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Permanency Planning: Sword or Shield?

by Andrew H. Vachss
Origninally published in ADOPTALK, Spring 1984.
A publication of the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Also available in Russian (

Virtually all jurisdictions now mandate some form of "permanency planning" for children in the care and custody of the state. Children may enter care voluntarily—when a parent or guardian agrees to out–of‐home care for a certain period—or involuntarily, when the child is taken from the home by action of child protective services.

Permanency planning evolved as a concept simply because too many children fall through the cracks of our childcare system. In the absence of such planning, children may spend their entire lives in a limbo of shifting residences, changing caretakers, and endless adjustments to new schools, new companions, new situations — amidst old dreams of a family which are the slowest of all to die. While they enter placement for a variety of reasons, they remain there due to bureaucratic inefficiency and institutional neglect. Still another significant factor keeping children in placement has been the profit motive. Some jurisdictions pay private placement facilities on a sliding scale for each child, reserving the highest rate for institutionalized children and the lowest for children in a pre–adoptive foster home.

The goal of permanency planning was to have each child enter placement with a long–term plan for his or her future. Such a plan would ideally have as its primary goal the reunion of the child with the family. Since ideal situations rarely occur in the child protective field, this is where the concept of permanency planning has occasionally proven a sword to destroy the lives of children instead of a shield to protect them.

Too often, child protective personnel will persist in an originally instituted plan calling for reunification with the biological parent, long past the time when it becomes apparent to all (truly) concerned that the plan itself is doomed to failure. The classic situation occurs when a child is placed out–of–home at an early age, following an adjudication of abuse against the parent. The permanency plan calls for the child to return to the home and a specific schematic is developed that allegedly enriches the life of children in placement. While permanency planning is a valuable tool, it is one that must be employed with skill and discretion, one whose use must be carefully monitored by advocates for the children in placement. Used intelligently, it can be a valuable concept. Used mechanically, it can be counter–productive. Unmonitored by advocates for its alleged beneficiaries, it can be dangerous.

© 2000 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.

Attorney Andrew H. Vachss devotes most of his private law practice to representing abused and neglected children as well as children accused of crimes. He is the author of: The Life-Style Violent Juvenile (DC Heath, Lexington Books, 1979) and lectures frequently on child welfare and juvenile justice.


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