Arkansas Department of Human Services drops ban on foster parenting by unwed couples

The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced it will do away with its policy prohibiting unmarried couples living together from serving as foster parents.

“After all the input provided not only from the hearing … but the input provided from our stakeholders with whom we work every day and the general public, and after having some internal discussions, we decided that the best approach to take is to look at these on a case-by-case basis and to retain that flexibility,” DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said.

Gov. Mike Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor met with DHS officials to discuss the policy.

“What the governor wants is to find all the ways that we can to find more good, qualified foster homes for the kids that need them,” DeCample said. “Everyone we’ve talked to in the foster care system, whether it’s the workers at DCFS (the Division of Children and Family Services), whether it’s parents, whether it’s judges … they all have the same mantra, which is, we need more good homes right now, not less, and a blanket policy like that would confine us as far as where we could look.”

One thought on “Arkansas Department of Human Services drops ban on foster parenting by unwed couples

  • October 29, 2008 at 10:29 pm
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    To whom it may concern,

    I would like to inform you, and many others of a major flaw within our foster care system. To understand the full asspect of this flaw, let me star at the very begining. In 2004 my partner and I were foster parents and , recieved a call from a social worker. There were 2 brothers and a sister who were sepreated from each other. It was vitally important to keep these siblings together, but DSS was having a hard time trying to find a foster family that would take in 3 kids, and have the room to accomidate them. Without hesitation we said yes. The next day these 3 beautiful children arrived at our home ages 5, 3, & 18 mo.

    Finally in 2006 after 2 plus years of court hearings and continations after continuation, the parental rights of both biological parents were terminated .The adoption of our 3 children was completed a few months later. It was at this time we decided to leave the foster care system and let our family adjust. As do most foster parents . We told the social workers involved that if another sibling was to come into foster care we would want to notified to keep the children together.

    This summer we found out that another child had in fact been born, a little girl. We found out by accident and only by chance. However we feel it was no accident that we were not informed that this sibling was born; we were not meant to know about this child, at least not until she was adopted . The reason I say this, is because one of the first calls we made when we found out about this little girl was to our gaurdian adlitem (GAL they advicate for the children and make recomentations to the judge of what is in the best intrest of the child). Even if the current socail workers involved in this case were unaware that 3 siblings had already been adopted from the system. It was known by the GAL, and yet we were never notified. I have to wonder if our children were taken into consideration at all.

    We were unable to obtain any information on the baby except an aproximate age, and her name. We are not aware if there are any mental or physical handicaps , or how far into the case they are, weather the goal is to reunite the family or going towards adoption. DSS(Department of Social Services) talks about making decisions based on the best interest of the child. We want to make sure that this would of been in the best intrest of all 4 children. To make the right dicision for all four kids DSS as well as ourselves would have needed to evaluate all of the information available. DSS did not asked for any information about our family.

    Since July we have pleaded with DSS to keep these kids together .We spoke to so many differant people that I began to keep a list. Most of the people that we spoke to in DSS seemed to be just as confused as we were. I started to wonder if this child already placed in a foster home away from her siblings had any thing to do with my partner and I being a same sex couple. The social worker in the case seemed to be unintrested in the children’s seperation at all, the GAL didn’t seem to care either. We worked our way up the ranks ,we even spoke to Robert Williams the director for Guilford county DSS North Carolina. In one conversation he had told me that there was nothing wrong with our family and agreed that these children should be together. He told me that he would meet again with his staff , and that sadly not everyone is always on the same page.
    I strongly agree with his last statement.

    I’ve lost count of how many meetings were supposedly held .This case had been passed from person to person and reviewed by social workers and directors with no answers at all except
    “ I’ll look into it” and “Let me see where we need to go from here”. It would appear that the director himself has no say in placement matters.

    We were left in a posistion of not knowing what to do ourselfs. We even asked at one point if we should we get receirtified to be foster parents? Or Should we have an adoption home study done? Even these questions went unanswered.

    Finally 4 months later, in mid October 2008, we recieved our answer. The full blooded sister of our 3 children would not be placed with us, she will remain with her current foster family who also intends to adopt her.

    We were never really given answer as to why she will not be placed with us, and were told that we were not intiled to one.

    These were a few of the things that they had metioned to us, that I would assume help play a part in their decision..One of which, is because the children do not know eachother, that they have never met. I tried to point out to DSS, that even though they have never met ;My children know they have a little sister, that they are seperated from. This knowledge is just as devesating to them.
    It is yet another loss in thier short lifes that they must suffer. Should children be seperated because they don’t know each other or have never met ?

    My partner and I did make the decision to tell our children for two reasons, one of those reasons being ; our kids already knew something was up. We wanted them hear it from us, rather than to over hear a conversation or to be told form someone else. The second reason is that, our oldest son has some trust issues with adults.Not tell him would only fuel that fire and would always wonder if he were hiding anything else from him.

    Dss did offer to arrange visitation with their baby sister . However after much thought and consulting with my sons phychatrist ,we dicided that visitation would not be benificial to him. Our son is not strong enough to handle visits , it would be emotionaly traumitising for him.

