What is a Permanency Plan?
Mother’s Choice believes that every child belongs in a safe, loving, and permanent family. Our Child Care Home and Foster Care Services are intended to be temporary for children, and so every child at Mother’s Choice has a permanency plan. A permanency plan is the decision and plan of action to enable a child to be in a family permanently. It is the process of assessing and preparing a child and their family to reach this ultimate goal. A permanency plan may be for family reunion or adoption.
With family reunion plans, children ultimately return to live with their birth parents or extended family members. This is usually the end goal for most children in foster care. To achieve a family reunion, there will be interim steps such as visitations, and a smooth transition plan back to their birth family.
Adoption is the legal transfer of parental rights and responsibilities from the Director of the Social Welfare Department to new parents. Termination of the parental rights of the biological parents is required before an adoption plan can be put in place and this is a very thorough legal process with many steps.
How is foster care different than institutional care?
Mother’s Choice believes that quality family-based care should always be the first option for a child who requires temporary residential care. This is especially important for children under the age of three. Research has shown that infancy and early childhood are critical periods during which the foundations for trust, self- esteem, conscience, empathy, problem solving, focused learning, and impulse control are laid down.
A foster parent should develop a very close secure relationship with their foster child, teaching them to attach to a primary carer, bonding with them, and showing them what it means be loved. Being in a family can positively impact a child’s development by giving them the unique and essential gift of attachment.
Some children who require special or intensive care sometimes cannot be placed safely in a family setting. In those cases, some forms of residential care institutions play an important role in providing short-term placement for these vulnerable children.
What is attachment?
Attachment is an emotional bond that forms between a child and a caregiver. Attachment is built when an adult responds to the child’s emotional and physical needs over time. This sets the stage for all future trusting relationships. Safe and healthy attachment is especially important for children who have experienced loss or separation.
Almost all of a child’s brain growth occurs in the first three years of life, and interaction with adults has profound influence on brain development, affecting emotions, language, and abstract thought. Infants naturally form strong attachments to their primary caregivers. When a child’s needs are recognized and responded to and they are able to trust, a healthy, secure attachment starts to form. A child who has the opportunity to become securely attached to one or more people can go on to develop more healthy and secure attachments with others. As they get older, they can recognize their own needs and the needs of others, can deal with emotions, accept comfort, and can accept boundaries.
Attachment is a reciprocal, profound, emotional and physical connection that sets the stage for all future intimate trusting relationships. Safe, healthy attachment can buffer the impact of some highly traumatic stressors.
The love a foster parent can give to a child is a strong foundation for that child to learn to attach and is ultimately the greatest gift a foster parent can give to their foster child.
What is family visitation?
Foster children with family reunion plans will stay in touch regularly with their birth family to facilitate bonding and parent-child attachment. Family visitation is an essential part of this process that supports healthy child development, reduces a child’s sense of abandonment, and preserves a sense of belonging as part of a family and community. Family visitations bring reassurance for children and their parents, opportunities to strengthen family connections, and offer motivation for parents to improve their own situation, enroll in treatment or meet other permanency plan requirements so that they may ultimately be reunited with their child.
What is the responsibility of a foster parent?
Foster families should provide a safe, loving and nurturing home to a vulnerable child. A foster parent is responsible for the daily care of the child placed in their home and for providing a family environment to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and social needs.
Each child is special and unique. Many of the children in foster care may be hurt and confused by the separation from their family. They need a lot of empathy, encouragement, and support. Children have different behaviors as a way of coping with their experiences and foster parents need to recognize and manage these behaviors with the support of our team and early intervention professionals. Foster families may need to attend training and therapy sessions with the child to implement strategies at home.
Foster children often have their own birth family and will want to stay in touch with them, when possible. A foster parent will need to help their foster child overcome difficulties from their past and work alongside Mother’s Choice to facilitate the bonding with their biological families. They will facilitate a smooth transition for the child, first, as they welcome them into their own home and then, as the child prepares to reunite with their birth family or go on to join an adoptive family.
