The primary goal of the new Family First Preventive Services Act (10/19) is to avoid foster care when possible by keeping mother and child together in the home. Minimal federal funds are authorized for up to12 months to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment for parents and for pregnant foster children. Keeping the original family together with help is a worthy goal. As a psychologist friend of mine remarked: “If the abuse is serious enough to remove a child in the first place, then chances of reunification should be slim.”
Unfortunately, Family First also eliminates ASFA’s 15-month deadline for the birth mother to get her act together before a termination of parental rights must be filed. Early experiences of being moved and re-moved become locked in place and set negative patterns for life. Better to protect the child in the home before removal. But if the child must be separated, a good caseworker should give the parent(s) a focused plan for reunification within 24 hours of separation. That is good for the birth mother. And there must be a reasonable deadline. That best serves the developing child who cannot wait indefinitely.
The Reunification Plan must be specific about addressing the causes for removal. If mother misused substances, she must overcome her addiction. If her boyfriend abused the child, she must get rid of him. If her child was unsupervised, she must be present for him or her. And so on. The case manager can help her connect with appropriate treatment resources.
Then don’t wait around for mother to improve. Monitor her progress weekly. This may provide the strong motivation that mother needs. If mother is still not ready to be a parent after 15 months, it is time to find a family who can.