    DSS also reminded us, that we were not currently foster parents. We asked why they wouldn’t consider kinship care. We were told that even though our children were related to the little girl,my partner and I were of no relation to the baby. Therefore kinship care would not apply to us.

    This is how kinship placement reads in The North Carolina DHHS on-line manuels.Chapter 4: 1201 child placement Services. (http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-10/man/CSs1201c4-05.htm . Chapter 4:1201 child placement services.)

    1. Placement with Relatives and Kin (Kinship Care)
    MRS and System of Care principles instruct County Departments of Social Services to shall acknowledge and support the importance of the family in meeting the needs of its members. When children cannot be assured safety in their own homes, the best alternative resource can often be found within the extended family and other “kin.” Kinship is the self-defined relationship between two or more people and is based on biological, legal, and/or strong family-like ties. Most people have loosely structured kinship networks that are available in times of difficulty. Parents and guardians facing the risk of child placement should be given a reasonable opportunity to identify and come together with their kinship network to plan for and provide safety, care, nurture, and supervision for the child. The agency has the responsibility of assessing the suggested resource to assure that the child will receive appropriate care.
    Informal kinship care arrangements are commonplace in times of shared crisis for many families. Such arrangements are most effective when other members of the family and community resources provide emotional and tangible support to the care provider. When a DSS becomes involved in a family, informal kinship supports may not exist and the family may be too embarrassed or angry to seek such support. For instance, during a child protective services investigative assessment, a DSS may require the parent to choose and arrange for a temporary placement for their child in order to protect the child from further harm. Agency staff may need to help the temporary care provider locate and develop support and resources needed in caring for the child. In addition, the agency shall remain involved with the family providing placement and the birth family until the child’s ongoing safety is assured and the placement is legally secure or until the DSS files petition for custody. These informal arrangements are NOT legally secure for the child or for the caregiver.
    One critical piece of information for the relative or kin considering taking the child into their home has to do with the potential for adoption down the road, even if that is not the plan at the time. If the child has never been in the custody of a county DSS before being adopted, Adoption Assistance is not an option. There have been situations where DSS has been involved with a child and family and the parents place the child with a safety resource and DSS never has custody. If that relative or kin later adopts the child, they cannot receive Adoption Assistance. According to policy, DSS should not close the case until legal security for the child has been established through reunification with the parents or custody or guardianship to the relative or kin. It is very difficult for relatives to understand that DSS may be involved and not have custody; therefore it is critical because of future implications as described above, that this be made very clear when working with relatives.
    At other times, DSS files a petition for abuse or neglect and obtains a non-secure custody order. At the adjudication/disposition, DSS does not ask for custody but recommends custody to the relative or kinship caregiver. Adoption Assistance later would be an option because the child was in the custody of a DSS, though briefly.
    In any of these situations, these distinctions are not readily apparent. At the first conversations with relatives or kin about having the child placed with them, either by the parent with DSS involvement, or by the DSS through court order, all options must be explained to the caregiver.
    This should occur during the kinship care assessment, as well as ongoing when changes in the planning occur. In this manner, the relative or kinship caregiver can make informed decisions.
    a. Involvement in Planning
    The agency should help to mobilize the family’s kinship network in the process of:
    assessing the risk of harm to the child;
    assessing the resources of the kinship network to eliminate that risk;
    developing a plan for the protection, permanence, and well-being of the child;
    tailoring that plan to the needs, resources, support and desires of the family;
    implementing the plan; and
    evaluating and monitoring the implementation of the plan.1
    b. Legal Preference for Placement with Relatives
    County Departments of Social Services shall strive to strengthen and preserve the family. In keeping with Federal law, North Carolina law and policy require that, when a juvenile must be removed from his home, the County DSS Director shall give preference to an adult relative or other kin when determining placement, provided that (1) the placement is assessed by the agency to be in the best interests of the child in terms of both safety and nurture; and (2) the prospective caregiver and the living situation are assessed and determined to meet relevant standards. The Juvenile Court is required to ask at each hearing, including non-secure custody, adjudication, disposition, review, and permanency planning, whether or not a relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision for the child and, if so, to order placement with that relative if the home is assessed to be appropriate. See the Instructions for Kinship Care Assessment form (dss-5204ins).
    When relatives and/or other kin are identified as potential caregivers for children at risk, the agency shall assess the suitability of those resources. Kinship care may be considered as the primary plan and/or as an alternative permanent plan if the primary plan is found to be inappropriate. The social worker should, therefore, address the issue of available and appropriate relatives in each court report, including the results of assessments of those relatives.
    When necessary and appropriate to the needs of the child, the agency shall make efforts to provide or procure reasonable assistance to help families and kin meet assessment and/or licensing standards so that they can provide care for the child. When possible, child support should be paid directly to the caregiver, involving IV-D Child Support Enforcement as needed. Potential caregivers shall be informed of available agency resources, such as child-only Work First grants, subsidized guardianship assistance, 2medical coverage, day care, and food stamps. When needed, families shall also be informed of any available community resources for free or low-cost clothing or furniture, minor home repairs, or other such incidental needs that may unnecessarily prohibit their being approved to provide care for children. If the kinship caregiver wishes to be licensed as a foster parent, the agency is required to determine whether or not the family meets state licensing requirements3, thus enabling them to receive foster care assistance payments, Medicaid, and other benefits. Since foster care placement, even with licensed relatives, is not a permanent plan, the kinship care providers should be assessed for their interest and ability to adopt the child or to assume guardianship or legal custody.