Foster Care with Mother’s Choice
Who are the children in Foster Care?
In 2019/20, Mother’s Choice cared for 56 children in OFC.
Only 1 case was a baby aged 4-6 months (less than 2%); 14% were aged 1-3 years old; 25% were aged 4-6 years old; 20% were aged 7-9 years old and 40% aged over 10 years and older. The majority of our cases (75%) were referred to Mother’s Choice OFC when the children were aged between 3 and 7 years old.
- 90% had a family reunion permanency plan.
- The average length of stay is 70 months.
- 19.5% have experienced 2 foster care placements during their time at Mother’s Choice
- As the 31 May 2020, 29.8% of our children in OFC were diagnosed as having special needs. Amongst them, 78% were diagnosed with ADHD, and the rest included diagnosis such as Global Developmental Delay, Dyslexia, Speech delay, limited intelligence, ASD etc.
- 13% of the children experienced trauma and physical abuse or neglect.
- 30% of our OFC foster children are aged 11 and above. Many of these foster youth will be aging out from foster care, despite having a reunion plan
In 2019/20, Mother’s Choice cared for 35 children in Project Bridge.
- 58% were aged below 12 months old. 31.5% were aged 1-2 years old and 10.5 % were aged older than 2 years old.
- 89% had a permanency plan of adoption and 11% had a family reunion plan.
- 16 % were born pre-maturely and 26% had a low birth weight.
- The average length of stay for children in Project Bridge is 8.8 months as of August 2020.
Children exposed to traumatic events experience long-lasting negative effects including brain impairments, variations to gene expressions, issues with physical growth and development, complications forming attachments, serious health problems, and significant mental health conditions. In addition, multiple placements experiences and family disruptions can also make foster children more likely to experience adjustment and behavior problems. Youth aging out of foster care youth are at higher risk of substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty.
What role does Mother’s Choice play in a foster child’s case?
Finding, matching and supporting safe and loving foster care homes for children is just one of the very important tasks for social workers at Mother’s Choice.
Our social workers are also responsible for doing whatever it takes to facilitate the permanency plan of the children in our care. The cases of children in foster care are often complex and emotionally charged. Children might have been removed from the care of their biological families because of abuse. Our social workers place the best interest of children at the heart of everything. They work to facilitate solutions that protect their interests, whilst providing compassionate support to birth families.
Our social workers work as a team alongside the birth family, the Social Welfare Department (SWD), legal guardians and other professionals involved in the welfare of the child to ensure the progress of a child’s case towards permanency. This includes providing case management, assessing the needs and strengths of a child and their family, developing an action plan, setting goals, monitoring and documenting progress. Our social workers present their findings and recommendation in regular case conferences and reviews, oversee visitations between children and parents, gather evidence. They are the voice of the child, represent their best interests, and advocate on their behalf. However, although Mother’s Choice can advocate for a certain outcome, the SWD holds the ultimate decision making in every child’s case.
How does Mother’s Choice work with the Social Welfare Department (SWD)?
Mother’s Choice is licensed to operate as a residential child care agency by the SWD. It is therefore in constant and ongoing communication with SWD, working in partnership with them on individual children’s cases. Most of the child we care for is also assigned a social worker from SWD, and together, we work towards achieving their permanency plan. Mother’s Choice works collaboratively with the SWD to support families and children, ensuring that a child’s best interests are at the center of all decisions.
Over our 30+ year history, we have on many occasions shared our thoughts and findings, our research, training and resources with the SWD. We are in regular dialogue so that we may together learn and grow in our best practices, in the interest of Hong Kong’s vulnerable children, youth and families.
Why does a foster child’s permanency plan or timeline sometimes change?
