We met the social worker at our house. It was a good day for the first visit. Though the calendar said July, it seemed like a cool Spring morning. At the end of the visit she turned to us and said, “It is just so peaceful here.” It was a comforting statement not just because we were sitting outside on the deck under the trees, but because it was a good visit. The worker made us feel comfortable; she was professional and spoke to us like we were both equally a part of the process. She gave us good advice and made it seem like something good would come out of this for everyone.
We started by touring the house where she pointed out things that we needed to take care of for the health and fire inspection. Fortunately we had a carpenter working inside the house, mainly taking care of things that we knew we needed to fix. She advised us that this process was new and she was still catching up a bit. Normally, she would visit a home as one of the initial steps in the certification. She would sign us up for training, would give us all of the forms and then make another appointment to come back. Under the abbreviated process we had already completed training. Additionally, we had all of the forms finished and requested documents ready for our first meeting with her. She was amused by the fact that so much of the work had already been done. During the remainder of the visit, we talked in-depth about the process of fostering and adopting infants.
The adoption availability of children in the system is complicated. In some cases where birth parents are deceased or they have voluntarily signed a termination of parental rights (TPR) document, the children become wards of the State and are eligible to be adopted. Most children in the State of Maryland however, are not available for adoption because local jurisdictions have not pursued a TPR. Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) does not normally seek a TPR even when it determines that reunification with the biological parents is not possible. Instead they work to try to locate kin willing to take guardianship or foster the child, or when that fails, they attempt to secure a foster placement with the intent to make the placement permanent. The Agency’s ability to address the needs of children in the system expeditiously has been called into question by recent findings of a Federal Child and Family Services review as well as an audit by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. The review found that children in the foster care system were not being adequately cared for; were more often being place in group home settings because of the significant losses in the number of foster/adoptive resource families; and that children were being allowed to languish in temporary status in foster care without pursuing a more permanent solution. In addition there is now legislation requiring the juvenile courts to become more actively involved in the administration and resolution of these cases.
What we discovered from the social worker was that when BCDSS begins to care for a child, a permanency plan is developed that identifies the steps necessary to move a child out of foster care and into a permanent situation. The plan includes the pursuit of re-unification with the biological parents or placement with a relative. Concurrently, the plan also puts in place a path for adoption, should the plan for reunification fail. For those cases, in which reunification is not possible, BCDSS attempts to place children with a foster/adoptive resource family with the goal of having the child permanently placed with that family. The family would foster the child for at least six months before BCDSS would begin the process for TPR. At the completion of that process, the child would then be eligible for adoption. Whether the courts will push for the termination of parental rights sooner, when there does not appear to be any chance for reunification—we really don’t know. We realized after her explanation that the foster-to-adopt process may ultimately cause us to seek out a private agency, though we are moving forward with the hope that that will not be the case. There are a lot of unknowns and risks involved. A child placed in our home would be in a foster care situation. Re-unification would always be a possibility even if it was remote, and in fact she told us that during the foster period BCDSS would continue to seek out reunification or other options while concurrently pursing permanent adoption through our placement. While the notion of caring for a child for 6 or 8 months and then having to return him to his birth parents would be difficult, if the child is properly taken care of—it would be a wonderful thing for child and parents to be re-united. The problem for us is that we are not interested in fostering, or at least not right now. We are ready to begin having a family. We want a child placed in our home to remain there and not have to go through the emotional issues of caring for a child for six or eight months and then having that child leave. Additionally, we intended to take time off to take care of our son for the first month or two. Should a child be placed in our care for a few months and then removed because of re-unification with the birth parents, I wouldn’t have the ability to take off more time, should another child be placed in our home at a later date. On the other hand, when we filled out our initial application, one of the more friendly workers told us that by indicating our interest in foster-to-adopt, that BCDSS would only place a child with us if there was a high degree of certainty that re-unification was not possible as part of the permanency plan. She even went so far as to say that they would only place a child with us if there was a 99.9% chance that he would become available for adoption.
So for us there are risks that have to be weighed, there are decisions that will have to be made. I think both of us have felt that things in our life are not accidental, that there is something to be taken from everything that we go through. I don’t think this is any different. We will continue to do what we are doing with BCDSS to become parents and hope that there is a happy medium between the law and the system but that allows us to have comfort in a foster-to-adopt placement.