Importance of Permanency and Family Connections in Preventing Children from Becoming Part of the Social Services System

Introduction

Establishment of permanent family connections is very important for normal child development in the society. Children have special health care and developmental needs hence the society strives to see that all children’s emotional, physical and social needs are catered for. Many parents are always concerned about the well being of their children in case of a tragedy whereby one or two parents die or become disabled after a tragedy. The family is the basic unit of the society, still an institution nurtures and takes care of children until they become responsible adults. Personal connections and family bonds are very critical in strengthening the relationship between parents/guardians and children. As a result, children are adversely affected by tragic loss of their parents or close family members (Barth, 1990). One of the ways through which the physical, mental, emotional and social well being of a child can be guaranteed even after the death of a parent/s is through the establishment of permanent family connections with other family members or a guardian. It is important for parents to prepare for such situations by ensuring that a child develops permanent connections with close family members or a guardian who can take care of the child in their absence. Such plans have great benefits to children and the family because they prevent having children raised within the Social Services System.

Discussion

Social services systems enable governments to provide individuals with services that address their specific needs. In many cases, the elderly, children and individuals with disability are given priority in the social services system. When primary care givers are unable to provide child’s needs, the child is taken care of in the social services institutions established by state-sponsored and for-profit non-governmental organizations. For example, the death of one or two parents can lead to placement of a child under foster care or children’s home. A tragedy is devastating for children and when it affects close family members they may be traumatized. For example, death of parents as a result of natural disasters, violence, crime, accidents and diseases affects millions of children. A child’s inability to respond appropriately to the tragedy undermines proper development in the child. Adult caregivers and parents are able to identify problems that children experience and provide them with love and care. This results in grief and sadness when they lose their primary care givers. Tragedies challenge children’s sense of security hence the inability of children to comprehend the events that follow after a tragedy that claims their parents’ lives leads to hopelessness and loneliness. Some of the ways through which children react to tragedies include experiencing sleeping problems and nightmares, change in eating and toilet habits and exhibiting demanding and aggressive behavior. For school-going children, depression, poor interaction with colleagues, behavioral problems and poor academic performance is witnessed. Although parents or guardians often want to protect a child from the harsh realities brought by tragedies, failing to provide a child with the right assistance only makes the situation more frightening and distressing (Fanshel, Finch, and Grundy, 1990). Children are self-centered and lack of proper assistance to cope with a tragedy may have them assume responsibility for their misfortunes. For children to have an individual who can take care of them is vital. This demands that plans that are able to identify these individuals should be created.

Children look upon their guardians or parents to explain tragic situations and when close family members fail to assist a child, the future of that child is put at risk. Using natural support, such as friends and close family members to help a child overcome tragic events is one of the best ways of handling the situation. This is due to the fact that primary connection between a child and the caregiver is very important in providing a child with healthy emotional matrix necessary for development (Werner, 1990). Individuals who are able to sustain a life-long relationship with children play a major role in preventing emotional problems of the children. The connections increase child’s self-esteem and optimism while he /she struggles to cope with the loss. Early intervention is demanded when dealing with tragic cases influencing children, their psychological, mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing is considered to be a priority. One advantage of having children establish life-long connections with family members or a guardian is that these individuals understand a child well enough and can prove solutions to their problems much easier as compared to a stranger.

Making plans to have close family members establish good relations with a child is vital. A relative or guardian who is identified by parents to assist a child should be able to manage the behavioral and emotional needs of a child even during tragic events. The plan should aim at ensuring that proper development of a child is not compromised. In addition, the plan needs to make sure that care provided to a child is consistent with values that promote permanency and family support. A supportive family environment is important for a child to develop skills that are necessary for good social relationships and good personality. Children need a guardian who can meet his/her needs when parents are no longer able to do so. Lack of a guardian or relatives to live with forces children to be raised within state social service systems. For example, in the United States, children who lack guardians after their parents’ death are placed under foster care or institutions such as children homes. Some children may be adopted under the provision of the auspices of public child welfare agencies. Statistics on children under foster care in the US are usually provided by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). For instance, when children are put under foster care, they live with a certified caregiver until they are ready for adoption, permanently transferred to a guardian or reunited with a biological parent. Reuniting with parents is the best option for children. In some cases, foster care can be provided to a child when the parents are still living. This occurs when a biological parent or guardian is unable to raise the child. Foster home licensing requirements in the US vary from state to state and the process of putting a child under foster care is overseen by the Department of Social Services in every state.