Permanency planning is a process that requires ongoing monitoring and management. For children to be reunited with their birth parents, their parents must be able to rectify the issues that prompted the removal of the children in the first place. This is sometimes difficult to achieve. The issues can include abuse or neglect, addictions, affect more than one person in the family and span multiple generations. The problems may evolve over time and the severity of the case may fluctuate, causing the plan and timeline to change.
When a parent is unable to make enough progress to be able to care for their child, then every effort is made to secure placement with extended family. When no extended family can be identified, then a permanency plan may need to be reassessed further.
In some extreme cases, children with an initial plan to be reunited with their family, are freed for adoption. This would only happen if all professionals, including Mother’s Choice, the Social Welfare Department, and therapists all believe it is in the best interest of the child and consider there is no realistic prospect of a family reunion. This is a last resort, after all other options have been explored, and that requires a thorough extensive legal process.
What is a transition?
Once the time has come for a child to leave their foster home to join their permanent family, a transition plan will be designed to prepare the child to successfully bond with their new adoptive parents or return to their birth family, and settle well into a new home.
Moving a child into a new family is a life-altering event for the child. Transition impacts not only the child but all of the significant others in the child’s life, including his foster parents, foster siblings, and any birth or adoptive family members with whom the child is in contact.
A successful transition is an inclusive process, requiring the collaboration from all parties. It can take anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks depending on the needs of the child, their age, their length of stay in foster care etc. However, in a transition, the needs of the child are always the paramount priority.
What can a foster family expect when it is time for their foster child to be adopted or reunited with their birth family?
Each child’s transition is different and will be catered to their individual needs, and the needs of the adoptive or birth family to which they will be transitioning.
Loving and caring for a child so deeply and needing to later say goodbye is a truly sacrificial act. This is a big loss, and we recognize that it is difficult. Foster families give their foster children a tremendous start in life, teaching them to be loved and to bond with others, a gift they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
There may be a lot of emotions to process during the transition time. Foster families should expect that saying goodbye will be painful. Some may even feel that the foster child is better off staying with them. Foster families may feel anxious that the child is hesitant to meet their new parents or desire to keep in regular contact with their foster child once the transition is over. They may even question whether the birth or adoptive family is prepared enough.
All these are natural feelings of grief and loss that many families experience. Mother’s Choice will provide support throughout the transition and also after the child has left for the process to be as smooth as possible. Often our foster families find that speaking to other foster families who have experienced transitions to be helpful.
How can a foster family prepare for the grief of saying goodbye?
Whether a child is returning to their birth family or they are being adopted, saying goodbye to a foster child can be quite heartbreaking for everyone. All families experience grief to certain degree and these feelings are natural. The transition process can sometimes create distress and strain and some foster families may struggle to manage the grief associated with the loss.
As such, it is always important to always remember that the focus remains on the best interests of the child. We encourage families to focus on all the positive experiences of their fostering journey, the positive impact that they will have had on the life of a child as well as the positive impact it may have had on their own family. Remembering this will help each family member bring support to the others who might be experiencing grief.
Throughout Mother’s Choice will provide support before, during and after the transition. We encourage families to give themselves time and space to grieve and process the loss together, power through together with the support of our Mother’s Choice team.
What if a foster family have concerns about the adoptive family or birth family taking a child home?
Each family’s journey is unique. Adoptive and birth families will inevitably have mixed or difficult feelings in the process of receiving their children home.
Some adoptive or birth families will need support, guidance, and encouragement, both practical and emotional, in understanding and building their capacity to care for their child. They may lack self-confidence, manifest feelings of failure, guilt or frustration, or be discouraged by perceived weaknesses or challenges. During a transition, all parties work together with sensitivity and care, helping birth/adoptive parents to be the best parent they can be. It is important for foster families to realize that often the birth or adoptive parents may have different parenting styles and not provide the same kind of family environment. Should the foster parents have any concerns, they should keep in close contact with their social worker throughout, and discuss any questions or uncertainties they may have.
Can transition plans change?
