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View Full Version : How long can a child remain in foster care?



Exir
04-14-2008, 04:04 PM
In the story that I am writing right now, the eleven-year-old character has lived under foster care for quite a long time without being formally adopted. How long could a child possibly remain under this situation?

The child lost his biological family at 4 years old and has been, since then, passed from home to home, staying in each one for short periods of time, ranging from few months to one and a half year at each home. He refuses to be adopted. That would be 7 years under foster care. Is that realistic?

Appalachian Writer
04-14-2008, 04:10 PM
In my personal experience, I knew a girl that was in foster care for most of her life. No one adopted her. She remained with the last foster family for years. She turned 18 while with them and was considered no-longer a ward of the state.

Matera the Mad
04-14-2008, 04:11 PM
From what I have heard, yes. Only blonde, blue-eyed babies get adopted quickly. Older children are hard to place, especially if they are "difficult" in some way.

Exir
04-14-2008, 04:13 PM
Only blonde, blue-eyed babies get adopted quickly.

I sincerely hope you are joking, because that character of mine IS blonde, blue-eyed!

Appalachian Writer
04-14-2008, 04:16 PM
From what I have heard, yes. Only blonde, blue-eyed babies get adopted quickly. Older children are hard to place, especially if they are "difficult" in some way.

The girl I knew was blonde and blue-eyed. She was so blonde that her hair was almost white. I think one of the problems that leads to long-term foster care is if the parents are still alive. Dead parents are easier to deal with. They don't put up much of a fuss. Living parents, whether abusive or neglectful, sometimes refuse to sign over parental rights, and depending on the state's regulations, foster care agencies sometimes have trouble forcing the issue in courts.

Exir
04-14-2008, 04:30 PM
Okay, in my story, the main character, Ben's birth parents died. He was passed from foster family to foster family ever since, and has never ever allowed himself to be adopted not because of some legal reason, but because he is still attached to his old family and wouldn't want to be part of a "new" one.

There are no biological parents stopping him.

Elaine Margarett
04-14-2008, 04:54 PM
Sadly, the majority of children in foster care do not get adopted. I don't think you'll have any credibilty issues if your character doesn't get adopted. It's also not unusual for children to have lived in a dozen or more homes before aging out of the system at 18.

Keyboard Hound
04-14-2008, 05:37 PM
I know of two foster children who lived in our community with a family all their growing up years. One was 11 and one 14 when they moved in. The family planned on adopting them, but the children refused to give up the dream that "Mama and Daddy would straighten out" and they could go back home. So they lived with the family as wards of the state. The natural Mama and Daddy died before they ever "straightened out."

Keyan
04-15-2008, 07:22 AM
Okay, in my story, the main character, Ben's birth parents died. He was passed from foster family to foster family ever since, and has never ever allowed himself to be adopted not because of some legal reason, but because he is still attached to his old family and wouldn't want to be part of a "new" one.

There are no biological parents stopping him.

When is the story set?

If he was only 4 when they died, and it's contemporary, chances are he'd have been adopted no matter what he said because he's considered too young for his opinion to matter (AFAIK). There's a great demand for blond and blue-eyed youngsters.

If he's that little, it also makes it less probable that he wouldn't want to be part of a family. An older child might still yearn for missing parents, but a 4 year-old is going to forget them and adapt to his new family more easily, especially if there wasn't a background of abuse and neglect to overcome. He's more likely to be trusting of adults.

However, if there was something else involved - behaviour problems for instance - then it would be quite plausible. Behaviour problems would also explain why he gets passed around.

It shouldn't "normally" happen - it would if the family no longer could/ would care for him, or the social worker had a good reason to move him. (If the child is in care because of suspected abuse, sometimes that reason is the risk that the parent has discovered where the child is and might kidnap him.) Of course, it does in fact happen for various reasons.

Do you need for him to be so young?

Exir
04-15-2008, 08:11 AM
Keyan: Do you need for him to be so young?

