Every child deserves a safe, permanent home achieved without delay. Caseworkers often agonize over selecting the right family for a child who is awaiting permanency. The seriousness of deciding on the “perfect” permanent family can be immobilizing.
Holding out for a “better” family is a dangerous risk. While we wait, children keep developing and growing older without permanency. There is no such thing as a perfect family. Ultimately, we need to focus on whether a family has the strengths to manage the child’s special needs and the commitment to make permanency work.
All decisions about a child’s placement should be fully documented in the case record, including placements that were ruled out.
The Matching and Selection Process
The process of matching children with families can be lengthy, especially in the eyes of waiting families without identified children. This is a period when families sometimes report they do not feel informed or supported. It is a time when the family should work very closely with their permanency worker.
The permanency worker should contact the family at least once a month to report on the potential matches pursued and the status of those potential matches. The ongoing contact provides support and information to families, keeping them engaged in the process. The permanency worker should assist the family with identifying potential matches using a matching plan.
The matching plan may include:
- Registering families on exchanges and state listserves (such as PAE and GoogleGroups)
- Distributing family fliers during all matching and statewide events with a quality photograph (Even if a worker cannot attend, they can usually contact the event coordinator and mail the family fliers to be included during the event)
- Including the family on the agency’s “Waiting Families at a Glance”
- Distributing the Family Profile Synopsis to counties and other agencies that have children waiting to be matched
- Submitting the Family Approval Document to agencies as requested
- Providing list of websites that may offer relevant information to families
- Educating the family about the benefits and uses of a family life book
- Encouraging families to attend matching events locally, regionally and statewide
Identified Potential Matches
The permanency worker should inform the family of the steps that need to be taken once a potential match is identified. The family should know about the work the permanency worker does to help match them with a child and what is required of them in the process.
The steps include:
- Permanency worker contacts the custodial county agency of the potential match
- The county agency assesses the family and agrees the matching process can proceed
- Permanency worker assists the family with reviewing the identified child’s information that includes the Child Profile, if available (Inform the family that all information about the child is confidential)
- Permanency worker answers questions from the family and discusses the availability of subsidy
- County agency makes a final decision about the family’s suitability for the identified child and notifies the permanency worker
- Permanency worker requests a joint meeting with the county and the identified family to discuss information about child and assists the family in getting full disclosure from the county
- Permanency worker has the family sign the Acknowledgement of Receipt of Information form prior to placement
- Family makes the final decision whether to proceed with potential match and notifies the permanency worker
- If family will not proceed, permanency worker continues with matching plan efforts
- If family will proceed, permanency worker notifies the county of family plans
- Permanency worker formulates and develops a written Individualized Permanency Service Plan, IPSP, with input from the family, county and child (when possible).
- Permanency worker implements the IPSP by coordinating and supervising the pre-placement activities
Families should understand that this process can be vastly different for children in different counties. For example, one county may choose three potential families and conduct interviews with each of them to determine which will best meet the child’s special needs. Another county may read several family profiles and feel comfortable about moving forward with a family without the formality of interviews.
When selecting the “top” family for a child, best practice calls for a team approach to the decision making. Ultimately, the county worker gives final approval to who will be invited to be on the permanency team. This team may include the county worker, permanency worker and family as well as individuals who represent the youth. The youth should also be a part of the decision making process, when appropriate. Those with a relationship with the youth, such as the child specific recruitment, CSR, worker, child preparation worker, placement caseworker, current and past resource parents and therapist can contribute to the decision making. These people usually have a deeper understanding of the strengths and challenges of the child and may be able to answer questions from potential permanency parents. For example, CSR workers meet with the child they are recruiting at least once a month. They talk and listen to the child about the type of family the child would like. The child may develop a strong relationship with their CSR worker and share information about their permanency desires they have not shared with anyone else. So the CSR worker may have more insight about where this child would like to live and what type of family they can thrive in.
Any family who is considered for a child should be informed in depth about that child. With the county worker’s approval, families should be able to meet, call and visit current caretakers to get more information about the child’s current functioning.
The child should also be involved in the process when appropriate, and this can be as simple as seeing photos of the possible families or as involved as sitting in on the family interviews. The permanency team should discuss the county’s policy about these aspects of the process.
Resources and Supports
A tool that can be used to assist in selecting the “top” family for a child is the Decision Making Matrix. This tool helps workers compare the strengths and needs of both the resource family and the child. The information collected also helps identify the supports needed to ensure a child’s needs are met within that family. A permanency team is better able to discuss which family would be the best choice for permanency for the child, based on this crucial information. Proper time and consideration should be given to addressing the child’s strengths and challenges. The selected family should have the potential to work through the challenges and enhance the strengths of the child. The Decision Making Matrix can be used when multiple families offer to provide permanency for a child. This includes waiting families pursuing waiting children as well as kinship and foster families for whom a specific identified child is being considered for placement.
When a placement decision is made, a county should refer the SWAN placement unit of service. The placement unit includes planning to ensure families and children are well equipped and supported at the beginning of the permanency process. Detailed discussions and planning about child care, schooling, therapy and birth family contact should occur prior to placement.
Once a family is selected, visitation should occur before any placement. Visitation should happen in a variety of settings so the family and child see how the other interacts. Overnight visits should also be arranged. Equally important is the follow up with the child and family to find out if the visits are going well or if additional support is needed during this process. Useful information is gathered to immediately address concerns and questions from the child and family before the placement happens.
The placement unit of service documents that visitation and follow up occur and that families and children are supported during the visitation and pre-placement process. This unit is crucial to building a strong and supportive foundation as a family is built.
Identifying potential resources for a child and then making the ultimate decision to select ONE permanent family for a child is an enormous responsibility. Developing a matching plan keeps potential families engaged. Collaborating with permanency team members during selection and referring the SWAN placement unit of service to support the youth and family through visitation and pre-placement activities can make this task far less daunting.