The Children’s Bureau released new IM regarding “Achieving Permanency for the Well-Being of Children and Youth” on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, signed by Commissioner Elizabeth Darling. The IM purposes were the following:

  • To provide information on best practices, resources, and recommendations for achieving permanency for children and youth in a way that prioritizes the child’s or youth’s well-being;
  • To outline typical patterns in exit outcomes for children and youth in foster care; and reviewed the permanency goals of reunification, adoption, and guardianship; and
  • To emphasize the importance of state and tribal child welfare agencies and courts focusing on each child’s unique needs, attachments, and connections when making permanency decisions.

The IM analyzed AFCARS data on exits for children and youth entering foster care and indicated that while over 85 percent of children and youth will eventually achieve permanency through reunification, guardianship, or adoption (after four to five years), less than 50 percent will return to their families of origin through reunification. The Children’s Bureau states that “timeliness should not be the primary driver when considering how to best achieve permanency for children and youth. We believe that we will see reunification achieved more often, and with more expedience, by improving efforts to place children with relatives/fictive kin at the onset of foster care placement, nurturing children’s relationships with their parent(s) during foster care placement, and making concerted efforts to provide parents with the services and supports they need to achieve reunification.”

Utilizing AFCARS data from multiple fiscal years, the Children’s Bureau conducted three separate analyses:

  1. The first set of analyses was from FY 2013 to FY 2018 and followed children from their entry date to their date of discharge. This approach describes “the exit outcomes of children when maximal time is allowed to observe exits, and to observe how these exit outcomes vary.”
  2. The second set of analyzes were from FY 2015 to FY 2017 and followed each child for exactly two years from the date of entry. This approach describes “the exit outcomes children experiencing within two years of entry, rather than eventual exit outcomes with maximal time to observe exits.”
  3. The third set of analyses was from FY 2013 to FY 2015 and followed children to September 30, 2019, or their date of discharge, whichever came first. This approach describes “the population of children who become legally free and characterize what their eventual exit outcomes are.”

For the first two analyzes, the exit outcomes for children included 50 percent were reunified, 25 percent were adopted, ten percent were in guardianship, six percent were in relative care, and about eight percent emancipated from care.

When data is disaggregated by age at entry, the following are typically for children:

  • The first data sets revealed that the “reunification is the most likely outcome for children and youth who enter care between the ages of 1 and 16 years; children less than age 1 who enter care are the only group for whom adoption is the most likely outcome. The likelihood of exiting to adoption decreases the older the child is when they enter care; the likelihood of exiting to guardianship increases the older the child or youth is when they enter care, until approximately age 13; children and youth most likely to still be in care after four years are those who enter care between the ages of 9 and 13 years; and youth who enter foster care between the ages of 13 and 17 years, the likelihood of exiting to emancipation significantly increases the older the youth is when they enter care.”
  • The second data sets revealed that sixty-five percent of children would achieve permanency within two years or less of entry into foster care, while 44 percent will exit to reunification, nine percent will exit to adoption, eight percent will exit to guardianship, and five percent will exit to live permanently with relatives. With the exception of adoption, permanency is achieved for children within the first 12 to 18 months of entry into care.
  • Both sets of data revealed that permanency can take some time. Sixty-five percent of children achieve permanency within two years of entry, and eighty-eight percent of entrants achieve permanency within seven years.
  • Reunification becomes less likely after the first two years of entry, and children between the ages of 9 and 13 are less likely to be reunified compared to younger children.
  • The third set of data revealed that about 25 percent of children who enter foster care have their parents’ parental rights terminated including over 50 percent of newborns (0 to 3 months), less than 25 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 10, and over 10 percent of children between the ages 11 and 16.
  • The IM observed that “children who enter care and have their parents’ parental rights terminated more frequently fail to discharge and stay in care longer than children whose parent’s parental rights are not terminated. As the age at entry increases, the likelihood of these children staying in care also increases.” This includes 95 percent of infants (under age 1), 90 percent of children ages 1 and 5, 85 percent of children ages 6 and 10, and 55 percent of children ages 11 and 16.

The IM analyses on permanency outcomes, specifically reunification, suggests that we are inadequately providing services and supports for children and families. Attention to reunification for these special populations include infants, who have the least ability to be reunified with their parents due to the termination of parental rights and pursuit of adoption, and that children between the ages of 9 and 13 years remain in care beyond four years. This IM provides some immediate and timeliness approaches to achieving permanency for all children and youth in foster care, including reinstatement of parental rights especially for older youth, ensuring high-quality legal representation for children and their parents, and providing an array of post-adoption services for children and families. The Children’s Bureau “strongly encourages all title IV-B/IV-E agencies to commit to the practices that ensure the preservation and continuity of family relationships and connections for all children and youth in foster care.