An Overview of Concurrent Planning

What is concurrent planning?
The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections defines concurrent planning as:

A process of working towards one legal permanency goal (typically reunification) while at the same time establishing and implementing an alternative permanency goal and plan that are worked on concurrently to move children/youth more quickly to a safe and stable permanent family (Permanency Roundtable Project, 2010).  This is a process which involves concurrent rather than sequential permanency planning efforts.  It involves a mix of meaningful family engagement, targeted case practice, and legal strategies aimed at achieving timely permanency, while at the same time establishing and actively working a concurrent permanency plan in case the primary goal cannot be accomplished in a timely manner. It is not a fast track to adoption, but to permanency.

Concurrent planning is the process by which a permanency team most frequently plans with children, youth and families to reunite while simultaneously considering and preparing to implement one of the other permanency plans as enumerated in current federal legislation, such as adoption or placement with a legal guardian.  Concurrent planning involves the following nine core components:

  1. Differential assessment and prognostic case review,
  2. Full disclosure to all participants in the case planning process,
  3. Family search and engagement,
  4. Family group conferencing/teaming,
  5. Visiting between family, child/youth,
  6. Setting clear time lines for permanency decisions,
  7. Transparent written agreements and documentation,
  8. Committed collaboration between child welfare, the courts, service providers
  9. Specific recruitment, training, and retention of dual licensed resource families.

A brief history of concurrent planning
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Irmgard Heymann and her colleagues, working in Chicago, first formulated the concept of concurrent planning although they did not label it as such.  Their work led them to conclude that earlier permanency could be achieved when a caseworker frankly discussed permanency with parents when their child first entered foster care and assessed parents’ visiting patterns.  Throughout the 1970s in other communities across the US, child welfare caseworkers began making legal-risk or pre-adoptive placements when reunification seemed unlikely.  Following the enactment of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, many states developed permanency planning approaches, although most of these approaches involved sequential planning.  The most common practice was that caseworkers first pursued reunification for the child and parents and, if reunification efforts failed, they explored adoption or other permanency options.

In the early 1980s, the Washington State Department of Social Services, in collaboration with Linda Katz at Lutheran Social Services, coined the term “concurrent planning.”  Their approach recognized that in cases where the prognosis for reunification was poor for young children, it was important to place children, as early as possible, with foster families who could become their permanent families if reunification was not successful.  Over the following decades, other communities implemented concurrent planning practices.

Over the years, states and counties have implemented concurrent planning in different ways and have achieved different outcomes. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 impacted the practice of permanency planning and provided an environment in which concurrent planning begin to be viewed differently. This Act provided parameters for pursuing termination of parental rights immediately, in certain circumstances, and defined clear time frames for pursuing termination of parental rights, unless the there were exceptions or compelling reasons. Additionally, the Act specifically authorized the use of concurrent planning as a means of achieving permanency more expeditiously.

As States worked to implement the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, the importance of reaching out to relatives early in the case process became increasingly apparent.  Relatives begin to be seen as in important partner in achieving permanency for children, especially older youth. Specific projects, focused on supporting permanency for youth, demonstrated the effectiveness of exploring familial ties and other adults who were important in youth lives to establish and finalize permanent legal family placements for youth.  As knowledge and acceptance of placing older children and youth in adoption and in other permanent family setting grew, interest in working concurrent plans beyond just reunification and adoption also grew.  Increasingly, the second round of Child and Family Services reviews saw instances of adoption or guardianships being actively pursued at the same time that services were being put in place for Alternative Planned Living Arrangement goals.

What is the philosophy behind concurrent planning?
Concurrent planning is based on the philosophy that adults, rather than children/youth, should assume the emotional risk of foster care.  Concurrent planning assumes that adults are better able to manage the ambiguity of relationships and the uncertainty of an unknown future than are children/youth – so, the emotional burden is shifted (Northern California Training Academy, 2009).

What are the goals of concurrent planning?
The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections states that concurrent planning has four goals:

  • To promote safety, permanency, well-being of children/youth
  • To achieve timely permanency
  • To reduce the number of moves for children and youth
  • Continue significant relationships

Is concurrent planning the same as permanency planning?
Concurrent Planning is a specific modality of permanency planning. It is the ongoing process of actively working two permanency plans in cases identified as appropriate for concurrent planning. Concurrent planning is most effective when systems are in place to support the case worker in the concurrent planning process.  While, all children, youth and families benefit from the tools and techniques involved in concurrent planning such as full disclosure, visitation, family finding and family team meetings, concurrent planning must be applied in a thoughtful manner starting with a differential assessment and prognostic case review.  

How is “success” defined in concurrent planning?
Success is defined as safely achieving permanency for children/youth in a timely way so that children do not remain in foster care any longer than is absolutely necessary. 

