"Recent brain research has shown that infancy and early childhood are critical periods during which the foundations for trust, self-esteem, conscience, empathy, problem solving, focused learning, and impulse control are laid down.7–15 Because multiple factors (e.g. an adverse prenatal environment, parental depression or stress, drug exposure, malnutrition, neglect, abuse, or physical or emotional trauma) can negatively impact a child’s subsequent development, it is essential that all children, but especially young children, are able to live in a nurturing, supportive, and stimulating environment. "

All placement decisions for all children must respect and protect a child’s psychological and development needs and focus on promoting secure relationships and continuity in out-of-home care.


The Principles of Permanency

"Placement decisions should safeguard the child’s need for continuity of relationships. Continuity of relationships is essential for a child’s healthy development… For young children (those under the age of five years), disruptions of continuity also affect those achievements that are rooted and develop in the intimate interchange with a caregiver who is, or is in the process of becoming the psychological parent... for school-age children, the breaks in their relationships with their psychological parents affect above all those cognitive and social achievements that are based significantly on their identifications with the parents’ demands, prohibitions, and social ideals... adolescents frequently convey the idea that they desire to discontinue relationships with their parents rather than to preserve them. This impression may be misleading. . . . Their revolt against parental authority is often developmentally normal; it may be their way of moving toward establishing independence. But for a successful outcome it is important that the breaks and disruptions of attachment come exclusively from the child’s side and not be imposed on her by abandonment or rejection by the psychological parent…When ‘temporary’ placements become long-term, for whatever reason, familial bonds that are developing between the foster child and her caregivers should be protected."

"Placement decisions should reflect the child’s sense of time. Decisions about care and placement must be made in accordance with the child’s sense of time. Children cannot wait beyond their developmental tolerances – which gradually increase as a child gets older – without their well-being and future development being placed at risk...

Emotionally and intellectually, an infant or toddler cannot stretch her waiting more than a few days without feeling overwhelmed by the absence of her parents. She cannot take care of herself physically, and her emotional and intellectual memory has not matured sufficiently to enable her to hold on mentally to the parent she has ‘lost.’ During such an absence, the child under two years of age ‘quickly’ latches onto the new adult who cares for the child’s needs. For children under age of five years, an absence of parents for more than two months is intolerable. For the younger school-age child, an absence of six months or more may be similarly experienced. More than a year of being without parents and without evidence that there are parental concerns and expectations is not likely to be understood by the older school-age child and will carry with it the detrimental implications of the breaches in continuity we have already described. After adolescence is fully launched, an individual’s sense of time closely approaches that of most adults...

Application of the child’s-sense-of-time guideline would require a shift of focus to the individual child’s tolerance of absence and sense of abandonment... The time factor varies with a child’s maturity at the time of separation...

For the purposes of declaring a child eligible for adoption or of acknowledging the existence of a common-law adoptive relationship...It would be that time when the child, having felt helpless and abandoned, has reached out to establish a new relationship with an adult who is to become or has already become her psychological parent."

"Placement decisions should take into account the law’s incapacity to make long-range predictions and to ,manage family relationships… Though obvious once said, when left unsaid the limitations of law often go unacknowledged in discussions about child placement… It may be able to undermine human relationships but it does not have the power to compel them to develop. It has neither the sensitivity nor the resources to maintain or supervise ongoing day-to-day happenings between parent and child. Nor does it have the capacity to predict future events and needs… It is precisely because human relationships are complicated that courts and administrative agencies must have simple guidelines which will lead to an immediate and unequivocal restoration of family integrity as each child is placed."

"Placements should provide the least detrimental available alternative for safeguarding the child’s growth and development. The use of ‘least detrimental’ rather than ‘best interests’ is intended to enable legislatures, courts, and child care agencies to recognize the detriment that is already present in every child placement decision. A child whose placement must be determined in legal controversy has already been deprived of her ‘best interests.’"

"By the time there has been a need for the state to intervene, there is no ideal solution for the child, only one that is least harmful...In some instances this arrangement may necessitate leaving (or reuniting) the child with admittedly less than ideal parents because the alternative is intolerable delay or a placement that is no better and may even turn out to be worse."


Permanency in the Foster Care System

"We have learned through research and study of human development that to evolve into a psychologically healthy human being, a child must have a relationship with at least one adult who is nurturing, protective, and fosters trust and security. We also know that optimal child development occurs when the spectrum of needs are consistently met over an extended period. When healthy attachment occurs, it forms the basis for all other long-term relationships between the child and other persons.

