Highlights from a special issue of Family Court Review

Vivek Sankaran and Christopher Church turn the current “master narrative” about securing “permanency” for children on its head.  That false narrative, pushed hardest by those who hate birth parents (and yes, that’s the right word) claims that only adoption guarantees a truly permanent home for a child removed from her or his parents. 

Sankaran and Church show that is false in every respect.  Partly that’s because adoptions sometimes fail.  As Sankaran and Church point out:

  • any public reporting of the number of adopted children who once again enter foster care is likely an underestimate. Even with these limited data, a recent study found that more than 66,000 adopted children ended up back in foster care between 2008 to 2020, an average of 12 a day. 

Equally disturbing: 

  • [O]ne survey showed that only 41% of children over six adopted out of foster care expressed having a very warm and close relationship with their adoptive parent … Often, in the words of researcher Monique Mitchell, “they are grieving the loss of their identities and their role within their psychological family.” So they experience feelings of fear, anger, abandonment, shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem.

In contrast, a status known as guardianship does not require such a trade-off.  Guardianship, typically with a relative or close family friend, is as legally secure as adoption and just as stable.  But it doesn’t require children to sever all ties with parents and sometimes with siblings, extended family and community as well.  They also take less time to achieve than adoptions. So in many cases, they are a better and a faster route to “permanency.”  

And that gives away the game: Those who equate permanency with adoption only (and you’ll notice those advocates are disproportionately white and middle-class) aren’t really interested in permanency.  They’re interested in getting overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite children into homes that most closely resemble their own, no matter what the cost. 


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