A foster care placement resource shall be chosen for the child that ensures that the child is placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting available and in close proximity to the parent’s home consistent with the safety and best interests, strengths and special needs of the child. Interstate placements shall comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Counties are required to:
The agency shall arrange for and maintain a single, stable living arrangement for each child based on the needs and attachments of the child. This placement shall be within his community.
A child will be moved only when it is in his best interest and there are clear indicators documented to support the necessity of the move. Documentation shall reflect diligent efforts made to maintain a single placement in the child's community or reasons why this is not possible.
Carefully choosing the best placement resource is critical to the goal of one single, stable, safe foster care placement within the child’s own community.
MRS and System of Care principles instruct County Departments of Social Services to acknowledge and support the importance of the family in meeting the needs of its members. When children cannot be assured safety in their own homes, the best alternative resource can often be found within the extended family and other “kin.” Kinship is the self-defined relationship between two or more people and is based on biological, legal, and/or strong family-like ties. Most people have loosely structured kinship networks that are available in times of difficulty. Parents and guardians facing the risk of child placement should be given a reasonable opportunity to identify and come together with their kinship network to plan for and provide safety, care, nurture, and supervision for the child. The agency has the responsibility of assessing the suggested resource to assure that the child will receive appropriate care.
Informal kinship care arrangements are commonplace in times of shared crisis for many families. Such arrangements are most effective when other members of the family and community resources provide emotional and tangible support to the care provider. When a DSS becomes involved in a family, informal kinship supports may not exist and the family may be too embarrassed or angry to seek such support. For instance, during a child protective services investigative assessment, a DSS may require the parent to choose and arrange for a temporary placement for their child in order to protect the child from further harm. Agency staff may need to help the temporary care provider locate and develop support and resources needed in caring for the child. In addition, the agency shall remain involved with the family providing placement and the birth family until the child’s ongoing safety is assured and the placement is legally secure or until the DSS files petition for custody. These informal arrangements are NOT legally secure for the child or for the caregiver.
One critical piece of information for the relative or kin considering taking the child into their home has to do with the potential for adoption should the plan for reunification not be achieved. If the child has never been in the custody of a county DSS before being adopted, Adoption Assistance is not an option.
There have been situations where DSS has been involved with a child and family and the parents place the child with a safety resource and DSS never has custody. If that relative or kin later adopts the child, they cannot receive Adoption Assistance. According to policy, DSS shall not close the case until legal security for the child has been established through reunification with the parents or custody or guardianship to the relative or kin. It is very difficult for relatives to understand that DSS may be involved and not have custody; therefore it is critical because of future implications as described above, that this be made very clear when working with relatives.
At other times, DSS files a petition for abuse or neglect and obtains a non-secure custody order. At the adjudication/disposition, DSS does not ask for custody but recommends custody to the relative or kinship caregiver. Adoption Assistance later would be an option because the child was in the custody of a DSS, though briefly.
In any of these situations, these distinctions are not readily apparent. At the first conversations with relatives or kin about having the child placed with them, either by the parent with DSS involvement, or by the DSS through court order, it is critical that county Department of Social Services thoroughly consider and have a thorough discussion about all options with the caregiver.
This should occur during the kinship care assessment, as well as ongoing when changes in the planning occur. In this manner, the relative or kinship caregiver can make informed decisions.
a. Involvement in Planning
The agency should help to mobilize the family’s kinship network in the process of:
County Departments of Social Services shall strive to strengthen and preserve the family. In keeping with Federal law, North Carolina law and policy require that, when a juvenile must be removed from his home, the County DSS Director shall give preference to an adult relative or other kin when determining placement, provided that (1) the placement is assessed by the agency to be in the best interests of the child in terms of both safety and nurture; and (2) the prospective caregiver and the living situation are assessed and determined to meet relevant standards. The Juvenile Court is required to ask at each hearing, including non-secure custody, adjudication, disposition, review, and permanency planning, whether or not a relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision for the child and, if so, to order placement with that relative if the home is assessed to be appropriate. See the Instructions for Kinship Care Assessment form (DSS-5204ins).
When relatives and/or other kin are identified as potential caregivers for children at risk, the agency shall assess the suitability of those resources. Kinship care may be considered as the primary plan and/or as an alternative permanent plan if the primary plan is found to be inappropriate.
The social worker should, therefore, address the issue of available and appropriate relatives in each court report, including the results of assessments of those relatives.
When necessary and appropriate to the needs of the child, the agency shall make efforts to provide or procure reasonable assistance to help families and kin meet assessment and/or licensing standards so that they can provide care for the child.
When possible, child support should be paid directly to the caregiver, involving IV-D Child Support Enforcement as needed. Potential caregivers shall be informed of available agency resources, such as child-only Work First grants, subsidized guardianship assistance2, medical coverage, day care, and food stamps. When needed, families shall also be informed of any available community resources for free or low-cost clothing or furniture, minor home repairs, or other such incidental needs that may unnecessarily prohibit their being approved to provide care for children. If the kinship caregiver wishes to be licensed as a foster parent, the agency is required to determine whether or not the family meets state licensing requirements3, thus enabling them to receive foster care assistance payments, Medicaid, and other benefits. Since foster care placement, even with licensed relatives, is not a permanent plan, the kinship care providers should be assessed for their interest and ability to adopt the child or to assume guardianship or legal custody.
c. Utilizing the Family’s Own Resources
Often agencies emphasize the importance of publicly supported helping systems (e.g. mental health, schools, social services, juvenile justice) over that of informal systems such as the extended family, kin, the spiritual community and other community resources. By doing so, they frequently overburden the formal systems while missing an opportunity to involve people who can better address many family needs.
System of Care and the family centered principles of partnership expect that Social workers should use the resources of the formal child welfare system to strengthen and support rather than replace the informal system.4
Whether licensed as a foster home or not, kinship care providers should be valued and treated as partners with the birth family and the agency.
This includes notifying relatives providing care for a child of any court review or hearing to be held about the child and of their opportunity to be heard in court. Social workers should receive additional training regarding the development of collaborative working relationships with kin.
Children who have been abused or neglected do not respond appropriately to corporal punishment, since often they have already experienced and survived extreme discipline from their parents. Kinship care providers may not be aware of the impact of abuse, and may be reluctant to agree to a non-corporal punishment policy. The agency shall discuss and formalize a child-specific alternative discipline plan for children in agency custody.
Social workers should use family-centered practice tools, such as Child and Family Team meetings which focus on a mutual sharing of information among agency staff, other professionals, the family, and their kinship network. Families, along with their kinship network, should be fully involved in the decision-making process from the point of initiation of services so that the resources and wisdom of the family and its culture can be tapped. The family’s understanding incorporates an historical perspective of the problems faced by the family, as well as their efforts to remedy those problems. They are in a position to confront the problems and to help provide realistic supports needed to help the child and his/her family of origin move toward healing.
Child and Family Team meetings provide
s a model for engaging the kinship network at the earliest stages of agency involvement.
The agency aligns with the members of the kinship network and shares responsibility for planning. This model helps the family, their relatives, and other kin to take ownership of the family’s needs, to bring their own resources to address those needs, to reduce the likelihood of child placement outside the kinship network, and to provide a system of benevolent oversight to the family’s progress in the resolution of their issues.
Child and Family Team meetings take
s this model a step further by disengaging the agency and other professionals from the family meeting after a period of information sharing about the issues that led to agency involvement. The family then assumes responsibility for developing and writing the plan. While the DSS maintains “veto power” regarding approval of the plan devised by the family, agencies that have adopted the model report that the large majority of these plans are approved. In addition, since the family resources are engaged first, unnecessary and unwanted agency resources are not wasted. Please refer to Chapter VII - Child and Family Team Meetings or the Community Assessment Teams information within Chapter IV; Section 1201; Children's Services Yellow Pages (Tools for Enhanced Practice), to for additional information.
In order to maximize the possibility of a positive kinship placement, a thorough assessment shall be conducted to evaluate the suitability of the placement (please refer to the Instructions for Kinship Care Assessment DSS-5204ins.) It is critical that the agency develop and nurture staff sensitivity to the unique issues that are present when relatives and other kin are assessed for their suitability to parent children. Assessment should be based on an understanding of the kinship family’s culture and community, child rearing approaches, and family dynamics, and should focus on the ability of the family to meet the immediate and ongoing needs of the child.5
If a placement is determined to be suitable for the care and nurturing of the child, but the home cannot meet all foster care licensing requirements, the agency may submit justification for a waiver to the Section Chief of Children’s Services, Division of Social Services.
In North Carolina, many licensure requirements may be considered for waiver if approval is in the best interest of the child(ren); if the health, safety and protection of the child is assured, and if the local agency recommends that the waiver(s) be granted.
At this time there are no waivers for training requirements, for well inspection requirements, or for placement of outside toilet facilities. Any relative or other kinship caregiver should be licensed as a foster parent if they want to be licensed and meet licensing requirements.
In addition to completing the initial and comprehensive assessment, agency staff shall maintain sufficient contact with the kinship care provider and the child to assure that the basic physical and emotional needs of the child are being met and that the care provider is receiving adequate informal and formal support to meet those needs. Whether or not the home is licensed as a foster home, social workers shall have face-to-face contact with the kinship caregiver at least once within the first week of placement and at least monthly thereafter.