Sometimes there may be circumstances that change the original plan and associated timeline of a transition. This can be due to unexpected restrictions preventing travel in the case of an overseas adoption for example or child, adoptive parents or foster family being ill. Sometimes new parents require more time or support to pick up the skills needed for childcare, or sometimes the child may need more time to build up trust. The transition weeks can bring up other feelings that may extend the duration of the transition.
Foster families should keep in close contact with their social worker throughout to discuss any questions or uncertainties they may have.
Can foster families keep in touch with past foster children?
Overall, contact between foster, birth and adoptive families can happen through the social worker, by passing messages or photos. This is offered as a support to both sides. It is possible for a foster family to stay in touch with their foster child but this will depend on the specific situation and desires of the child’s forever family.
We encourage our adoptive families to honor connections with the child’s birth family and previous carers, as part of their life story and identity. It is important to note however that when a child has initially gone home to an adoptive home, we very much encourage the new parents to focus their time in the first few months on bonding with their child as a newly formed family, with a reduced amount of activities and guests. This is sometimes known as “cocooning” or “nesting”. Adoptive parents need a protected space to focus on this new relationship and family member. Too many external contacts can impact adoptive parents’ confidence to care for and parent their child and affect their entitlement. The need for every child and birth or adoptive family are unique to their situation.
Transitions to Adoption
What to expect during a transition to adoptive parents?
During the transition weeks, the adoptive parents will visit the child at the child’s foster home so that both child and parents start to get to know each other, bond and begin their attachment. The adoptive parents will also be learning from the foster family how to best care for the child, the child’s routines, likes and dislikes, how to comfort them, etc. For some adoptive families, this will be the first time they are becoming parents, so they may also be learning the basics of childcare skills and adjusting to this new role. Some may have been waiting for years and some only a few months.
Adoptive parents may have a lot of emotions to process. They will know that their child has been well loved and cared for and that the child will need to experience change to join their forever family. Adoptive parents may sometimes feel guilty for taking the child away, inadequate in comparison to the current caregivers, anxious about suddenly becoming parents, overwhelmed with all that’s happening, and past feelings can also be triggered.
How much notice does a foster home receive before a transition starts?
Once a child has been matched to an adoptive family, Mother’s Choice will be updated by the Adoption Unit of the Social Welfare Department that the prospective adoptive parent/s are ready to proceed with the match and to set a date for the first meeting. This can take up to one or two weeks. The foster family will be notified as soon as possible thereafter. A time and place will be set at a time that is practical and best for the child, usually within a week of the adoptive family’s decision to proceed.
Becoming a foster family
Is it possible for working parents to foster?
Depending on the circumstances, it is possible to foster and continue to work. This requires a thorough and detailed plan where all the different childcare arrangements will need to be approved. It is not as simple as arranging for a domestic helper or dropping off the foster child at another carer’s house during work hours.
A written childcare plan will outline how and when foster carers are to attend appointments and meetings where their presence is needed with their foster child and/or on his/her behalf. This plan outlines how the working parent will juggle their schedule in the event their foster child becomes sick at school, or is on holiday when school is out of session. On top of all of the meetings, classes, doctor visits, and social worker visits, foster families will also need to find time in their schedule for reunification meetings when their foster child visits his/her birth parents.
There are many ways foster families can provide love and care to a child whether it be through fostering full- time or providing respite care on a part time basis.
Can I foster if I am single?
Depending on the circumstances, you can foster as a single parent as long as you meet the Social Welfare Department fostering requirements. Your relationship status will not be considered a deciding factor of whether you can foster or not. Once you have met the requirements, you will then be able to begin the fostering application process and you will need to go through the same assessment process as a couple who wants to foster.
Of course, single parent fostering may be slightly more challenging. This is due to the high demand fostering can have upon your life, physically, socially and emotionally. You will need to have enough flexibility in your schedule to provide the care that the children in your care need, including transporting them to therapy appointments, parent visits, and more. This requires a thorough and detailed plan where all the different childcare arrangements will need to be approved.
