Thousands of children in long-term foster care with relatives find the permanence they need through adoption, but people who work with children and youth recognize that adoption is not always a viable option. Older children who have a relationship with their parents may not want parental rights terminated. Caregivers may prefer to remain grandma, aunt or uncle, rather than becoming mom and dad.
Subsidized guardianship is also respectful of children’s cultural heritage. Among Native Americans, Latinos, African-Americans and others, the extended family plays a key role, and termination of parental rights may even be viewed as taboo.
Although John Mattingly [commissioner of New York City’s child welfare system] recommends approaching a subsidized guardianship program with caution because of its implications for adoption, research shows that subsidized guardianship has minimal impact on adoption. When child welfare agencies discuss the advantages and disadvantages of adoption and guardianship with families, the majority of relatives still choose adoption. An Illinois study demonstrated that more than 60 percent of relatives who agreed to permanent placement chose adoption rather than guardianship.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires that before offering kinship guardianship assistance, state agencies must determine that reunification with parents and adoption are not appropriate options. Agencies must document efforts to discuss adoption with the relatives and kinship guardianship with the child’s birth parent. These conversations serve to establish an atmosphere of trust that promotes permanence overall.
States should not hesitate to pick up the guardianship assistance program enabled by Fostering Connections, so families will have the full range of options they deserve.
Donna Butts, Executive Director