What Is Permanence?

Updated May 21, 2023 | Posted February 6, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog whatispermanence 2012

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment pro­motes it. States, local­i­ties and agen­cies col­lect sta­tis­tics on it. Chil­dren need it. What is permanence?

Per­ma­nence is an idea, a val­ue and a sta­tus. If young peo­ple have per­ma­nence, they have fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing at least one par­ent­ing adult, who intend to always be there for them.

What is legal permanence?

When peo­ple talk about legal” per­ma­nence, they mean that a child’s rela­tion­ship with a par­ent­ing adult is rec­og­nized by law—that the adult is the child’s birth, kin, fos­ter, guardian­ship or adop­tive par­ent. Legal sta­tus con­fers emo­tion­al, social, finan­cial and oth­er status.

What is rela­tion­al permanence?

When peo­ple talk about rela­tion­al” per­ma­nence, they often mean rec­og­niz­ing the many types of impor­tant long-term rela­tion­ships that help a child or young per­son feel loved and connected—relationships with broth­ers and sis­ters, fam­i­ly friends and extend­ed fam­i­ly, and for­mer fos­ter fam­i­ly mem­bers, for exam­ple. Per­ma­nen­cy pacts are one way to rec­og­nize the ties of rela­tion­al per­ma­nence; there are oth­er ways, as well. Per­ma­nen­cy prepa­ra­tion and per­ma­nen­cy plan­ning are terms used for efforts to involve chil­dren, youth, their case­work­ers, fam­i­lies and inter­est­ed adults in chart­ing a course toward per­ma­nence for a child or young per­son in fos­ter care.

Why is per­ma­nence important?

Per­ma­nence sounds sim­ple, but for kids in fos­ter care, it often isn’t. In part, that’s because children’s abil­i­ty to devel­op healthy, last­ing rela­tion­ships is affect­ed by their expe­ri­ences grow­ing up. When children’s ties to par­ents, sib­lings and extend­ed fam­i­ly are weak­ened by abuse, neglect and removal from the fam­i­ly, children’s devel­op­ment can suffer.

Years ago, going into fos­ter care or being adopt­ed meant cut­ting ties to bio­log­i­cal fam­i­ly. Today, much has changed. In part, that’s because young peo­ple, fam­i­lies and social work­ers demand­ed change. They under­stood that the bio­log­i­cal and affec­tion­al ties of fam­i­ly can­not be ignored—that chil­dren do bet­ter when they know their fam­i­ly his­to­ries, stay con­nect­ed to impor­tant adults and rela­tion­ships, and have at least one adult com­mit­ted to being their life­long parent.

Who needs permanence?

In 2021, just under 400,000 chil­dren were in fos­ter care. In recent years, near­ly half the kids who enter fos­ter care find per­ma­nence by return­ing to their par­ents. For oth­ers, per­ma­nence may mean being adopt­ed (25% in 2021) by a fam­i­ly mem­ber or fos­ter par­ent or hav­ing some­one they know serve as their guardian (12%). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, about 20,000 young peo­ple each year age out of fos­ter care with­out strong ties to fam­i­ly, also known as eman­ci­pa­tion;” these chil­dren often face chal­leng­ing odds of suc­ceed­ing as adults.

Per­ma­nence means family

Research is clear: Sta­ble attach­ments are a cru­cial build­ing block of child devel­op­ment. So is know­ing your her­itage, under­stand­ing where you came from, and being treat­ed as an individual.

Often, per­ma­nence means hav­ing a par­ent who helps you grow into adult­hood and stay­ing con­nect­ed with oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends. Maybe when you leave fos­ter care you reunite with your mom, but keep in touch with the fos­ter par­ents who took care of you. Maybe you and your sib­lings are adopt­ed by a cousin, but see your birth moth­er twice a year.

Fact is, every­one needs fam­i­ly. Every­one also needs par­ents, no mat­ter one’s age or sit­u­a­tion. Kids with seri­ous men­tal health needs or cog­ni­tive lim­i­ta­tions or med­ical or phys­i­cal chal­lenges need par­ents. Kids who have been sex­u­al­ly traf­ficked need par­ents. Kids who are les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al, trans­gen­der or ques­tion­ing need par­ents. Kids who are 5 or 12 or 18 need par­ents. Kids who play foot­ball or like to dance or are scared of dogs or hope to be doc­tors need par­ents. It’s part of who we are as humans–being con­nect­ed to fam­i­ly helps us flourish.

See more Foun­da­tion resources on: 

In addi­tion, the Foun­da­tion pro­vides the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, with 60+ mea­sures of fos­ter care and child wel­fare, cus­tomiz­able by state and demo­graph­ic group, as well as a sum­ma­ry of nation­al trends

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