Vol. 22, No. 5, Sept. 5, 2002
Guardianship as an option gets more children into permanent homes
Chamberlain, Education Editor
(217) 333-2894; email@example.com
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Relatives
acting as foster parents often can provide a permanent home for children. The
options for doing that are adoption and legal guardianship.
Adoption, however, sometimes creates a problem for relatives. It means terminating the parental rights of their kin and recasting their roles as grandparents, aunts or uncles. Guardianship keeps those rights and relationships intact, but means losing federal subsidies for child support.
With a third alternative available, subsidized guardianship, more children get permanent homes. But it also means that fewer of those children in permanent homes will be adopted.
Thats the conclusion of Mark Testa, architect of the largest federal demonstration on the topic and author of a paper in this months Social Work Research journal, "Subsidized Guardianship: Testing an Idea Whose Time Has Finally Come." The question raised by the study results is whether the tradeoff is worth it.
Testa analyzed third-year results from a study of more than 6,000 Illinois children in kinship foster care (foster care by relatives). In a group containing about half the children, the relatives and the courts had the option of subsidized guardianship if reunification and adoption had been ruled out. Among the other half of the children, only adoption was available as a means to permanency.
The permanency rate in the first group was 52.9 percent, a combination of 40.5 percent for adoptions and 12.4 percent for guardianship. The permanency rate in the second group adoptions only was a lower 46.2 percent.
So by offering subsidized guardianship as an option, "we are getting a benefit, and its substantial in terms of money ($25 million saved), its substantial in terms of kids (in permanent homes), but it does come at a cost, a cost of fewer adoptions," Testa said. Based on the results, about half of those who chose guardianship in the first group would have chosen adoption if that had been the only option.
The study was possible because Illinois is one of eight states granted federal waivers to conduct demonstrations in the use of funds to finance subsidized guardianship. Testa conducted the study in his role as research director for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. He also is a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and this month becomes the director of the schools Children and Family Research Center.
The "mixed bag" of results could foster an ongoing debate about the value of adoption in kinship cases, Testa said. That debate centers on two alternative definitions of permanency: a legalistic one that says it should be "binding," and a psychological one that focuses more on whether it is "lasting."
Additional research by Testa seems to support the latter, since it shows that adoption versus guardianship makes little difference for either the caregivers or the children. "From the point of view of the relatives, and the point of view of the children, we could find no difference in how they feel being part of the family, or in their sense of how long theyre going to remain in the home," he said. Kinship "seems to be the overriding variable thats affecting the stability of the relationships."
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