Other forms of permanency

As you explore the world of parenting from foster care, you will see the word “permanency” used often, including on this site. Permanency means a youth is a member of a safe, stable, nurturing family—forever. Permanency can mean adoption, but it also can mean reunification, guardianship, or kinship care.

The concept is important, because it emphasizes the needs of youth over any particular legal arrangement. Permanency is family who will be there for the big and small moments of life. Permanency is not foster care, and it is not with adults who are paid professionals.

On this page

About guardianship

Guardianship is a legal relationship between a youth and caregiver that allows the youth to exit foster care and gain long-term stability. Guardianship can occur with relatives or non-relatives and legally lasts until the youth turns 18. Similar to adoption, guardianship allows the caregiver to provide a permanent home and make all decisions on a youth’s behalf. Unlike adoption, guardianship does not require that parental rights be terminated and allows the caregiver to permanently care for a youth without going through the legal adoption process. In a guardianship agreement, a youth keeps their original birth certificate with their biological parents listed.

Guardianship is important for maintaining biological family ties while establishing a safe, sustainable, permanent living environment for a youth. Guardianship legally recognizes a youth’s biological parents as the youth’s parents. Guardianship also provides a pathway to permanency for youth living in foster care who are not comfortable with the idea of adoption.

Guardianship is often a preferred permanency option when there are specific reasons for a biological parent to maintain their parental rights. When a youth does not want to be legally adopted, guardianship is often a more flexible option to help them achieve permanency.

Ty’s guardianship experience

Ty had been living in foster care for two years when the court determined that his dad could not provide him with the long-term care that he needed. Because Ty was in a situation where foster parents were providing a loving home and were committed to providing him unconditional support, the court agreed that Ty could exit foster care by establishing guardianship between Ty and his foster parents. Ty wanted his father to maintain parental rights, which is why he was not interested in adoption. Once the decision had been made, the court officially established the guardianship, formalizing Ty’s foster parents as permanent caregivers.

About kinship care

Kinship care refers to the care of youth by relatives or, in some cases, very close family friends. Similar to guardianship, kinship care does not require that parental rights be terminated. Kinship caregivers may be providing care informally, as licensed foster parents, or even as adoptive parents or through guardianship.

Family connections are incredibly important. When reunification is not possible, maintaining family connection through kinship care is a critical second option. Relatives are the preferred resource for youth who must be removed from their birth parents. Kinship care helps maintain the youth’s connection with their parents, decreases a youth’s number of moves, and lessens the trauma of family separation. This permanency option promotes the preservation of family, community, and cultural ties and potentially reduces racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare.

Kinship care is often a preferred permanency option when a youth cannot be reunified with their biological parents but has relatives who are willing to care for a youth long-term and can maintain important family connections. There are options for both licensed and unlicensed kinship care providers with varying levels of support. Check with your state agency to learn more about providing kinship care for a youth.

Remy’s kinship care experience

Remy was placed in foster care after his mother passed away. Remy’s father was not a good option and Remy didn’t know of other family members. Through the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) process of identifying surviving family, a caseworker was able to find Remy’s paternal aunt and notified her that Remy had been placed in foster care in Washington State. Remy’s aunt believed she could provide a safe home for Remy where he could be close to other relatives. She followed instructions on the notice and connected with Remy’s caseworker. Remy was excited to live with his aunt, where he could learn more about his family history and heritage. His aunt became a licensed foster parent to provide kinship care. Remy decided he did not want to be legally adopted, which would have meant that his biological parents’ names would have been removed from his birth certificate. Remy was able to exit foster care after he and his aunt entered guardianship. His aunt became his legal guardian, but because she is also a relative, this type of permanency is also considered kinship care.

About reunification

Reunification is when a youth living in foster care returns to live with their biological parent. Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable family. Services are often tailored to address the issue that brought the family to the attention of the child welfare system.

Reunification keeps families together. Reunification allows youth to be placed back with the parent or family who they already know and love. Biological family ties are extremely valuable and can help youth maintain their culture, language, and identity. Youth who are reunified with family face less change, lowered stress levels, and an increased sense of belonging.

Reunification is the priority permanency goal for all youth in foster care. When children can be reunified with their biological parents, they are less likely to re-enter foster care again. Reunification promotes a sense of stability, security, and that feeling of being home. It has been shown to reduce anxiety in youth formerly in foster care and increase mental well-being. Reunification is also an important step in addressing racial disproportionality in child welfare and puts youth back in touch with their traditions, culture, and in some cases, first language.

Lana’s reunification experience

Lana’s mom was struggling to provide a safe environment for Lana. While Lana’s mom worked with other parents who had been through similar situations for support and wisdom on improving her ability to meet Lana’s needs, Lana was placed in foster care. Lana and her caseworker discussed permanency options and remained hopeful that reunification would be the reality. After a period of living in foster care with a relative, the court determined Lana could be reunified with her mom. This happy outcome meant that Lana’s stay in foster care was over, lessening the trauma often associated with extended foster care stays and multiple moves. Reunification was the best possible permanency option and the outcome for Lana and her mother.