unless the court makes other findings. There must be legal grounds to terminate each parent’s rights. Adoption by foster parents is often an appropriate plan, especially if the child has developed a close relationship with the foster family. Such a plan has the benefit of providing continuity for the child with a family that they already know without requiring an additional move. Increasingly, foster families are being recruited and trained to provide foster care, to work with the team toward reunification efforts, and to be willing to consider committing to the child permanently through adoption if reunification is not possible. These parents are sometimes referred to as “permanency planning families.” Recruiting and training these families are key components of concurrent planning. Sometimes the child’s parent(s) recognize that they cannot be the permanent family for the child. When they know and respect the care that their child is receiving from the foster family, they may voluntarily relinquish their parental rights so that the child can be adopted by that family. The advantage in this situation is that it allows for the possibility that the child and birth parent continue some relationship while the child is raised by a committed and caring adoptive family.
When adoption is being considered as a permanent plan, satisfactory answers to the following questions are needed:
*Have all relative placement options been considered and eliminated?
*Has the child’s ethnic and cultural needs been considered and addressed?
*Has the best interest of the child been considered and documented?
*Are the parents willing to relinquish their rights, or is the agency ready to proceed with termination of parental rights?
*Do legal grounds for termination of parental rights exist?
*Is the child already living with caretakers who are willing to adopt?
*How soon can the child be placed in an adoptive home?
*How long will the court process take?
*Who will help the child through the placement process?
*Has a pool of potential adoptive families been recruited or is the agency willing to commit to child-specific recruitment?
*Has the child’s particular needs and strengths been thoroughly assessed and evaluated?
*Has a placement option that will be able to meet the child’s needs been identified?
*What is the child’s relationship with siblings?
*Should the child be placed with siblings and, if so, can this be accomplished?
*Is the child able to accept “parenting?”

My state is one that does not allow a child to remain with a Goal of Adoption for more one year with no progress. After one year, other avenue’s are explored to achieve permanency for the child:

*If the agency is unsuccessful in locating a person willing to adopt the child within one year, the permanency plan shall be changed unless the agency is able to justify to the court why the plan should remain “adoption”. Justification will include the agency’s progress toward locating a person willing to assume legal responsibility for the child.
* Youth who are reluctant to consider adoption shall be given an opportunity to talk in a facilitated Child and Family Team Meeting about their concerns. Other permanency options shall be offered, and the adolescent’s preferred plan should be given strong consideration whenever feasible. Adolescents who wish to reunite with their birth families should be given an opportunity to visit them under decreasing supervision, and provided with 24 hour access to emergency support should an unsupervised visit become untenable. The social worker shall work with the adolescent to process the visitation experience and to develop strategies to cope with problems that may come up in future visits.
* If a parent whose rights have been terminated has satisfactorily resolved the issues that led to termination and, along with the child/youth requests to re-establish a parental relationship, the agency shall evaluate their situation in a facilitated Child and Family Team meeting to determine whether or not the agency would support re-adoption by the birth parent.

In some cases, the child may choose to pursue Emancipation from the court rather than remain in foster care. Emancipation occurs through marriage, joining the armed forces, or emancipation by the Court. Children ages 16-18 may petition the Court for a judicial decree of emancipation. After the final decree of emancipation, the petitioner has the same right to make contracts and conveyances, to sue and be sued, and to transact business as if he/she were an adult. The parent is relieved of legal duties and obligations owed to the petitioner and is divested of all rights with respect to the petitioner. The decree of emancipation is irrevocable.

This is just how it works in my state. Other states have different timelines and may offer different services. If you are a foster parent with a question, please consult your own state’s foster parenting manual which can usually be found online.

Creating A Life Book For Foster Children

In a lot of states, making a Life book for your foster child is not optional. It is mandatory. In my state, at least when we were still licensed, it was optional but recommended.

So let’s start with some basic information about Life books for any new foster parents out there.

What is a Life Book?
A Life book is a chronological and evolving record of the child’s life. While a Life book contains pictures and facts, it also helps children work through losses and difficulties in their lives, celebrate their strengths, and continue to develop a positive sense of self as they grow. For a child, Life book work is a path to their memories and to a reinterpretation of their memories. It is also a path to understanding and integrating their memories.

Why do all children in foster care need Life books, regardless of their permanency plans?
Life books are for all children placed in foster care, regardless of their permanency goals. Life books are not just for children who are being adopted. Life book work provides an explanation to children for the reasons they are in foster care. Life books also foster healing based on truth and interpretation at the developmental level of the child.

For children who are adopted, Life books promote healing and provide concrete understanding of the reasons why they were unable to return to their biological families. Life books give children permission to love and cherish their adoptive families as well as their biological families.

Who creates the Life book?
The child is the primary creator of the Life book. It is the child’s personal narrative of his or her life. Important people who can help children create their Life books include parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, caseworkers, therapists, teachers, mentors, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Different Types Of Life Books

There are a few different types of Life Books that you can make for your foster child. If you’re not a crafty type person, you can purchase one already made and fill in the pages. If you want something a little more customized, you can purchase a binder and download free pages to print out. If you like to scrapbook, you can start from scratch and make a truly customized one.

This site has a great page of tips for creating a life book including ideas for different kinds of pages you might want to use.

Tapestry Books has a decent selection of different types of pre-made life books where you just fill in the information. They have both foster care life books and adoption life books. These are a good option when it might be a short term placement and the child does not already have a life book.

