The Advocate: 1st Quarter 2022

Preserving family connections

Advocates need to know that non-related foster homes are unlikely to be permanent placements because of this initiative.  Advocates can help by asking parents about other family members, relatives and close family friends.  This can help locate someone who has not yet been brought to the Division’s attention and may expedite finding a kin placement.  Also it is important for Advocates to establish strong lines of communication with their Caseworkers rather than focusing on rumors about moving the child. Remember, Advocates cannot share information with the foster parents or anyone below the line of confidentiality. If a child has been in the unrelated home for a very long time (over a year) especially during a critical developmental period for attachment (between ages 9 months to 3 years), and the Advocate sees that this child has developed a very strong, loving relationship with the unrelated caregiver, it is warranted to bring these concerns to the attention of the law guardian and the court.  While CASA fully supports this well proven initiative we are still bound to advocate for what is in the best interest of each individual child on a case-by-case basis.  We still have to consider the benefits of placing the child with a relative versus the trauma that can occur when a child is moved.  

NJ Dept of Children and Families

The Division has embraced this policy called ‘Preserving Family Connections’  because research definitively shows that foster children who are placed with relatives have better placement stability, better permanency outcomes, (they are less likely to re-enter care) and better behavioral and mental health outcomes.  

Towards this end, a new Kin Bill (P.L. 2021, c.154 (S3814)) took effect on July 2, 2021. This requires the Division to prioritize placement of children with relatives or other kinship caregivers (including fictive kin, which could be a neighbor or coach) when making placement decisions. Additionally it makes Kinship Legal Guardianship, (KLG) equally viable as adoption for the permanency plan. The Division is now required by law to search for relatives and complete an assessment of each one to see if they can care for the displaced child. 

The impact of this policy is far reaching.  We are seeing a lot more cases being resolved with KLG agreements, so parents still have visitation and retain their parental rights.  Additionally when a child is placed in an unrelated foster home, the Division continues looking for relatives to take that child in (or sometimes to be a meaningful person in the child’s life), no matter how long the child has been there.  Candidates for placement who live out-of-state have to undergo an interstate evaluation – which can take months to complete.  While this is happening the child could be remaining for an extended period of time in the unrelated foster home, forming strong emotional bonds and becoming attached to the unrelated foster parent. These bonds do not have to be considered by the Division when planning to move a child under this kinship initiative. 

Overall, CASA should be aware that there are ways to compromise and having more caring people in a child’s life is always good. Advocates need to remember that it takes a village to raise a child.