As discussed in Chapter 3, 22% of cold case children lacked a connection to an adult (other than a case manager). When DFCS case managers were asked to estimate the percentage of children that age out of care without a connection to an adult, their answers ranged from 0% to 75%, with an average of 9%.
File reviews revealed that 18% of cold cases had experienced an adoption dissolution. In order to understand if this was the norm for children in DFCS care, or if the cold cases represented the extreme, case managers were asked what percentage of their caseload had experienced an adoption dissolution. Responses ranged from 0% to 50% of cases, with an average of 5%. When asked what could be done to reduce the number of adopted children returned to DFCS by adoptive parents, the most common answer was to provide proper support and services to families after the adoption occurs (41%). Four out of ten case managers responded that adoption dissolutions could be greatly reduced if parents were better educated about the children they want to adopt. They believe it is important for prospective parents to receive all information that DFCS has about a child, including their medical history, early exposure to drugs/alcohol, psychological reports, behavior problems, history of abuse, and all information known about the family of origin – especially mental health problems.
Case managers expressed concern that adoptive parents are not given all available information and are often unprepared when a child begins to exhibit severe behavioral problems and mental health issues. Preparing parents would help them better assess their ability to deal with such issues. More than one in five case managers believed they need to be more involved with families and children prior to adoption to ensure that families are truly a good fit for the child. Respondents often expressed frustration with the focus on “statistics” to get children out of care and into adoptive homes, which leads to case managers welcoming an adoption without truly ensuring that the situation is best for the child. Other ideas for ending the cycle of adopt-and-return included: conducting better background investigations on potential adoptive parents, longer pre-adoptive placements with families to ensure a good fit, changing laws so that adoptive parents are charged with abandonment if they return a child, and requiring adoptive parents go through the courts (TPR) instead of allowing them to simply “return” kids to DFCS.
Nearly one in three (29%) cold case children had a documented history of sexual abuse. To determine if this was the norm, DFCS case mangers were asked to estimate the percentage of their caseload that had been the victim of sexual abuse. Answers ranged from 0% to 90%, with an average of 29% reportedly having been sexually abused (the same proportion documented in file reviews).
Case managers were asked about the process of educating children about the option of signing themselves back into care at the age of 18, allowing them to participate in ILP and other services until the age of 25. While the most common response was “children are educated by their case manager” (76%), details of the process varied widely. Some case managers advise children as soon as they turn 14, others have the conversation at age 16, 17, or a few months before turning 18. A standard for how and when this information is passed on to youths did not emerge; 40% of children