Thanks to a new federal adoption law that went into effect in June, about 60 children in Richmond County have been moved from temporary foster care to permanent homes.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires that children who are placed in the custody of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services must be in a permanent living situation -- either reunited with parents or guardians, or adopted -- within 14 months after entering foster care, said Rosalyn Panton, a social services consultant with the Richmond County DFCS.
"Children need permanency," Ms. Panton said. "And with this new law, they will reach permanency sooner and not linger in the foster care system."
Prior to the law's implementation, she said, children often would stay in foster care for two to three years while their cases went through the court system.
There are a few exceptions to the 14-month deadline, Ms. Panton said. Sometimes a child will remain in DFCS custody while living with a relative. Older children, ages 15 to 18, may choose to work toward living independently while in long-term foster care and be emancipated at adulthood.
That must be approved by the court, and long-term care is contingent on an agreement between the biological parents, the foster parents and the child.
Children in the custody of DFCS usually have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Ideally, the goal is to rehabilitate the parents and help them overcome their abuse patterns so they can be reunited with their children. But sometimes the best thing for the child is the permanent removal from the home.
"The goals of that law are safety, permanence and well-being for children," Ms. Panton said. "And you notice I said safety first. The first goal is safety, and the second one is permanence. We would never place a child in an unsafe environment for the sake of saying we have a permanent plan for that child.
"When we remove children, there is a court-approved case plan for the parents. And the parents -- along with the agency -- have an obligation and a responsibility to work to eliminate the risk that brought the child into care," she said. "If parents do not make legitimate attempts to eliminate the risk of maltreatment to children," their parental rights may be terminated.
Richmond County has 141 children in foster homes. An additional 100 children in state custody live in foster homes in Richmond County. Statewide, an average of 11,000 children are in foster care during any given month, according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources.
Emily Sollie can be reached at (706) 823-3340 or esollie@augusta