Impact Feature Issue on Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System

A Statement in Support of Families and Their Children

The following statement was developed by advocates and parents in 1986 at a meeting sponsored by the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University, and still stands today as a clear assertion of the importance of family for children with disabilities.

These principles should guide public policy toward families of children with developmental disabilities and the actions of states and agencies when they become involved with families:

  • All children, regardless of disability, belong with families and need enduring relationships with adults. When states or agencies become involved with families, permanency planning should be a guiding philosophy. As a philosophy, permanency planning endorses children’s rights to a nurturing home and consistent relationships with adults. As a guide to state and agency practice, permanency planning requires family support, encouragement of a family’s relationship with the child, family reunification for children placed out of home, and pursuit of adoption for children when reunification is not possible.
  • Families should receive the supports necessary to maintain their children at home. Family support services must be based on the principle “whatever it takes.” In short, family support services should be flexible, individualized, and designed to meet the diverse needs of families.
  • Family supports should build on existing social networks and natural sources of support. As a guiding principle, natural sources of support, including neighbors, extended families, friends, and community associations, should be preferred over agency programs and professional services. When states or agencies become involved with families, they should support existing social networks, strengthen natural sources of support, and help build connections to existing community resources. When natural sources of support cannot meet the needs of families, professional or agency-operated support services should be available.
  • Family supports should maximize the family’s control over the services and supports they receive. Family support services must be based on the assumption that families, rather than states and agencies, are in the best position to determine their needs.
  • Family supports should support the entire family. Family support services should be defined broadly in terms of the needs of the entire family, including children with disabilities, parents, and siblings.
  • Family support services should encourage the integration of children with disabilities into the community. Family support services should be designed to maximize integration and participation in community life for children with disabilities.
  • When children cannot remain with their families for whatever reason, out-of-home placement should be viewed initially as a temporary arrangement and efforts should be directed toward reuniting the family. Consistent with the philosophy of permanency planning, children should live with their families whenever possible. When, due to family crisis or other circumstances, children must leave their families, efforts should be directed at encouraging and enabling families to be reunited.
  • When families cannot be reunited and when active parental involvement is absent, adoption should be aggressively pursued. In fulfillment of each child’s right to a stable family and an enduring relationship with one or more adults, adoption should be pursued for children whose ties with their families have been broken. Whenever possible, families should be involved in adoption planning and, in all cases, should be treated with sensitivity and respect. When adoption is pursued, the possibility of “open adoption,” whereby families maintain involvement with a child, should be seriously considered.
  • While a preferred alternative to any group setting or out-of-home placement, foster care should only be pursued when children cannot live with their families or with adoptive families. After families and adoptive families, children should have the opportunity to live with foster families. Foster family care can provide children with a home atmosphere and warm relationships and is preferable to group settings and other placements. As a state or agency sponsored program, however, foster care seldom provides children the continuity and stability needed in their lives. While foster families may be called on to assist, support, and occasionally fill in for families, foster care is not likely to be an acceptable alternative to fulfilling each child’s right to a stable home and enduring relationships.

Reprinted with permission from the Center on Human Policy, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.