We also know that having this connection with an adult who is devoted to and loves a child unconditionally is key to helping a child overcome the stress and trauma of abuse and neglect. However, the reality is that children in foster care, who have been victims of abuse and neglect move — a lot. When this day-to-day consistency is lost, the emotional consequences of multiple placements or disruptions further impacts the child’s ability to trust and love. Repeated moves compound the adverse consequences that stress and inadequate parenting have on the child’s development and ability to cope...

More than ever before in the history of child welfare practice — the emphasis is on maintaining or creating permanent relationships and connections between children and caring adults...

Specific barriers that interfere with placement stability . . .

  • Lack of sound assessment tool and uniform approach to child assessment.

  • General lack of resource families.

  • Selecting homes based on availability not skill level of resource family.

  • Lack of understanding among line staff, community based providers and caregivers about the importance of permanence and permanent relationships in the life of a child. [Emphasis added.]

  • Lack of medical insurance when the child returns home to support ongoing mental health services for the child and family.

  • Difficulty coordinating educational services with the rest of the service system – sometimes it is the educational needs of the child that force a move.

  • Insufficient caregiver training and skill level in caring for older children with behavioral health needs – this results in families taking children for whom they are ill equipped to provide care.

  • Caregivers with unrealistic expectations about the children placed in their homes.

  • Infrequent contact between caregivers and case managers – resulting in caregivers leaving the system due to lack of support.

  • Inadequate support services to caregivers such as respite, intensive in-home, housing assistance, substance abuse services.

  • Overloading care givers by placing too many children in the home.

  • The current licensing process does not always effectively develop homes that are prepared for the types of children who enter state custody.

  • Inadequate reimbursement rates.

  • Inconsistent practice of concurrent planning including rigorous search for relative caregivers early in the process.

  • Changes in a child’s level of care resulting in a forced move."


"Across the United States, Canada, and Western Europe there is the growing recognition that permanent plans for children are essential for their social, emotional, and cognitive development (Leathers, 2002). Children who are in the Child Welfare Services system and experience multiple moves are at increased risks for poor outcomes in academic achievement, socio-emotional health, developing insecure attachments, and distress due to the instability and uncertainty that comes with not having a stable family environment (Gauthier, Fortin, & Jeliu, 2004).

One way of lessening the occurrence of children’s displacements is permanency planning. The purpose of permanency planning is to develop and implement methods that increase the likelihood that children move out of substitute care into permanent family homes as quickly as possible...

While there is no single universally accepted definition for permanency planning, Fein, Maluccio, Hamilton, and Ward (1983) define permanency planning as, – a philosophy highlighting the value of rearing children in a family setting, preferably their biological families, [and] a theoretical framework stressing the stability and continuity of relationships to promote children’s growth and functioning (p. 497). While this definition highlights the importance of placement stability for children’s positive development and well-being, the federal definition of placement stability is, – all children who have been in foster care less than twelve months from the time of the latest removal, 86.7% or more children had no more than two placement settings. Both of these definitions recognize that permanency planning is a policy, philosophy, and a technique created to return every child who enters foster care to the stability of a family as quickly as possible...

An important concern of experiencing placement instability, especially for young children, is that the stress of being moved is related to physiological changes in the brain. Placement disruptions can increase stress-induced related responses and create alterations in the brain. There is evidence that the rates for atypical hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity are higher for foster children than the general population...

[A] recent study specifically looked at the impact that the number of placements exerts on HPA axis activity for children in foster care (Fisher, Gunnar, Dozier, Bruce, & Pears, 2006). The evidence suggested that disruptions in care altered the HPA axis due to receiving inconsistent, insensitive care and/or frequent transitions in caregivers (Fisher et al., 2006)."

   Lutz, Achieving Permanence for Children in the Child Welfare System: Pioneering Possibilities Amidst Daunting Challenges, The National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning at Hunter College School of Social Work, A Service for the Children’s Bureau, November 2003, pp. 4, 5, 12. Goldstein et al., The Best Interests of the Child, pp. xv, 7, 9.
Developmental Issues for Young Children in Foster Care. Committee on Early Childhood Adoption and Dependent Care Pediatrics 2000:106;1145 PEDIATRICS Vol. 109 No. 3 March 1, 2002, Health Care of Young Children in Foster Care, pp. 536-541.

Northern California Training Academy, A Literature Review of Placement Stability in Child Welfare Service: Issues, Concerns, Outcomes and Future Directions, The Center for Human Services at The University of California, Davis, Extension, August 2008, pp.3, 4-5