There are many ways foster families can provide love and care to a child whether it be through fostering full- time or providing respite care on a part time basis. If you want to find out more, please contact our foster care social worker for more discussion.
I am not a Cantonese speaker. Can I still foster?
Yes. We try to match children with foster families who speak the same language (or the language of their birth family). However, as many of our children are babies, a safe and loving family is more important than language.
Is it possible to foster a child who goes to school?
Depending on the situation, children are placed in homes where they can continue their schooling wherever possible. In some cases, they will move to a school closer to the foster family. This decision is made with the approval of the child’s legal guardian and with the best interests of the child in mind. Foster parents are welcome to take a preschool aged foster child to playgroups of their choice.
Does a foster child have medical coverage?
As a Hong Kong resident, a foster child has access to the public health system. A foster parent will be provided with the documentation needed to receive such medical care and arrange for any emergency medical attention for the child. If a foster parent wishes to take their foster child to their family doctor, the medical expenses can be covered by the monthly foster care allowance.
When fostering, is it possible to travel outside Hong Kong?
It is only possible for a foster family to travel with a foster child outside Hong Kong if the child has a family reunion plan and consent has been given by the birth parents/legal guardians, notifying the Social Welfare Department (SWD) prior to the trip. Children awaiting adoption and ward of SWD are almost never able to travel outside Hong Kong.
The travelling expenses for a foster child are non-reimbursable. Foster families will have to provide as much information as needed in advance including destination of travel and duration, accommodation arrangements, health records of the child, travel insurance, access to medical providers, emergency contacts, etc.
Many foster families plan for time away in Hong Kong by exploring the outer islands or countryside. Alternatively, it is possible for one of the foster parents to travel, whilst the other remains in Hong Kong to take care of the foster child.
When a foster family must travel outside of Hong Kong, a relief family can be arranged to take care of the foster child during their time away. However, this is to be minimal as it brings disruption to the child.
What is the monthly foster care allowance?
Foster parents participating in the Ordinary Foster Care program receive a monthly allowance for providing care and resources to a foster child. It is determined and provided by the Social Welfare Department to ensure the foster family has the resources to ensure a successful placement and to financially support the foster family to make this happen.
Foster care and Adoption
How do Foster Care and Adoption Services differ?
Adoption is the permanent legal transfer of all parental rights from one legal guardian to another. Adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents as a child’s legal guardians, and adopted children have the same rights as biological children. This is different to a foster family, who cares for a child in their home as a temporary arrangement. Foster parents are not the legal guardians of foster children, nor do they have the rights and obligations of legal guardians. While children are in foster care, their legal guardians could be either their birth parents or the Director of the Social Welfare Department.
In Hong Kong, the process to become a prospective adoptive parent differs and runs independently to the process for foster care. Families struggling to decide between adoption and foster care are encouraged to speak further with their social worker to understand the differences, and are strongly advised to take their time to process their decisions and feelings before submitting an application for one or the other.
Can a foster family adopt their foster child?
Hong Kong does not operate a foster-to- adopt system, and foster care is not a means to adoption. It is not possible to apply to adopt a specific child.
It is critical that any prospective foster family understand and accept this before embarking upon their journey of fostering. A critical role of a foster parent is to prepare their foster child for a smooth transition to their permanent birth or adoptive family in accordance with the advice or instructions of Mother’s Choice social workers.
Can a foster family apply for adoption through Mother’s Choice?
To avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest, a foster family opening an application to adopt will not be able to also foster through Mother’s Choice. A family’s availability to foster will be put on hold until their adoption is finalized or adoption application is withdrawn. Any foster child in their care could be removed from their home and transferred to another family at the discretion of the Social Welfare Department.
Any foster family thinking of applying for adoption should speak to their foster care social worker immediately.