Many children in need of a permanent resource are in out-of-home care for three years or more before a permanent resource is found—if any is found. As soon as a child enters the foster care system, every child is eligible to receive SWAN services regardless of their placement goal.
These services are designed to assist both the public child welfare agency and the child to move more quickly through the child welfare system by addressing the child’s needs and preparing them and their new family for their permanency placement. When services are requested promptly, a child or youth will move faster and more efficiently to their permanent placement.
No child should languish in the foster care system and “age out” of the system without any permanent connections. Children need families to care for them and advocate for their needs. SWAN pays affiliates that complete family profiles and require each family receive a minimum of 24 hours of training about the children in care and the responsibilities of resource families. The Older Child Matching Initiative (OCMI) program focuses on connecting youth to families. Participating agencies commit to trying unconventional methods to identify older children who are in need of permanency and help locate families for them. SWAN’s Child Specific Recruitment (CSR) unit of service is also designed to find resources for older children and supports the enhanced efforts of family finding focused on kinship care resources.
Diakon/FDR works diligently to train and consult with public and private agencies. Technical assistants work closely with public and private agency staff to identify and address needs through agency site visits, regional meetings and many supportive phone calls and emails. Online interactive training resources are available to all members of the SWAN network to enhance the expertise needed to deliver the SWAN services. Almost all counties in Pennsylvania have at least one Legal Service Initiative paralegal provided through SWAN to assist with legal paperwork, legal protocol and policy review. Their work assures all legal steps are followed so a child’s time is care is minimized.
The Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (PAE) actively recruits minority families to serve as foster and permanency resources. A child’s age can also negatively impact his or her ability to find permanency. Diakon/FDR’s PAE staff, in collaboration with OCYF, implements a variety of strategies to help find permanent relationships for older and minority children. The SWAN affiliates are reminded often of the importance of complying with the federal MEPA and IEPA standards when recommending families to serve as permanent resources.
All potential adoptive and kinship families can participate in SWAN services. Recruitment activities focus on identifying families who are interested in providing permanency for children. As families enter the process of becoming an adoptive or resource family, SWAN provides guidelines and standards (through the family profile service) to assure families understand the children who seek adoption. We assure families receive the necessary training and support to prepare them to be effective resources for the children. SWAN Helpline services are available to families who have questions about the journey to become a permanent resource family and to help resource families resolve issues or concerns.
Parents who become adoptive, legal custodians or formal kinship parents may choose to receive post-permanency services through SWAN. The services delivered are called advocacy, support group and respite. The services are family-driven, so families may directly access them by contacting the SWAN Helpline. Also, SWAN is responsible to maintain, for all who wish to become foster, adoptive or kinship parents, the mandatory Resource Family Registry (RFR). While registered parents are not required to participate in SWAN services and training activities, these services are available.