Permanency planning is an approach to child welfare rooted in the idea that children need permanence to thrive, and children who encounter child services should receive care that focuses on getting them into permanent homes. This approach started to become popular in the 1970s. A number of acts of legislation in the United States, such as the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, promote this and create mandates for regional child services agencies to follow in their handling of child placements.
Under permanency planning, the first goal is to get children back into their original homes. The government can support this with a thorough investigation into the situation to determine if it is safe and to explore ideas for making it safer, such as getting parents on food stamps to help pay for food, or providing parenting education to new parents who have difficulty caring for an infant. If the government determines that the child's original parents or guardians cannot provide the level of care necessary and will not be able to, permanency planners advocate terminating rights of parenting and guardianship to make the child available for adoption.
This differs from the foster care approach, where children live in a variety of settings with caregivers who do not act as their legal parents or guardians. Fostering is a short term solution for situations where children need temporary care, but under permanency planning, children should transition out of foster care and into permanent homes. Studies suggest that bouncing around the child welfare system can make it difficult for children to succeed and may create a greater risk of criminal activity and other issues.
Children can be placed for adoption at any age when they are still young enough to need child welfare services. This includes disabled children, although their adoptive parents receive more careful screening to confirm that they can provide appropriate care. Proponents of permanency planning argue that permanent adoption in preference to fostering is more likely to result in an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted child.
Permanency planning aims to strike a balance between promoting permanent homes and taking children from their parents prematurely. Social workers must investigate a situation carefully before recommending a termination of parental rights. Once these rights are terminated and the child enters adoption proceedings, the original parents or guardians will not play a role in the child's welfare, and may be excluded from her life. This can have psychological consequences, and child services agencies usually prefer to unite and strengthen families, rather than tear them apart.