When children cannot function well when placed under foster care, they may be placed in residential treatment centers (RTCS) or group homes. Due to the negative impact that growing up within a social services system has on children who are raised within the system, it is always recommended that children remain with their families as much as possible. Growing within the social services systems has adverse impact on the mental and physical well being of a child. Young children who are placed under the system in institutions far from home are likely to experience depression as compared to the children living with their families. For example, in the US, children living under foster care in Washington and Oregon were found to have higher incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as compared to those raised at home. Children in the social services system have low self-esteem, become anxious and may become easily troubled. Those who remain under foster care after reaching 18 years of age may become poor and homeless when they are not placed in permanent families. Those who leave homes without getting a permanent family are the most affected. The children may also show disorganized attachment, especially those who may experience psychological and physical neglect. Losing a primary caregiver is traumatic and this disrupts a child’s normal development of secure attachment. Disorganized attachment may lead to anxiety, depression and dissocialize symptoms. Neglect and abuse of children under social services system undermines a child’s ability to build close and healthy relationships with the family members. This affects their successful transition into adulthood.

Statistics on children who are raised within the social services system indicate that neglect and abuse of children contributes greatly to placement of children in the system. In England, children are taken care of by the local authority on voluntary basis after an agreement with parents or under the provisions of section 31 of the Children Act 1989. In 2008, an estimated 59,500 children were taken care of by the local authorities (Harker, 2009). Children between age 10 and 15 accounted for the largest number of the looked after population (42 per cent). Children under one year accounted for about 5 per cent of the population. About 71 per cent of the children of children within the social services system were in foster placement. A decrease in number of children placed with parents indicates that many children are growing up in institutions rather than in the family. However, about 39 per cent of the children managed to return to their parents or relatives. Children who are raised within the social services system may have low self-esteem because they feel insecure and lack parental care. Furthermore, they are unable to develop close relations with the family members. This undermines their self confidence and ability to establish long term relationships with their colleagues. Children who feel lonely and isolated become withdrawn hence they are not able to socialize with others. Poor socialization and feelings of neglect affect their normal development and transition to adulthood. In the United States, about 581,000 children were under foster care in 1999. To encourage growing up of children in family institutions, the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) demands that children be placed in permanent families or reunited with their families. In 1995, the number of children under foster care was estimated to be 53,902 but this number decreased to 25,878 in 2008. About sixty per cent of the 251,000 children who left foster care in 1999 were reunited with their parents (Foster Care Facts, 2010). Twenty percent of the number began living with a permanent guardian or were adopted. This is important for children because they are reunited with family members or guardians who are in a good position to provide good care of them until they mature into adulthood. According to a 2000 Department of Health and Human Services report, foster children are more likely to have mental problems as compared to other children. In addition, the Child Welfare League of America reported that about 60 per cent of children within the social services system experience mental problems and show higher rates of substance abuse than their colleagues growing up in families. In Canada, the number of children within the social services system has been decreasing over the years but only a small number of children manage to get permanent families (Foster Children Find Adoptive Families through “Canada’s Waiting Children” Program, 2005). For example, the Adoption Council of Canada which handles issues of child in foster care and adoption estimates that of the total number of children eligible for adoption, only a small number of children are adopted. To avoid such situations, it is very important that permanent connections between children and family members or guardians are established so that in case of a tragic event that leads to the loss of a primary caregiver, the child continues to grow within the family set up. Some children under foster care who have maintained connections with members of the extended family find it difficult to become adopted. Through permanent connections, a child and the family members are able to maintain the basic legal link between the child and the birth family. Permanent relationships promote openness and communication that ensure children develop well because being in a family allows children to learn about their beliefs, identity and religious background. By growing up in a family set up where a child receives good care from a guardian, he/she learns how to become independent and make the right choices. Guardians who have permanent connections with a child tend to understand his/her character and personality better and this makes interaction between them easier.

The relationship between children and parents/guardians is very important for normal child development (Werner and Smith, 1982). Growing up in the company of close family members even after the loss of a parent assists a child to cope easily with trauma and increases his/her self-confidence. For instance, in some nations, a foster care program that promotes the establishment of permanent connections between children and family members/ guardians has been put into place. A good example is the Aspirant Foster Care Program within California’s Foster Care System. The program aims at reuniting children under foster care with their birth families and emphasizes on the importance of permanent connections between children and their family members. The connections are supported and maintained by the program. Where reunification of a child with family members fails, connections with other relatives, friends, teachers or individuals the child knows and trust should be supported. It is estimated that about 61 per cent of children who leave Aspirant homes are usually reunified with their families. The support program promotes the development of permanent connections between children and family members by facilitating safe return of children to their families. When identifying a guardian for a child, involving the child in pointing out individuals who they are close to and trust is important. Identifying individuals who are close to the child, one they can trust and value is vital. The choice of a guardian needs to be consistent with the interests of a child. Supporting and maintaining permanent relationships between a child and family members should be one of the aims of child welfare services. Temporary caregivers should not interfere with a child’s mail or confidential phone calls with family members with the aim of cutting off the child’s connections with other family members. Furthermore, prohibiting a child to visit friends or family members is a violation of a child’s rights. For instance, in the US, children can make complains about such violations by contacting the Community Care Licensing officials. Permanent connections are very beneficial to children and family members because they maintain the family bond between a child and the rest of the family. This promotes the development of secure attachments between family members. For example, legislation on child welfare in many countries recommends that if a child cannot live with the parents, seeking ways of having the child live with members of the extended family should be done. A family provides children with a safe and secure home environment where important family connections and attachments are maintained. Permanent connects are in almost all cases consistent with the wellbeing of a child (Malucci, Pine and Warsh, 1994).

