Is permanency the same as adoption?
Nope. Permanency is a term used in the child welfare system and is sometimes confused with the word adoption. What permanency really means is that a person has legal membership in a safe, stable, nurturing family with relationships that are intended to last for a lifetime. That family can be their birth, adoptive, or guardianship family.
Most people have permanency because they have the family they were born or adopted into and the relationships they have are solid. Even people who joke about having a ‘messed up’ family will usually agree that as imperfect as it is, it’s their family and they belong with those people. That’s what permanency is.
For children and youth who have experienced abuse, neglect, trauma and child welfare intervention the definition of permanency is less obvious. In Minnesota most kids who are removed from their families end up returning after a relatively short stay in foster care. When they return home, it’s called reunification, and that’s the first option for permanency. The child is legally related to their parents, generally has a loving relationship and has the stability of being with family, even if the family moves a lot they are together.
When children and youth cannot return home, sometimes the parents and child welfare professionals work together to identify family or kin who are able to take over parenting. When the right to do important parenting tasks such as taking a child to the doctor, enrolling him in school or sports and being able to travel out of state with the child are given to another person it’s called transfer of permanent physical and legal custody (TPPLC) in Minnesota. In these situations the birth parents retain their legal rights as parents, but authority to do the activities of parenting is given to the kinship guardian. This legal relationship terminates when the child becomes an adult. The emotional relationship may or may not sustain forever.
For a relatively small number of children and youth the only option to achieve permanency is to be adopted. Those whose parents’ legal rights have already been terminated will not have legal membership in a family until or unless they are adopted or (in a teeny, tiny number of situations) their birth parents’ legal rights are restored. In Minnesota there are usually about 900 youth in this situation and about 550 of them join adoptive families each year. Adoption gives a youth a new legal tie to a family and, when done well, also provides the emotional relationship that is at the core of permanency.
Whenever we talk about permanency, we will address all three components: legal, emotional and physical (stability of living situation). All three are important and Ampersand Families is rarely satisfied with any plan for a child or youth that only secures one aspect of permanency.
Permanency is a birth right that most people are fortunate enough to be able to take for granted. Permanency is having a place and people to whom you belong, no matter what happens.
When child welfare is involved, permanency is the fulfillment of the promise that the community made when a child or youth was removed and legally separated from her family. At Ampersand Families we believe that the community promised to restore the child to a safe, loving, legally recognized family with an urgency that honors the brevity of childhood.
Permanency Is Belonging
For a teen or young adult, permanency is knowing, deep within, that you belong somewhere with someone . . . no matter what. Even if you make a mistake . . . even a really bad one.
Permanency is a lifelong relationship. It’s hearing your name on the family voicemail… Having your picture on the family photo wall…Being included in the family vacation. Knowing someone will walk you down the aisle (or support you if you don’t want to marry)…Being added to someone’s will. And having people who will visit you regularly . . . no matter where you are.
People with permanency have been claimed by others and are able to develop and keep cultural traditions in relationship to people they care about and who care about them. In adoption there is a wonderful, complex opportunity to help children and youth to integrate where they came from and where they are into an identity that will take them into the future. Emotional permanency requires that adoptive and guardianship parents recognize that a youth’s life did not begin when they joined the new family, but is full of important people and experiences that have shaped the very best and most challenging parts of the youth’s personality and world view. Permanency is a labor of love and learning and, as we say at Ampersand Families “success sometimes looks weird.”
Foster Care is Not Permanency
Foster care is a critical, temporary support that keeps children and youth safe and cared for until Permanency via reunification, transfer of physical and legal custody or adoption. Foster parents play a pivotal role in supporting youth until the child welfare system follows its steps to the ultimate purpose, which has always been to restore a child to a safe, loving, legally secure family.
An effective, but sad, measure of whether or not a youth has permanency is to look at the adults sitting at the table when a team meeting for the youth is convened. If every adult in the room is paid to be there, it’s a safe bet that the youth does not have permanency. Youth need permanent, authentic relationships that are intended to last a lifetime.
At Ampersand Families, we help teens (even the ones who are 18 or older) to achieve permanency by finding and supporting adoptive families. In rare cases where legal adoption is not possible we strive to achieve permanency in other ways, which sometimes means restoration of a birth parents rights . . . because everyone deserves belonging, dignity and hope.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Do you see yourself as part of the permanency solution for older teens in foster care? Read more about how you can make a difference today.