Free Life Book Pages- you can find a bunch of life book pages to print out and use in a 3-ring binder. This is what I did a lot. I would buy a binder where you could insert a picture on the front and blow up a picture of the child to use as the cover. I always used those plastic page protectors and just printed off the sheets that were relevant to each child. Here’s a list of places you can get pages for free:

IFAPA (Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parenting Association)- they have over 70 free pages you can download and print.

CCFS (Center for Child & Family Services- they have more than 25 different free pages to print.

Tennessee Youth & Fostercare– they have more than 40 different options and pages to print for free.

An Inside Look At A Foster Placement

I’m always amazes me how differently foster placements can work from one county to another. That doesn’t even take into account if it’s a private versus a public agency. Just the process of how a placement works is subjective depending on what county you are licensed in. I wanted to share with you how placements worked at my agency as a foster parent.

In our county, foster parents were assigned a licensing worker who was supposed to be their advocate and their contact within the agency. Theoretically, the licensing worker is supposed to be the foster parents biggest supporter and the one who will help solve any issues that come up with a child’s case worker. I say theoretically because our licensing worker ended up being the biggest two faced, lying sack of monkey doo that ever graced the doorstep of CPS. I consider her to be lower than foot fungus. But the one we had previous to the monkey doo was fantastic and so very helpful.

The licensing worker is responsible for keeping all of the profiles of the foster parents in her caseload up to date in the computer system. She is responsible for entering all the age, sex, needs, level of care preferences into the main database. When a child comes into custody of CPS (assuming it’s not an emergency or after hours placement), there is a staffing meeting held. Normally, this meeting consists of the investigator, her supervisor, one of the licensing workers, a placement worker and a supervisor from that department. They go over the case, the reasons why the child is coming into custody and the projected outcome of the case. Any foster home recommendations/requirements are decided by the team at this meeting, such as no younger children, no pets, stay home parent etc.

Then the placement worker goes back to her computer, enters in the appropriate information, and the computer gives her a generated list of foster homes that meet those specific criteria. The computer generally gave a list of 10 homes that would be appropriate. She pulls those foster families profiles and chooses the top 3 that she thinks will be a good fit for that child. She calls the top choice to present the placement information. They get 10 minutes to make a decision if they answer the phone. After 10 minutes, she calls the next home on the list. If they don’t answer the phone, she leaves a message and immediately calls the next home on her list. If the second home accepts the child, then it’s done. She just keeps going down the list until she either finds a placement or she’s left messages at 6 homes. If that happens, the first one to call back is the one who gets the placement.

[Note:Usually, with babies at least, she rarely has to make more than 2 calls. I know in our house, we made snap decisions. If they called us with a baby, I would either accept or decline while on the phone with her.]

At that point, the child doesn’t even have a caseworker assigned (unless they are being moved from one foster home to another). They have the investigator and then about a week later, once the initial court hearing is over, the case gets transferred to a case worker. In our county, with very few exceptions, case workers had absolutely no say in where the child was placed. It was a totally different division of CPS.

Now when a child came in on an emergency or after hours placement, it was different. The social worker who had the task of removing the child would just call the first name on the emergency list and kept on going until she found a home. The emergency home would have the option of asking the placement worker to find a long term foster home or they could decide to keep the placement.

The First Day Of A Foster Placement

So much about the foster parenting training focuses on how to get licensed, what behaviors to expect, how the case plan works, etc. But rarely does anybody tell you what to do that first day, when a child magically appears on your doorstep. What to say, what to expect, how to act. It obviously depends on the age of the child.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume that the child is a 6 year old girl and this is her first time in foster care. What do you do?

Introduce yourself. It seems so basic, but it’s important. Bend down to her level and introduce yourself with a quiet voice and a smile. Give her a choice of what she wants to call you. You should have already encountered this in your prep classes, deciding what you are comfortable being called. My older foster children always called me Miss Delia or Mama Dee. I never ever asked a child to call me Mrs. James. It’s so impersonal and I just didn’t like it.

Hands to yourself. Until you know the extent of what she has suffered or seen, hands off. They may come to your home and immediately crawl up in your lap for a hug or they may be so scared of physical interactions that a simple touch will send them into a panic. All physical contact should be first initiated by the child.

Ask basic questions. After the introductions are done, ask if she is hungry, thirsty, or needs to use the restroom. This lets her know that you will be meeting their basic needs. It lays the foundation for trust.

Take a Tour. Give her a tour of the house. Show her where the toys are kept, where the TV is, how to get to the bathroom. Show her to her room and show her where to find you if she needs you. Make sure to show her where she can put her clothes and her belongings. Make sure she knows that her belongings will not be taken by other members in the house.

Answer questions honestly. She probably has a lot of uncertainty right now. How long will she be here? When will she see her mom again? Where are her siblings? Always answer her questions honestly, age appropriately and clearly. It is better to answer with ‘I don’t know‘ than to lie and cause her to lose trust in you.

Be clear about house rules. I always recommend having house rules that are simple, direct and consistent. Make sure that everyone in the house is expected to follow the same rules. I always went over the house rules that very first day. Ours were very simple: We keep our hands to ourselves, we are responsible for our own things, we clean up our own messes. There’s no need to have a printed hand out with 36 family rules on the very first day. There will be time enough in a few days to go over the fine details of the expectations in your home, after she has settled in your house and the shock has worn off.

Give the child space. Don’t plan a huge family outing or a party to celebrate their arrival. Remember that while you are excited to have her in your home, this is traumatic for her. Let her ease into her place in the house. Encourage relatives to wait a week or so before stopping by to meet her. Be sensitive to her grief for her birth family, don’t talk badly about them or about her case when she can overhear.