Yes, I do. The story depends on the eleven year old Ben not recognizing his long lost sister. His sister was lost due to a mistake in the adoption system, so she got adopted by a family while he was sent to another foster home. Since they were separated at 4, her appearance would've changed a lot over 7 years, and he wouldn't be able to recognize her through appearance alone.

He is also very detached from his foster home, and aloof from anybody who would want to adopt him, because he still feels that attachment to his old family. He feels that THEY are his "real" family, and anyone who wants to adopt him isn't his "real" family.

A. Hamilton
04-15-2008, 08:20 AM
I agree that it's unlikely a child would not be adopted if put in the system at that age. Perhaps the initial delay could have been due to a relative laying claim and then becoming unavailable, or perhaps the boy was traumatized when his parents died (did he witness an accident or something?) and developed a challenging trait, like muteness or bedwetting, etc. Once a child is older, say maybe from around age 8 and up, it is common for a foster child to create behavior that would deter many from adopting them, and to have the thought process that might motivate them to do so (like your guy, who seems insistent on finding his sister and reuniting).

IceCreamEmpress
04-15-2008, 08:40 AM
There are people who stay in the foster system from birth to age 18 in the US.

Richard P. Barth has studied factors that contribute to whether children are adopted or not from the foster care system: these include race/ethnicity, special needs, potential claim of family members, age at entry into the foster care system, and some other factors.

One thing that generally is considered to present a significant barrier to adoption is difficult behavior as identified in an assessment called the Problem Behavior Inventory. Your character might have learned from other kids in foster care about how to "beat" this and then reversed the method in order to get tagged as a problem child.

Keyan
04-15-2008, 09:12 AM
Right, but he'd have to learn this very early. A 4 y-o is not going to be trying to beat the system.

I'd suggest something like his paperwork got lost or misfiled, perhaps mixed up with that of another kid who was not free for adoption because his parents wouldn't surrender their rights, or just plain mislaid...

...and the mess didn't get sorted out for years because of perennial understaffing, which is normal...

...and by the time they do find out, he's too old to be easily adopted.

AFAIK, kids who remain in the system from birth do so because of one of the following:

1. Parent refusing to surrender rights (by itself, not enough; rights can be terminated). But if there's a possibility of reuniting the family, they may delay adoption.

2. Child has medical or behavioural issues.

Even race isn't a big issue nowadays with infants that are healthy and available for adoption.

I personally find it hard to visualize a 4 y-o not adapting to a new family merely out of clinging to the memory of his original family; I don't think kids at that age have that kind of memory, and they really do have a need to belong. But I think I could be convinced if the story is written so that it's part of his overall character.

Some kids from foster care do have attachment problems, but it's usually associated with early neglect and abuse, not with the memory of a loving family.

dirtsider
04-15-2008, 04:45 PM
I also have a problem with visuallizing a 4 y/o not adapting to foster parents unless there's something wrong with the foster parents themselves.

Keyan
04-15-2008, 07:53 PM
Quite so, and I don't know if that's possible within the context of Exir's story.

Exir
04-15-2008, 08:04 PM
there's something wrong with the foster parents themselves.

Actually, now you mention it, there IS something wrong. The foster parents that he is with during the duration of the story, the one that he stayed longest with, are essentially well meaning people, but they just don't know how to communicate properly with children, as well as act as a parent, and assume authority. The other two foster kids that live in the foster home pick on him a lot, and the parents are inept at intervening in those occasions. Am I being clear? Or am I being confusing?

The foster parents before them have never had Ben in their house long enough to form any emotional attachment, so essentially, he has never really been emotionally attached to any kind of family-figure since the death of his parents. Indeed, he spends most of his time outside the foster home, and only comes home when it is late. Basically, he is so detached from his home that he only views it as a place where someone feeds you, clothes you, lets you sleep, and that's it. He doesn't like his home.

Oh, to clear things a bit - the bulk of the story happens when he is eleven.

Leva
04-15-2008, 11:11 PM
If his parents were incarcerated, that might delay things until they were released. In some cases, the clock stops on parental-rights termination proceedings until the parent(s) are released.