    3. Siblings
    Siblings shall be placed together, whenever possible, unless contrary to the child’s developmental, treatment or safety needs. Through the eyes of the child, it is traumatic to be removed from parents and home. To be separated from siblings adds to the impact of loss and trauma. When siblings are able to remain together in an out of home placement, there can be a greater sense of continuity of family. Frequently, older children will have had some responsibilities for caring for younger siblings when in their own home, and they may feel worried and protective regarding these siblings if separated from them. Likewise, the younger siblings may have looked to their older siblings for comfort and guidance.
    Because it is important to place siblings together, the agency shall recruit and prepare foster families who are willing to take sibling groups. Foster families need special preparation regarding issues of sibling relationships among children in foster care, as well as the impact of separation and loss on those relationships.
    There are times when it is not in the child’s best interest to be placed with siblings because of each child’s developmental, treatment, and/or safety needs. In some situations, for example, children may be endangered by unsupervised contact with their more aggressive or sexually active sibling. When this is this case, it is the responsibility of the agency to provide for frequent supervised or unsupervised visitation and ongoing contact for the siblings in order to maintain their ties to one another. Social workers shall document the basis for the decision not to place siblings together.

    This is an awful lot of information to take in. I would like to focus on part b. legal preference for placement with relatives it reads:
    In keeping with Federal law, North Carolina law and policy require that, when a juvenile must be removed from his home, the County DSS Director shall give preference to an adult relative or other kin when determining placement, provided . (1) the placement is assessed by the agency to be in the best interests of the child in terms of both safety and nurture; and (2) the prospective caregiver and the living situation are assessed and determined to meet relevant standards.

    Although it does state that preference be given to an adult relative, I’d like to tell you about a case in which a 22 month old boy was placed with a woman who was not a current foster parent, she was of no relation to the child The agency came out and a did a quick evaluation of the home. The child was then placed with her under kinship care, because her niece (who does not live with her), was this toddlers half sibling. The niece was considered to be the “OTHER KIN” . Two years later the woman adopted that little boy.

    We have all heard before, that there is an exception to every rule. DSS has the power to decided which rules and standards to make exceptions for. They have the power to decide which children will and will not be kept together. I’ve been told by a countless number of people , lawyers included that,. DSS ultimitly has the last say as to where a child will be placed.

    I understand that is not always possible to keep siblings together. But for those cases where not only is it possible but the home meets the standards, and It has been proven to provide a thriving and safe enviroment for one or more siblings; I have to ask, Why would you keep these kids apart?

    I realize that there are many senarios and situations, each one requiring special attention. Each one deserving a review of all possibilities. There is no “One Size fits all” resolution .The over all goal is to keep the family bonds together. Weather children know each other or not, should not be grounds to separate them .To be placed with family first should always be the main priority. The care givers to a sibling should also be one of the first placements to consider, as this would keep many children together.

    Fostering Perspectives sponcered by NC division of social services and the NC family and children’s resource program. (www.fosteringperspectives.org) Published an article Vol. No.2 spring 2000 My Rights as a child in foster care. Under the heading of family , 2 of those rights are as follows:

    • to have placement with a relative be first placement to be investigated and considered.
    •To live with my brothers and sisters.

    In our children’s case they have been denied these basic rights. It seems that DSS did not abide by the very codes they wrote.

    At one point fear of a bonding issue was mentioned. Each child is different and so are their abilities to adapt. It has been proven that children has old has three years of age will bond with a new family with very little or no stress. For older children , the amount of time spent with their current placement would be a consideration has it may be too traumitizing.

    These are three reasons we believe are the result of why our children’s baby sister was not placed with us. We can not say for sure and may never know, because we are not entitled to know the answer, to the biggest question. The question we are asked by our children every day “WHY?” It hurts to know that I can’t give them an answer, I can take the pain away.

    These four children will live with and suffer the consiquences of not only their birth parents decisions and mistakes, but of DSS as well. It seems that no matter how hard we disputed this decision , DSS has made their choice, and after all they do have the last say.

    I wish that the social workers and others involved, would step back. Put aside their feelings, opinions, and personal preverances, and view things through the eyes of the child.. DSS is there to help and protect the children, but all too often they fail them.

    I am writing this, to ask that some reviews and adjustments be made to our foster care program. If this has happened to my children , I would bank on the fact that it is happening to others, and still more to come. My hope is that, with a few admendments and basic change of procedures we could prevent children from being seperated. Brother’s and sister’s who have already been adopted or live with another care givers will not go through a life apart.

    I thank for your time and consideration.

    Sincerly,

    Conserned citizen for the rights of all adopted and foster children

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