What are the benefits of concurrent planning for children, youth, and families?
For children and youth, the benefits are:

  • Fewer placements while in foster care when children/youth are placed with resource families who support reunification and relative placement, yet stand ready to be the child/youth’s permanent family should such efforts not be successful
  • Earlier permanency through reunification or another permanency option
  • Greater opportunities to benefit from all the caring adults in their lives as resource families and birth parents jointly work together to meet the child/youth’s needs

For families, the benefits are:

  • A clearly communicated sense of urgency in achieving permanency for their children/youth
  • Prompt access to services as planning begins immediately upon the child’s/youth’s  entry into care
  • When reunification is not the outcome, a foundation for ongoing connections with the child/youth through open adoption or openness in guardianship arrangements

What are other reasons that child welfare agencies should implement concurrent planning?
There are at least two additional reasons why it is important to focus on developing and implementing concurrent planning practice:

  1. Developing and implementing concurrent planning practice is responsive to federal and, in some cases, state law.

  2. Concurrent planning is a key strategy in enhancing performance in the outcomes and performance standards of the Children and Family Service Reviews

What does federal law say about concurrent planning?
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 encourages states to use concurrent planning when working with families toward reunification but does not mandate its use.  The law states that reasonable efforts to place a child for adoption or with a legal guardian may be made concurrently with reasonable efforts to reunify.  The law further requires that for children who have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, the state must file a petition to terminate parental rights unless certain exceptions apply.  The state must concurrently identify, recruit, process and approve a qualified family to adopt the child when it files or joins a petition to terminate parental rights when the child has been in care 15 of the last 22 months or a court of competent jurisdiction has made determinations consistent with Section 475(5) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 675(5)(E)).

The most recent federal legislation, The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, does not expressly address concurrent planning.  It does, however, provide new resources for relatives who wish to become children’s legal guardians, creating a meaningful permanency option in the context of concurrent planning practice. Additionally, this Act requires that adult relatives of children entering or at risk of entering foster care be contacted simultaneously with other permanency planning efforts.

How are states addressing concurrent planning in their statutes?
Most have laws regarding concurrent planning, although they vary in terms of how and when concurrent is implemented.  Click below to learn what state laws say regarding concurrent planning.
Concurrent Planning for Permanency for Children: Summary of State Laws

Is concurrent planning part of Child and Family Service Reviews?
As part of the assessment of the performance of state child welfare systems, the federal Child and Service Reviews address the extent to which states are using concurrent planning. In its recent report, Results of the 2007 and 2008 Child and Family Service Reviews, the US Children’s Bureau noted that one of the principal concerns regarding Permanency Outcome 1 (“Children have permanency and stability in their living situations”) was states’ “lack of effective concurrent planning (especially when goals of reunification and adoption are identified).”  The report also noted for those jurisdictions that were found to successfully achieve timely permanence, “effective and meaningful concurrent planning” played a key role.  

How does concurrent planning apply to American Indian/Alaskan Native children in foster care?
When applying concurrent planning protocols to American Indian/ Alaska Native children, no plan should be implemented without initial and ongoing consultation with the child’s tribe to adhere to the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

At each phase of the case involving Native children, ICWA must be applied. The Concurrent Planning Activity Checklist (Wentz and Hay CP Checklist 2008) , provides an example of steps and activities for concurrent planning. ICWA compliance may be overlaid at each phase.

When working with families prior to placement an additional, more intense step required by ICWA is that active efforts have been made to prevent placement whenever possible.  When working with Native children and families, no foster care placement may be ordered in such proceeding in the absence of a determination, supported by clear and convincing evidence, including testimony of qualified expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the

During the initial assessment and placement, the child must be identified as Native American and formal notice must be sent to the child’s tribe. The child must be placed according to ICWA placement preferences (relative, Indian foster parent, foster family of another tribe, institution approved by child’s tribe).

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of Native American foster homes in most areas and as a result, Native children are often placed in non-Indian foster homes. (Without actively involving the child’s tribe early in the case to assist and/or approve the child’s placement, permanent placement with a non-Native concurrent family may later be appealed.)

This is a critical time to begin an active search for all possible relatives on both the maternal and paternal side of the family (ICWA does not specify placement preference with Native relatives). Active efforts must be also be made to provide reunification services to the child’s family. Other efforts to keep the child connected with family and cultural resources should also be made. Continued contact with the child’s tribe is critical to determine if the Tribe will intervene in the case and/or transfer jurisdiction to the tribal court. If the Tribe chooses not to intervene, the case is still managed as an ICWA case.

When identifying the alternative permanency plan, engage the Native family and tribe in decision-making that will continue to maintain compliance with ICWA. Family group decision making is a culturally appropriate tool in the permanency planning process. The Native American child’s tribe should be included in this process. An alternative permanent placement may be identified for the Native child in the family group decision making process if reunification is not an option. Additionally, active efforts should be performed for Native children to ensure efforts are made toward returning the child home while simultaneously planning for an alternative permanency option. This may include on-going assessments and continued search for placement resources (non-custodial parents, relatives, tribal resources or friends) who are able to commit to supporting child’s permanency. Whenever possible, identify and assist family in accessing Native-specific, culturally appropriate, accessible treatment and change-oriented services to birth parents and child.

When planning for an Alternative Permanent Plan continue to conduct active efforts to restore family capacity until the court approves the alternative permanent plan.

If termination of parental rights must be secured to support the permanency plan, assure that the termination has occurred in compliance with ICWA. No termination of parental rights may be ordered in such proceeding in the absence of a determination, supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, including testimony of qualified expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child.

