Because caseworkers SHOULD have a bias towards returning children home.
That is the POINT of the system.
I'm going to say something that is not going to win me any fans. But it needs to be said. The goal of foster care is not to secure the absolute best living environment for child. The point of the child welfare system is not to help every child achieve their full potential. If this was the case, then every child should be in foster care. Babies could be discharged straight from the hospital into the system and social workers could get to work making sure they have the best life can offer - the most invested parents, educational liasons, a team of professionals that would have to agree on every major life decision and an agency to enforce the absolute best evidence-based parenting techniques. Why wouldn't we want every child on the planet to be part of a system where their best interests are served?
I'm not trying to be ridiculous, but there is a reason we don't send babies home with just any parent at the hospital. The reason is that biological ties are important, parents and children are not interchangeable. I'm afraid that these realities have become watered down and my people truly don't understand the point of child welfare because of the wealth of commercials that advertise adoption from foster care.
Commercials like this one:
I agree - "you don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent" - so why don't people give biological parents the same benefit of the doubt? Why wouldn't we give them every oppurtunity to parent their child? Why wouldn't we pull out all the stops to give a child the chance to be parented by their biological parent?
A few weeks ago I recieved an email that questioned this practice.
I don't understand the social service bias toward the bio parent. It seems to put the needs of the bio-parent ahead of the needs of the child. I understand that the state can't come in and snatch children away from their biological parents just because a middle-class couple would provide a "better" home. If parents can manage to care for their kids one way or the other, they get to raise their kids. When they fail to meet those very basic needs and the state DOES remove the child, at that point, shouldn't the game change? At that point, shouldn't the welfare of the child assume primacy?The reason is because babies are born biologically attached to their parents. The bias towards children returning to their birth parents is based on the belief that it IS in child's best interests to be with their biological family.
Is it fair to the parents, who have never gotten a fair shake? No, no, no. But why should the occasion of their abuse be the occasion of their first shot at getting a fair shake? It seems a blatant sacrifice of the child's needs in favor of the parents'. Each case must be evaluated on its merits. I guess I don't understand why the real time developments in a child's emotional life were subordinated to meet a bio mom's needs for more time to meet a minimum standard.
[A child doesn't] stand still while her mom works on getting it together, but the child welfare system behaves as it a "pause" button was pressed. For a one-, two-, three-, four-, or five-year-old, that is such a disservice. Disservice doesn't begin to describe it.
Those who disagree generally operate under the belief that children will be "better off" with their foster families. This belief is usually strongest when they are referring to a child who was removed from their parent in infancy and is about to be returned in their toddler years. "But he/she is already bonded to their foster parent, its the only parent they've ever known!" is usually the argument.
I'm not going to argue that this isn't true.
Of course it is.
However, this isn't the only circumstance where reunification is considered. The variables in child welfare are immeasurable. And the system has attempted to come up with a criteria for how to decide when children should return home and when they should remain in foster care and work towards another permanency option.
Have the parents addressed the issues that brought their kids into care?
Can they provide basic food, clothing and shelter?
These are the questions that we focus on when deciding if a reunification is possible.
But many people have questioned how I do this in good conscience. How do I recommend that a child leave a perfectly stable and healthy foster placement and return home to their usually shaky-at-best biological family. How can I overlook the effects of "nuture" in favor of the "natural" family.
I have three responses:
1. Children who have formed secure attachments in infancy and early childhood are generally able to transfer that attachment with little to no long-term effects. The possibility of a child developing an Attachment Disorder, especially RAD, is often used as a reason not to return a child home. However, this minimizes the fact that the child's first disrupted attachment was when they were removed from their biological parent. There are exceptions to every rule. I have advocated for a child to remain with their foster family, even when a parent has completed all their services, based on a child's special needs - including attachement issues. But for the most part, if the case has been handled well and visitation has been consistent between parents and children, the child should transition home without long lasting trauma. The likelihood of a child being removed from their parent in infancy/toddlerhood, spending 12-18months in a stable foster placement, and then returning to their family of origin is really a "best case scenario" for a child. The alternative is actually my second point...
2. People often act as if there are only two possible outcomes for foster care - a) child returns home or b) child stays with loving foster family. But in reality there are not enough loving foster families to meet the demand of children in foster care. Heck, their are thousands of children (legally free for adoption) in foster care that we can not find homes for in Amercia! We work hard to return a child home in large part due to very real risk that they will otherwise end up growing up in foster care. In and out of multiple placements, at a much higher risk of being abused again, developing mental health issues, ending up homeless or incarcerated. Not that all risk is escaped by reunification, I'm not that idealistic. But if an older child has already had multiple placements (5+) than their biological parent is likely the only familiar face in a sea of past "parents". We see teenagers "return themselves home" on a regular basis - even when they've lived with their foster parents for years. This is a testement to the prevailing desire of children to be with their first families. It also leads me to my last point...
2. Children will not be children forever. It is hard for most people to look at the big picture when there is a vulnerable young child in the middle of it all. But children are not little forever. They will grow up to have adult feelings and adult perspectives. I truly believe that few adults look back at their childhoods and wish they had been raised by other parents. They may wish their parents had done things differently, that they'd been better understood, or that certain situations had not happened. But at the end of the day, I'd rather an adult look back at their childhood and know that their parents fought for them and then maybe still didn't do things perfectly - rather than look back and wonder why their parents didn't fight at all or why someone didn't give them a second chance to be together.
Figuring out what is in the "best interests" of a child is a terribly complex issue, with high risks for all involved. That is partly why it is better to look at the less subjective issue of whether or not the parents have done what they have needed to achieve reunification.
This is much more black/white than what would commence if we let bio parents and foster parents duke it out over who can provide the child with the life he/she "deserves". I would rather leave the the dirty mudslinging and parental alienation to Domestic Relations court. If there is one thing I think we can all agree on - its that the general population of parents is not good at "sharing" children.
It may not be perfect, but I don't know anyone who had a perfect childhood. Children are entitled to having every chance to be raised in their family of origin. Parents have the right to be given the supports needed to raise their children. Everyone deserves a second chance.
And that is why I have a Birth Parent Bias.