The Georgia Cold Case Project
Chapter 5: Recommendations
At the conclusion of the year of study, the following fifteen policy recommendations are presented in an effort to help Georgia improve permanency outcomes for children in foster care.
Recommendation #1: Make timely and detailed diligent searches a priority.
Over 40% of the files reviewed had no evidence of a diligent search. Fellows described a statewide lack of documentation of relative searches and a lack of updated and current searches. Detailed searches should be an exercise in locating both maternal and paternal relatives and children should be engaged in the process. Timely action is needed to locate relatives, provide relatives with notification about children and care, and follow-up with interested parties.
Diligent searches provide an important familial link between the child and possible avenues of placement and permanency. Current DFCS policy (2102.3a) requires that diligent searches be completed within 60 days of removal. That policy states “conducting the search on the ‘front-end’ increases the likelihood of making sound placement decisions for the child as well as expediting permanency.”13 Two-thirds of case managers surveyed report conducting an initial diligent search within 30 days or less; three-fourths report updating searches every six months or less. Thus improvements in practice appear to be on the rise.
Research demonstrates that children who reside with kin after removal fare better than children in foster care. They have fewer placements, are less likely to languish in care, and they are less likely to be involved with the juvenile justice system.14 Family connections provide support and help children maintain connections to racial, ethnic, cultural, and community ties.15 Family connections also can provide respite care, encouragement, emotional support, a connection to siblings and other family members, mentoring, and financial assistance.16 Foster children themselves cite “expanding family finding efforts” as one of the most important ways to improve permanency outcomes for foster children.17
Recommendation #2: Limit the use of APPLA as a permanency plan.
Child welfare agencies may choose “another planned permanent living arrangement” (APPLA) only when preferable permanency options (reunification, adoption, legal guardianship, and permanent placement with a relative) are unavailable. APPLA was the plan for one third (36%) of cold cases reviewed. One in four of these cases did not have compelling reasons for choosing APPLA documented in their court orders.
Specific criteria should be developed to guide case managers in selecting APPLA as a permanency plan. In addition, a child welfare review process should be developed to determine whether compelling reasons for choosing APPLA exist and that the permanency plan goal of APPLA is really in the best interests of the child. Any child 14 years of age or older should be involved in the review. Since the judiciary is the last line of review, the legal community