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Permanency Planning and Adoption

Permanency Planning and Adoption

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 02/2001 by Abigail Rath

The Permanency Planning Bill
On 21 June 2000, the Minister for Community Services released the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Permanency Planning) Bill as an exposure draft for public consultation. The Minister said that the Bill seeks to ensure that permanency planning is firmly on the agenda when decisions are made about children in out-of-home care, and that it proposes to actively encourage the consideration of adoption as an option for children who are unable to live with their family of origin. (pages 1-2)

While there was broad support for the Minister’s objective of strengthening the emphasis on permanency planning, the Bill received mixed responses. While some commentators supported the proposal to more actively consider adoption as an option for permanent placement, others were concerned about such a move. Some commentators argued that permanency planning was one of the principal objectives of the new child protection legislation (the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998) and that substantial amendment is not required. (pages 2-7)

What is Permanency Planning?
The concept of permanency planning is not new. It emerged in the 1970s in the US and UK in response to studies which showed that there were many children in unstable fostering arrangements for long periods of time with no effort being made to find them more permanent arrangements. Although the concept is not precise, it generally refers to time-limited, goal directed efforts to help children live with nurturing adults who offer stability and an opportunity for lifetime relationships. It encompasses supporting families to prevent the removal of children from their homes, working with families to enable children to be re-united with their families, and where prevention or re-unification is not appropriate, providing services to enable children to be placed in another permanent family. (pages 7-10)

Developments in the United States and the United Kingdom
The Minister’s focus on adoption follows recent developments in the US and the UK which emphasise adoption as an important and under-utilised aspect of permanency planning. In 1996, President Clinton set a goal of doubling by 2002 the number of children adopted or placed in other permanent homes, and current figures indicate this goal will be met. In 1997, Congress passed legislation aimed at promoting adoption and other permanent homes for children who need them. The legislation includes: increases in funding for family preservation and support services; adoption incentive payments; time limits for permanency plans; and time limits for initiating proceedings to terminate parental rights. Apart from the adoption incentive bonuses (which only apply to adoption), the legislation focuses on “permanency” generally with adoption treated as only one of various permanency options. However, guidelines released by the US Department of Health and Human Services express a clear preference for adoption. (pages 10-17)

The UK Government recently released a White Paper on adoption which proposes initiatives to increase the number of adoptions of “looked after” children. The proposals include: increasing funding for services and support for children and their adoptive families; setting timescales for permanency plans and adoptive placements; and setting a target to increase by 40% by 2004-05 the number of adoptions of looked after children. (pages 17-21)

Child Placement Research and Issues
The Minister’s proposal to emphasise the adoption of children in out-of-home care raises the issue of whether research supports such a preference for adoption. The relative merits of adoption versus other long-term placement options has been a topic of continued discussion in child welfare circles. There are strongly held positions on both sides of the debate and both sides refer to research to support their arguments.

While there is general agreement on the importance of stability for children in out-of-home care, there is disagreement over the best way to provide for this, and the importance of other factors such as continued contact between the child and her/his birth family. (pages 22-33)

The Community Services Commission’s Inquiry into Substitute Care
In November 2000, the Community Services Commissioner released the final report of his comprehensive inquiry into the substitute care system in NSW. The Report concludes that the substitute care system in NSW has failed to deliver adequate care and protection for children and young people. The Report provides a good picture of the care system in which the debate surrounding permanency planning and adoption is placed in practice. It provides a timely reminder that there are fundamental problems in the system that need to be addressed. (pages 33-37)