If the agency has custody or CPS involvement with the child and has sanctioned placement with a non-licensed relative, services should be provided to assure that the kin caregiver has the best chance of meeting the child’s needs for physical and emotional security. Whether or not the agency has custody, kinship caregivers may need agency supportive services. Some services that are frequently requested by caregivers are:
If a relative cannot be identified as an appropriate placement resource for the child, a foster care placement resource shall be chosen for the child that ensures that the child is placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting available and in close proximity to the parent's home consistent with the best interests and special needs of the child.
Foster care placement resources shall be carefully evaluated and prepared prior to placement to help assure that the child will remain in that placement until reunification or other permanent home is achieved. Every child deserves one single, stable foster care placement within his/her own community. If the agency is relieved of reunification efforts, the foster family is frequently the first alternative for permanent placement through adoption. Concurrent planning requires that the agency develop a viable alternative permanency plan that can be implemented if the primary plan is determined to be inappropriate (please refer to the Concurrent Permanency Planning information found within Chapter IV; Section 1201; Children's Services Yellow Pages (Tools for Enhanced Practice) for additional information).
In order to have a readily available pool of foster family resources, County Departments of Social Services must have a current recruitment plan for recruiting foster families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in need of foster homes in their county. The strengths of foster families in meeting the needs of children should be clearly documented in order to select a foster family for a specific child that can best meet that child's needs.
Agencies may also recruit foster/adopt families (also called permanency planning foster families) that are willing to work as partners with the agency and birth family during case planning for a child in their care and to consider becoming the permanent placement resource for the child if reunification fails.
b. Special Considerations for Children Under Twelve Years of Age
Placement of children under 12 years of age in group care should only be considered after other less restrictive and/or more family-like options have been seriously pursued. Residential/group care should only be used when it clearly meets the well-being needs of the child and no other family setting is available for that child. NC’s goal is for every child to be placed in a family setting and to have the opportunity to remain in their own community.
In addition, the Federal Child and Family Services Review assesses (in Permanency Outcome 2) the states performance in (1) placing children in foster care in close proximity to their parents and close relatives; (2) placing siblings together; (3) ensuring frequent visitation between children and their parents and siblings in foster care; (4) preserving connections of children in foster care with extended family, community, cultural heritage, religion and schools; (5) seeking relatives as potential placement resources; and (6) promoting the relationship between children and their parents while the children are in foster care.
There appears to be two general issues given as reasons for placing children under twelve in group care. They are: 1) Keeping siblings together. 2) Meeting the specific needs of the child. In many of these placements, a sibling group may in reality not be placed together at all, but rather in different cottages that may not even be close together. It is important to consider the specifics of the situation when placing children in group care. Children should not be placed in residential/group care unless there is a clear need to do so, based on the specific needs of the child.
It is especially concerning when children are placed in group home care solely due to a lack of available foster homes. When this is the case, the county should develop a plan to address the need for recruiting and licensing new foster homes and to support and maintain current foster homes.
Siblings shall be placed together, whenever possible, unless contrary to the child’s developmental, treatment or safety needs. Through the eyes of the child, it is traumatic to be removed from parents and home. To be separated from siblings adds to the impact of loss and trauma. When siblings are able to remain together in an out of home placement, there can be a greater sense of continuity of family. Frequently, older children will have had some responsibilities for caring for younger siblings when in their own home, and they may feel worried and protective regarding these siblings if separated from them. Likewise, the younger siblings may have looked to their older siblings for comfort and guidance.
Because it is important to place siblings together, the agency shall recruit and prepare foster families who are willing to take sibling groups. Foster families need special preparation regarding issues of sibling relationships among children in foster care, as well as the impact of separation and loss on those relationships.
There are times when it is not in the child's best interest to be placed with siblings because of each child's developmental, treatment, and/or safety needs. In some situations, for example, children may be endangered by unsupervised contact with their more aggressive or sexually active sibling.
When this is this case, it is the responsibility of the agency to provide for frequent supervised or unsupervised visitation and ongoing contact for the siblings in order to maintain their ties to one another. Social workers shall document the basis for the decision not to place siblings together.
1 James P. Gleeson, Ph.D., Achieving Permanency for Children in Kinship Foster Care. Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. 1995. Handout distributed to Annual Conference for the National Association of State Foster Care Managers, page 11.
2 Available only in N.C. County Departments of Social Services that chose this option for service.
3 Miller v. Youakim, 440 U.S. 125 (1979)
4 Gleeson, Ibid., page 13.
5 Child Welfare League of America., Kinship Care: A Natural Bridge, 1994, Washington, D.C. p.44.
For questions or clarification on any of the policy contained in these manuals, please contact your local county office.