If the plan was reunification he may have been staying with a foster-only family that didn't want to adopt, or legally couldn't. (You could foster, for example, if you're seventy years old with health issues, but might have difficulty adopting a younger child. Not in the child's best interest if the adoptive parents die while they're still minors, kwim?)

Once it became clear the parents couldn't/wouldn't get custody back, they'd move him to a foster/adopt home.

And then things don't work out for a variety of reasons. Reasons for moving a kid to another home might be:

-- Illness, divorce, or other issues that might make the prospective parents ineligible before divorce proceedings are completed. A DUI or domestic violence conviction might be a good one.

-- Allegations involving the child, or another child, in the home might cause the foster/adopt home to be closed. i.e., the parents have another troubled kid who, pissed off at the foster parents, claims to the social worker, "foster daddy touched me!" to get the foster father in trouble -- and every kid in the home gets removed and placed elsewhere.

-- Disagreements between children. Foster kids are quite often troubled kids. The kids are fighting, or one kid accuses anothe other of inappropriate touching, etc. And they split them up or remove one.

-- Kid not happy in the home. And the parents may be awesome parents, but if the kid doesn't like something about the home -- say, they're being (necessarily strict) -- the child can tell his social worker something (lie) to get moved. "Daddy hit me!" -- Kid gets moved, home gets closed. Really, kid didn't like the seven PM curfew.

-- The kid has health problems or a mental health diagnosis that would scare off prospective parents. Look up reactive attachment disorder, and fetal alcohol syndrome, both of which tend to scare off prospective parents. HIV+ would also make finding an adoptive home difficult.

-- Prospective parents who want to adopt piss off a social worker. Unfortunately, this happens more often than anyone likes to admit. Say you have an inept social worker -- the parents start rocking the boat wanting more services, or whatever, for the kid. Either to "punish" the parents or simply to no longer have to deal with them, the social worker moves the kid to a different home.

-- The kid is behaviorally difficult. If you're trying to make for a sympathetic protag, this might not work.

-- Social worker privately doesn't like interracial adoptions. Social worker cooks up another story for why she moved the cute little black kid from the nice white family to the nice black family. Not legal, but it's easy to find an excuse to move a kid under other pretexts and this DOES happen.

Those are all reasons kids might be moved from home to home.

One OTHER possibility is that the foster parents do not WANT to adopt, but are willing to remain foster parents for the child until they age out. Reasons for this might include:
-- Kid has mental health issues, or a high risk of developing mental health issues, and the parents don't want the liability that adopting the kid would cause. They want to keep the option of having the child removed. If you adopt the kid and then reverse the adoption because the kid is now a dangerously unstable teenager and a threat to everyone else in the house, you often have to pay child support to the state. If you adopt a kid and then they set the neighbor's house on fire; you're responsible. If it's a foster kid, the state's insurance pays.
-- Also, when you adopt a kid, state payments are often cut, and the child may or may not be eligible for medicaid. Since many kids in foster care have serious issues -- mental health, physical problems -- this is a real concern. Mental health, in particular, is not often covered by private health insurance. That ADHD RAD bipolar five year old who just killed a puppy and doesn't talk ... is going to need a lot of very expensive therapy. Unless the foster parents are millionaires, they may not be able to cover the health care privately. (Incidentally, look up elective mutism if you want something that would make for a sympathetic hero, and would also likely trick the foster parents into thinking the kid was more troubled -- or perhaps mentally handicapped -- than he really was.)

I also know someone who didn't adopt a foster kid until he was in his late teens. It was gaming the system a bit, but they waited until he was older because it made him eligible for a full ride state scholarship to college. Kids adopted who were younger weren't eligible.

-- Leva

Skyraven
04-16-2008, 05:38 AM
HI exir,

I work in a foster care agency and have to say that your story is possible. A child in regular foster care would probably not be there for years, but a child in therapeutic foster care (ie - mental health issues, dsm IV diagnosis) would be there. I work with kids who have been in care for longer than 7 years. Your MC would be able to refuse to be adopted and foster parents can opt not to adopt a child. They just might like to provide short-term houseing to children and do not want to adopt which is the case for some foster parents.

