Everyone wants stability for children who are in foster care. They’re in a time of uncertainty at an age when they should feel secure — it’s difficult to think of them being uprooted from familiar settings.
But there are a number of reasons why a child may be removed from their current foster placement. Even though it’s hard, it’s hoped that it’s in the best interests of the child.
So, why do these situations happen? Five reasons why a foster care placement may “fail” include:
1. A relative or friend steps up to care for a child in foster care.
When a child enters foster care, the first choice for their placement will go to their biological parents, if they can stabilize their home situation enough to regain custody. If that no longer becomes an option, the second choice goes to any relatives or family friends the child might have. These are people that the child typically already knows, and this option usually allows his or her parents to remain nearby.
So, even if a child has been living with foster parents who are interested in adopting him or her, placement with biological family members will receive higher priority (if they’re eligible). The first goal in foster care is always reunification with the child’s biological family, whenever possible.
2. The child’s medical or emotional needs are too much for the foster parents.
Any child may have medical, mental, or emotional challenges. But those struggles may be greater than the adoption professional described, they may unexpectedly worsen after the placement, or the adoptive family may have overestimated their ability to cope with the child’s needs.
Some children in foster care have previously experienced severe traumas —neglect, physical or psychological abuses, sexual abuses and more. Some children are in foster care because they had medical conditions that their birth families were unable to care for. Behavioral issues from a child’s trauma may, in rare cases, create a safety issue within the family, or the foster parents simply find that they’re not as able to meet the child’s needs as they had initially hoped. However, all other solutions must be explored at length before considering the last resort of disrupting the match.
3. Children are removed from a home because the foster parents were abusing or neglecting the child.
It’s rare and it’s hard to think about, but it can happen. Sometimes people will adopt or foster a child for terrible reasons — they may intend to collect foster care stipends from the child but not provide for him or her, or they may have deliberately sought a child to harm.
Even with rigorous home studies and screening processes, it’s possible for someone to sneak past an adoption professional. This is another reason why post-placement visits are an important part of the home study process —to spot potential signs of abuse or neglect.
4. The child’s biological parents are able to stabilize their situation and regain custody.
This is the goal whenever a child enters foster care. It’s hoped that foster care is a short-term situation while the child’s biological parent(s) work on improvements in their life. If they’re able to make those improvements and show the court that they’re ready and willing to parent again, they’ll be awarded custody, even if a child’s foster parents would be happy to adopt him or her.
The parent may have their spouse return to help parent, they may find better employment or housing, they may have removed a toxic person from the household, they may have returned from jail, or they may have worked to improve personal struggles with addiction, emotional hardships or other past difficulties.
Children in foster care, even if they’re currently placed with loving foster parents, aren’t eligible for adoption until their biological parents’ legal rights are officially terminated. Up until that point, the parents will have ample opportunity to improve their situation in the hopes of preserving the child’s first family.
5. Something unexpected occurs in the foster family’s life, and they can’t continue to care for the child.
Perhaps a family was fostering-to-adopt and can no longer move forward with the placement, or the family was just fostering but can’t continue caring for the child. When something major and unexpected occurs in the lives of the foster parents, they may no longer be in a situation where they can provide for their foster child in the way they’d hoped.
The loss of a job or a family member, a sudden and serious illness, the need to relocate the family, a sudden serious issue with the house, an unexpected pregnancy —some things may make a foster family no longer the best choice for a child’s permanent placement. These disrupted matches are difficult, especially when they’ve been caring for that child for a while or if they intended to adopt him or her. No one wants to upend the child’s life again, but sometimes there’s no alternative.
It’s always important to be very certain that you’re in a good place — physically, emotionally, financially, at work, in your marriage, etc. — to foster or adopt before you accept a match. However, there’s always a chance for unpreventable and unforeseen circumstances. Make sure you keep your caseworker informed so your foster child can always be provided the support they deserve.
Sometimes, even with all the best support and effort, a foster care placement may be disrupted. However, there are a few measures you can take to reduce the risk of a disrupted foster care adoption. Choose your professional carefully, ask plenty of questions and make sure you’re educated about foster care and about the child you may bring home.