Previous to the last century laws were not in place to protect children; thus children were oftenmistreated without intervention. Given that long history, the United States and much of therest of the world have, in a relatively short period of time, made remarkable progress, however.The famous Mary Ellen case in 1874 set the stage for formalizing a system for protection forchildren. Then in the 1960’s, a century later, states began requiring reporting of suspected abuseand neglect, and since then an increasing number of children have come into the protection of anincreasing number of child welfare organizations.
But what to do with all these unfortunate children? Initially, with good intentions, a child at riskwould be removed (and kept removed) from the family that he or she loved (despite neglect andabuse) without due consideration given to a child’s desperate need for belonging to a permanentfamily. Hence, a child removed from his/her family would likely languish in foster care foryears—not infrequently until the age of adulthood—at which time he or she would be summarilydismissed from the system of “protection” and not long thereafter often be found on the street orincarcerated.
Fortunately, the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 96-272) was passedby the United States congress in order to promote the preservation of the family of origin, orwhen this wasn’t feasible, promote adoption, and in all cases, accelerate the process towardpermanency. As the number of children removed from their homes decreased and the length ofstay in out-of-home placements decreased, foster care agencies began looking for ways to placein the lesser restrictive setting of foster-adopt families those children with more severe emotionaland behavioral issues, who were placed in the more restrictive group and institutional settings.Thus “treatment” or “therapeutic” foster care, an upgrade of foster care services, was born,which included: smaller case loads for case managers, more training and support for caretakers,“wrap-around services,” and increased accountability for improvement in well-being of children.
Then in 1997 the positive pressure to move displaced children into permanent families asquickly as possible while simultaneously ensuring that their safety was not compromised ledto the enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L. 105-89). With this developmentpermanency hearings would be held within 12 months of placement and background checkswould be required for all caretakers. In addition, performance based outcomes were required,so varying rates for different levels of care and treatment were set, and much debate about whatoutcomes should be measured followed. Practitioners then began to track practices that seemedto be related most positively to improvement in the well-being of traumatized children and“evidence-based interventions” were established and practiced by many organizations involvedin helping children heal and develop.
At the beginning of the next millennium, 2000 AD, the emphasis on performance outcomesled to the burgeoning trend of privatization of foster care, a business environment in whichcompetition, accountability, and incentives for promoting well-being and acceleratingpermanency for displaced children would presumably thrive.
In the final blog, Ron Brown, LCPAA, CPMS, Treatment Director of Texas Foster Care andAdoption Services, will discuss the most recent developments in foster-adopt care and what hebelieves the future holds for children who are at risk.