One of the ways through which parents can ensure that their children are placed with their friends or families in case they die or are unable to take care of the children is through a legal protocol. Permanency is achieved through legal relationship such as guardianship, parental custody and kinship care. For parents who have disabled children who cannot live independently without assistance, a good estate plan is important. The plan should aim at protecting the child financially and personally. A will is a tool of estate planning through which parents can provide names of the beneficiaries of the property on their behalf. Naming a guardian in a will allows parents to give a guardian the responsibility to make decisions on behalf on an incapacitated child. Parents can seek the courts appointment for a guardian to make sure that a child is taken care of by a guardian in the event of parents’ death. The legal process of appointing a guardian allows parents to nominate a guardian in their will. In cases where the court makes decision about a will, court battles between family members and selfish interests of individuals in a child’s inheritance are eliminated. The battles lead to confusion of a child who may end up with a guardian who neglects her/him. By naming a guardian, courts are able to identify an individual who takes care of the children and manages family finances. For minors, parents can have a Declaration of Appointment of a Guardian for Minor Children prepared.

Children have the right to maintain connections with their biological family members and other individuals whom they have developed emotional ties with. Studies that have been conducted in relation to child welfare show that children develop well when raised up in families (Blome, 1997). Whenever possible, there is need for children to remain in families. Efforts to place of a child in institutions outside the family unit should be the last option. Kinship connections ensure that a child is well taken care of, sibling and community connections are preserved and the family is kept together. Even in the social services system, planning should focus on preserving a child’s family ties, reuniting the child with the family or encouraging permanency in another family. Permanency planning should begin after the first contact children’s services system makes with a child. Family connections that already exist have great benefits to children. For children who are brought up within the social services system, engaging them in identifying an individual they have had long-term caring relationship with is important. During the process of placing a child in permanency, it is important to contact individuals who have been significant in a child’s life. Using case record information, a thorough search for relatives should be done. Making renewed contacts with family members assists children to prepare for permanency. The involvement of adults who will take care of the child in planning for permanency is crucial. By establishing permanent connections and making plans to have a guardian to take care of children makes these children to be proud of their identity. They become self-confident and feel secure because they are assured of family care and love in future. In the US, recognition of the importance of family connections had the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 encourage child permanency to be the primary concern in child welfare decisions.

Conclusion

Social Services System in various countries plays a very important role in catering for the needs of children, the elderly and the disabled. In some cases, when children lose their parents or primary care givers due to death, having their needs fully met becomes a challenge. For children who may lack a guardian, being raised within the social services system is sometimes the best option. This is likely if no member of the family is in a position to provide and take care of the child. However, failing to grow up within the family has negative effects on an individual. Children develop well when they grow up in a family institution. This makes the establishment of permanent connections in the family vital. The family connections ensure that a child is taken care of by family members or a guardian in case he/she losses his/her parents.Permanency and the establishment of family relationships to prevent children from becoming part of the social services systems are vital in proper child development.

References

Barth, P.1990. On Their Own; The experiences of Youth after Foster Care. Child and Adolescent Social Work 7(5); 419-440

Blome, W. 1997. What Happens to Foster Kids; Educational experiences of a random sample of Foster care Youth and a matched group of non-foster care Youth. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 14(1); 41-53

Delaney, R.1998. The Permutations of Permanencey; Making Sensitive Placement Decisions; Oklahoma City; Wood and Barnes Publishing

Fanshel, D., Finch, S. and Grundy, J. 1990. Foster Children in a Life Course Perspective. New York; Columbia University Press

Foster Care Facts. Accessed on March 15, 2010 from:

www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/foster.html

Foster Children Find Adoptive Families through “Canada’s Waiting Children” Program. 2005. Accessed on March 15, 2010 from:

www.adoption.ca/news/051129cwc.htm

Harker, R. 2009. Children in Care in England-Statistics. Accessed on March 15, 2010 from;

www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsg-04470.pdf

Malucci, A., Pine, B and Warsh, R.1994. Protecting Children by Preserving Their Families. Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 16, Issues 5-6, 1994, Pages 295-307

Werner, E. 1990. Protective Factors in Individual Resilience in Meisos, S and Shonkoff, Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention; Cambridge University Press

Werner, E and Smith, S. 1982. Vulnerable But Invincible; A Study of Resilient Children. New York; McGraw Hill

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