Adoptive placements must follow the placement preference of ICWA, with relative placements having first priority. If a Native child is placed permanently with a non-Native family with the tribe’s approval, assure that the home study process includes information regarding how the adoptive family will provide cultural connections for the Native child.

After the final permanency decision is made, the following activities are performed to ensure the permanent plan is supported after the child is reunified or adoption/guardianship is finalized. For Native children, work with tribe to identify what role the tribe may play in providing post-permanency support to the child and family. When closing the Agency relationship with the child and family, for Native children, assure that available information is provided for child’s enrollment with Tribe.

In conclusion, always keep in mind when working with Native children that any Indian child who is the subject of any action for foster care placement or termination of parental rights under State law, any parent or Indian custodian from whose custody the child was removed, and the Indian child's tribe may petition any court of competent jurisdiction to invalidate such action upon a showing that such action violated certain provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Concurrent planning can work for Native children as long as the provisions of ICWA are included.

What does the research say about concurrent planning?
Based on an extensive review of the current literature, research tells us the following about concurrent planning:

  • Effective concurrent planning takes time (Northern California Training Academy)
  • It is important to engage in ongoing parental assessment and involvement (Hudson, et al., 2008)
  • There are important benefits to having family teams that support families as they work to overcome the problems that led to their children entering foster and move toward the safe and permanent planning of their children (Hudson, et al., 2008)
  • Intensive services for parents are essential to recognizing the full benefits of concurrent planning (D’Andrade, 2009)
  • The barriers to successfully implementing concurrent planning include: (1) difficulties in working with parents and relatives; and (2) organization impediments such as high levels of staff turnover and lack of resources to search for kinship placement options, complete home visits in a timely manner, or search for foster/adoptive families outside the kinship network (Stokes & Sanders, 2006).
  • Factors found to be present when concurrent planning works well are:
    • Active extended family support as a back-up to the parent
    • Good communication as to what concurrent planning really means
    • All parties have ownership in a good outcome for the child
    • Use of family teams
    • Use of permanency timelines as a tool to help parents understand the sense of urgency
    • Partnerships between birth and resource families
    • Liberal parent-child visitation
    • Court support for concurrent planning

(Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and The National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning, 2008)

  • Factors found to be barriers to effective concurrent planning are:
    • High caseloads and staff turnover
    • Lack of time
    • Courts (including judges, citizen panels, attorneys, GALs and CASAs) not understanding concurrent planning
    • Private providers of family services not understanding concurrent planning
    • Lack of placement resources
    • Lack of meaningful parent-child visitation
    • Lack of quality assessment of resource families
    • Insufficient time for case managers to support resource parents

(Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and The National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning, 2008)

What are some pitfalls associated with concurrent planning that need to be anticipated and addressed?
Linda Katz identifies six pitfalls associated with concurrent planning:

  1. Equating concurrent planning with adoption and, as a result, minimizing reunification efforts. When this happens, caseworkers may pay less attention to parents’ service needs and may not prioritize frequent parent-child visits.

  2. Assuming that an assessment tool can infallibly predict the outcome of the case.  This may also lead to minimizing reunification efforts and decreasing visitations if the assessment indicates poor outcome. Ultimately, the child’s parents will support or prove wrong the assessed placement outcome.

  3. Investing in a particular outcome.  Caseworkers may come into the process with a commitment to making one outcome or another happen rather than allowing the case outcome to evolve based on the birth family’s actions and decisions.

  4. Designing case plans that are not family-centered.   The planning process may not fully engage parents or help parents to assume roles and responsibilities that are important to their maintaining connections with their children or making the changes that they need to make so that their children can be safely returned to them.

  5. Offering resource parents and relatives an estimate of “legal risk.”  Here, caseworkers may communicate to resource parents and relative the odds of a successful reunification and their becoming the child’s permanent family.  It is important to consistently communicate to resource parents and relatives that their role is to support reunification efforts while continuing to stand ready to be “Plan B” for the child.

  6. Interpreting 12 months as the absolute limit on reunification irrespective of the parents’ progress.   It can be challenging but it is very important to maintain the balance between the judicious use of time limits to ensure that a child does not remain in foster care unnecessarily and a rote enforcement of time limits in a way the ignores the full picture of the parents’ motivation, efforts, incremental progress and a foreseeable reunification.
    Read the entire article by Linda Katz at:  Katz, L. (1999). Concurrent planning: Benefits and pitfalls. Child Welfare, 78(1), 71-87.
General Resources On Concurrent Planning

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Concurrent Planning: What the Evidence Shows.

Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning. (2001).  Concurrent Planning: Survey of Selected States.

National Child Welfare Resource on Organizational Improvement.
(2001). Implementing Concurrent Planning:  A Handbook for Child Welfare Administrators. 

Northern California Training Academy, Center for Human Services, UC Davis Extension
. (2009).  Concurrent Planning- Existing Challenges and New Possibilities. 

Wentz, R. & Hay, L.A.
(2010). Concurrent Planning Activity Checklist.

Wentz, R.
(2010). Concurrent Planning Competencies.