Building Permanency for Kids: Safety, consistency, normalcy and more

Mar 15 2016

Building Permanency for Kids: Safety, consistency, normalcy and more

By Steven Olender

From time to time, it is important for organizations to look at the terminology that they use and to ensure that the words we say reflect who we are and what we want to achieve. As we are in the midst of Settlement Week this week, it seemed an apt time for us to focus on the idea of "permanency."

Settlement Week, which happens twice a year in Travis County, is a week in which the family court docket closes. The purpose of this closure is to allow all parties on CPS cases time to meet and discuss possible solutions to problems on their cases. The hope is that this will allow kids in the child welfare system to more quickly and easily achieve permanency.

But what do we mean when we talk about "permanency?" Even as we work within the child welfare system, our goal at CASA is always to get children out of it. When we have done our job, we have ensured a home is safe enough and parents are prepared enough for a child to return home.  Or we have identified another caring adult that is safe, supportive and willing to provide a forever home.  This is permanency.  For us, permanency means that a child has the safety and consistency they need to thrive. For children in foster care, it is something more emotional. Permanency means returning to normalcy. It means having a home in which the courtroom (and adults with badges) no longer play a role.

In 2015, 393 of the children whose cases closed with CASA of Travis County found permanency when they were reunified with their parents. We had 172 children who were adopted by or who now permanently live with relatives and 76 children were adopted by non-relatives. In total, 86% of the children whose cases closed in 2015 found permanency.

We're proud of the 641 children who found permanency with our help in 2015, but we know that there are still children who age out of the system, or who spend more time in care than they need to. We know we can do more. As part of our push to not only keep up with the growing problem of child abuse and neglect, but to get ahead of it, we are expanding our goals and the metrics by which we measure them. Up to this point, we've set yearly goals for children served, for new cases and for the percentage of cases served by a CASA volunteer.

Going forward, CASA of Travis County will renew our commitment to the purpose of our work, to helping children reach safe, supportive, permanent homes. We will be setting goals not only to increase the number of kids we serve and the percentage who have a dedicated volunteer, but, for the first time, we will set goals for the number of cases we close. The purpose of this goal is not for us to rush cases, but rather to ensure that we are always prioritizing permanency.  We need to be focused on identifying safe, permanent homes for the children we serve and looking forward to an optimal future for them, instead of letting their current safety lead to complacency. It will highlight the sense of urgency that each of our cases carry.  

As the Honorable Darlene Byrne has said, "Each day a child is in substitute care is a tragedy." Our new goals and priorities will push us into innovative efforts to identify the needs of children and families quickly and to get services in place to help children and families achieve permanency faster. The sooner we can get kids into safe, supportive, permanent homes, the sooner they can find a sense of normalcy and the sooner we can serve the next child in foster care who needs our support.  

Interested in helping children find permanency? Learn more about volunteering today!