G.S.S.W. seeks to reform adoption system

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The Graduate School of Social Work is a major player in an initiative which seeks to develop a new approach to the state's adoption system, one which its sponsors hope might become a model for other states.

After months of preparation, earlier this year GSSW formally joined with the Children's Services of Roxbury, Inc., the Special Needs Adoption Network and the Massachusetts Department of Social Services to form Massachusetts Families For Kids. Funded by a three-year, $3.7 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the project's mission is to find permanent homes for the backlog of children waiting to be adopted and reduce the length of stay of children entering the state foster care system.

Prof. Anthony Maluccio and Lect. Robin Warsh are the principal GSSW representatives in MFFK, which was launched this summer in Lynn, Lawrence, Worcester and Springfield. While the initial scope of the project might seem relatively small - approximately 1,000 children - Maluccio and Warsh stress that MFFK has a long-term vision which its organizers feel will help the more than 4,200 Massachusetts children awaiting adoption, many of whom have special needs not being adequately met by the current system.

"There has been great concern about the drifting of children who simply go from foster home to foster home," explained Maluccio, the project's principal investigator. "Unfortunately, the process for adopting a child is often very cumbersome and the legal framework is not very responsive. The situation has become more complex now, because many of the children awaiting adoption who come from troubled households now have their own problems, such as AIDS or health problems related to substance abuse."

The four communities, Maluccio and Warsh point out, were chosen because their diverse populations represent a cross-section of the children waiting for families statewide and all have high concentrations of children in various stages of the adoption process.

"This project is not simply about placing 1,000 children in permanent homes," added Warsh, director of the project evaluation component. "It's about learning how to do it efficiently and effectively, so this approach can become part of the child welfare system. We don't want this to be a demonstration model, where the resources fade away after the project is over. We want it to be a new paradigm."

To achieve its mission, Maluccio and Warsh said, MFFK will develop new resources for permanency, including adoptive, extended or kinship families, and introduce the concept of "resource families," trained to offer support as a way of bridging gaps between birth families, foster care, kinship and adoptive families.

The initiative also calls for establishing family consultation teams to promote collaboration among families, social service agencies and service providers, and offering flexible supportive services to any family providing permanency for a child. In addition, MFFK will advocate the full implementation of laws which support the goal of permanency.

GSSW's role in the partnership is to evaluate the processes, systems and programs which MFFK creates, Maluccio said. While Maluccio and Warsh will be the chief liaisons, he noted that other GSSW administrators and faculty, such as GSSW Dean June G. Hopps, have contributed their expertise to the project or will be called upon to do so as it progresses. MFFK may also hold opportunities for GSSW students, he added, such as a source for dissertations on adoption.

Maluccio and Warsh say MFFK does not conflict with the concept of family preservation, where child and family services providers work to help troubled families stay together - an area in which GSSW has also been active.

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