Keyan
04-16-2008, 08:55 AM
Actually, now you mention it, there IS something wrong. The foster parents that he is with during the duration of the story, the one that he stayed longest with, are essentially well meaning people, but they just don't know how to communicate properly with children, as well as act as a parent, and assume authority. The other two foster kids that live in the foster home pick on him a lot, and the parents are inept at intervening in those occasions. Am I being clear? Or am I being confusing?

The foster parents before them have never had Ben in their house long enough to form any emotional attachment, so essentially, he has never really been emotionally attached to any kind of family-figure since the death of his parents. Indeed, he spends most of his time outside the foster home, and only comes home when it is late. Basically, he is so detached from his home that he only views it as a place where someone feeds you, clothes you, lets you sleep, and that's it. He doesn't like his home.

Oh, to clear things a bit - the bulk of the story happens when he is eleven.

By the time he's eleven, it's quite plausible that he could refuse to be adopted and make it stick. The real issue is the time from the death of his parents to about age 6 or 7.

If he's not really thinking about it, perhaps you don't need to explain.

I'd say just wave it away in a sentence or two: "Since his parents died when he was four, he'd been in five different foster homes. Something always seemed to disrupt things - the mom got ill, the dad decided to move out of state, the social worker decided to move him. He'd been with the Smiths for all of three years, now..."

If you're using his POV, then the reasons really don't matter. The kid probably won't know why he wasn't adopted, nor why he was moved.

Madison
04-16-2008, 09:18 AM
I'm sticking my head in -

This is random, but it's a NYtimes article from today on the problems of the foster care system - http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/16/us/16foster.html

maybe you'll be interested...

:)

virtue_summer
04-16-2008, 10:37 AM
Kids can remain in foster care until they turn 18. I've known a number who have. Reasons I didn't notice mentioned above that could possibly keep a kid in foster care instead of being adopted (I've known children in foster care who experienced all of these):

1) Kids first foster parents are found to abuse the kid, or the kid was abused by another kid in the home (Maybe an older kid) and thus the kid has to be moved and maybe even the parents' home closed to foster kids. The truth is that foster parents are just as capable of being abusive as biological parents and fellow foster children who have their own severe emotional issues might well bully or abuse other children.

2) Foster parents don't want to adopt the kid because they would lose the money they get for it, and also the possibility of giving the kid back to the system if they get too difficult (My mother was a teacher and once had a foster parent tell her straight out that if he was told his foster child acted up in school again he was going to take her back and "get another one where she came from" because he was only in it for the money).

I think this has already been mentioned, but behavioral and emotional issues could also be a reason for him not to be adopted. Having lost his family, he could act out in such a way that the families he's with don't want to adopt him.

IceCreamEmpress
04-16-2008, 09:43 PM
By the time he's eleven, it's quite plausible that he could refuse to be adopted and make it stick. The real issue is the time from the death of his parents to about age 6 or 7.

If he's not really thinking about it, perhaps you don't need to explain.

I'd say just wave it away in a sentence or two: "Since his parents died when he was four, he'd been in five different foster homes. Something always seemed to disrupt things - the mom got ill, the dad decided to move out of state, the social worker decided to move him. He'd been with the Smiths for all of three years, now..."

If you're using his POV, then the reasons really don't matter. The kid probably won't know why he wasn't adopted, nor why he was moved.


I think this is totally spot-on.

Scylla
04-17-2008, 06:03 AM
I am in Canada and am a foster parent myself. Sadly, children can be in foster care their whole lives. Too many factors to list, but I know here, the number one priority of the Children's Aid is to "mend" the family. My mother in law is also a foster parent and she takes only teenagers. She often gets kids that have already been in care for a long while and sometimes ones that have just entered care. She has had over 100 girls in 25 years. With only her is 100 examples of children that never get adopted.

Hope this helps!