Third Place, 2018 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay

Fostering Uncertainty?: A Critique of Concurrent Planning in the Child Welfare System

Carolyn Lipp

The reckless destruction of American families in pursuit of the goal of protecting children is as serious a problem as the failure to protect children . . . destroying the parent-child relationship is among the highest forms of state violence. It should be cabined and guarded like a nuclear weapon. You use it when you must.1

—Martin Guggenheim Co-Director Family Defense Clinic New York University School of Law

[C]oncurrent planning can be defined as the process of working toward family reunification while at the same time establishing an alternative plan . . . The practice goal is early permanency rather than family reunification, an important shift in emphasis.2

—Linda Katz Program Director Lutheran Social Services of Washington and Idaho


Each year, around 270,000 children are removed from their families’ homes and placed into the foster care system.3 Once children are placed in care, federal law requires that child welfare agencies make “reasonable efforts” to both reunify children with their families4 and find children alternative permanent homes,5 which can be done simultaneously or sequentially.6 Concurrent planning is “the process of working toward family reunification while at the same time establishing an alternative plan,” which is typically adoption by a foster family or relative.7 In this model, foster parents8 are expected to support reunification efforts while also standing ready to adopt the children in their care should reunification efforts fail.9 Concurrent planning is typically contrasted with sequential planning, in which the possibility of reunification is first exhausted before exploring an alternative permanency option.10 Although the elements of concurrent planning vary widely across child welfare agencies, the majority of state statutes now authorize concurrent planning and the majority of child welfare agencies implement concurrent planning in some form.11

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