Every November, the child welfare system celebrates National Adoption Month to emphasize adoption as one way for children in foster care to achieve permanency. The existence of lifelong connections has a profound positive effect on a child’s future achievements, health, and well-being. Adoption can provide permanency, stability, and a feeling of safety to children whose parents’ rights have been terminated. According to the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE), there are currently more than 6,000 children in Texas awaiting adoption; 60% of these children are 6 years old or older.
This year, the federal Children’s Bureau aims to focus attention on older youth needing permanency through its "Engage Youth: Listen and Learn" campaign. Older youth in foster care are less likely to be adopted, are more likely to turn 18 while in foster care, and are at increased risk of entering adulthood without necessary supports. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services created a video entitled "Why not Me?" to raise awareness about adoption. To locate more information on adoption and information events in each region, please visit the TARE website.
At the 2019 Child Welfare Judges Conference, judges from around the state identified key strategies to promote positive permanency, including many practices related to adoption. Below are some ways in which judges and attorneys who handle Child Protective Services cases can help children and youth in foster care achieve permanency through adoption:
Judicial practices with positive impact on adoption and permanency:
- Hold more than one Adoption Day per year (i.e., not just in November).
- Hold 30 or 60-day adoption progress hearings to closely track efforts to find an adoptive home as well as efforts to consummate adoption.
- Allow Associate Judges to preside over adoptions.
- Make concerted efforts to find a legally permanent placement for the child even if the child is stable in a non-permanent placement.
- Have candid discussions about adoption with older children.
- Involve the future adoptive parents in pre-adoption court hearings whenever possible.
- Drive accountability for relatives, family members, agency, youth, attorneys, etc. through judicial leadership.
- Continue to encourage positive permanency options despite barriers and get creative.
- Engage in trauma-informed court practices.
Attorney practices with positive impact on adoption and permanency:
- Communicate respect, acceptance, and support to prospective adoptive families and children in foster care.
- Provide children and youth in foster care with opportunities to discuss their feelings about what is happening.
- Support meaningful involvement of youth in their court hearings.
- Understand the importance of family and continue to talk with youth about their questions and concerns about permanency.
- Advocate for school stability, encourage youth involvement in decision-making about their case, and promote normalcy for youth.
- Advocate for permanency over placement stability.
- Support the biological family's role in permanency efforts where appropriate.
- If a child is reluctant to be adopted, thoroughly explore the child’s reluctance and address any misconceptions or misunderstandings.
- Recognize that youth are never too old for family and believe that all children are adoptable.
There are multiple resources to assist judges and lawyers with engaging with youth when discussing the permanency process, including the following: