Achieving permanency in public agency adoptions: Secondary analyses of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being data
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This exploratory study examined child, family, and environmental factors in order to identify possible patterns or interactions that related to or were predictive of the achievement of adoptive permanency for children in long term foster care. When the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) was legislated, permanency outcome became one of its tripartite goals. Concerns about children lingering in foster care without a permanent and secure parental relationship, the long-term effects that traumatic experiences and unstable environmental contexts have on children's development, and the need to comply with ASFA mandates have directed attention to the need to better understand how permanency via adoption can be achieved. A long term foster care sample (N = 727) from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, a longitudinal study, was used to examine the achievement of permanency via adoption for children who were not reunified with their biological families. Even though special needs adoptions now constitute the majority of adoptions completed via the public-agency foster care system, this study did not find children's overall health issues to be significantly related to achieving the goal of adoption. Rather, a combination of child, family and environmental factors influenced the achievement of adoption. While some single factors had greater influence than others, no one factor was found to have such a great influence that it could be focused on as a means of accomplishing adoptive permanency. Three variables, child age, family income, and neighborhood environment, were consistently associated with the achievement of adoptive permanency. Of these, child age had significant relationships and interactions with more variables than any other single factor. In addition, only child age, and specifically older child age, meets the categorical criteria of a special needs adoption. Results of this study suggest training and education for those involved with child welfare or adoption work should incorporate a bio-ecological model that addresses environmental factors as well as individual and family characteristics. Implications for program and policy development that would better promote adoptive permanency include screening and intervention for the presence of trauma in young foster care children, addressing child functioning as an effect of multiple ecological and environmental variables, understanding the need for and striving to attain stability of place and persons in a child's life, and expanding assessments of potential adoptive parents to include their community environments as well as their home environments. Following and building on this exploratory study, future research should examine the ability of families to maintain adoptive permanency once it has been achieved and assess the role environmental variables might have in preventing adoptive disengagement.