Concurrent Planning

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                              Concurrent Planning
                     Review of Recent Research Literature
                                     August 1, 2003

Child Welfare League of America, through its Research to Practice Initiative, has been
asked by the Pennsylvania Office of Children, Youth, and Families to provide a review
and synthesis of the recent research literature in concurrent planning. The purpose of this
review is to provide a basis for the development of agency policy.

Definition and Key Features of Concurrent Planning

Concurrent planning is working intensively toward reunification of a child with his or her
own family while, at the same time, developing an alternative plan for the child’s
permanency (Katz, 1999). Its purpose is to overcome barriers and delays in securing
permanent families for children who are in out of home care (Lutz, 2001).

Although the name concurrent planning and the models in use today originated in the
1980’s, the approach has its roots in practice innovations begun in the 1960’s and 1970’s
to facilitate earlier permanency for children in the foster care system. At that time,
growing awareness of the long foster care stays and repeated placements experienced by
many children, along with new understanding of the importance of psychological
attachment, led some practitioners to develop of a “foster/adoption” program targeting
children who were considered unlikely to return home. While some of those programs
experienced success in providing earlier permanence for children, they did not gain
widespread acceptance, especially in the legal community where lawyers representing
parents suggested that formulation of an alternate permanent plan indicated that
caseworkers were not sincere in reunification efforts (Katz, 1999; Munroe, 1997).

The central feature of concurrent planning is the early identification and genuine
consideration of all reasonable pe rmanency options for a child (Lutz, 2001). This
approach is contrasted with sequential case planning, which focuses on only one
permanency plan at a time, ruling it out before moving to the next alternative.

Although there is some variation among concurrent planning models and the way in
which they are implemented, it is generally agreed that sound concurrent planning
includes the following components:

   Individualized assessment and intensive, time limited work with families to address
    problems that necessitate out-of-home placement for children.
   Full, honest, and documented, disclosure with birth parents concerning identified
    problems, changes that must be made, possible consequences, and time frames.
   Collaboration among parents, foster parents, service providers and those within the
    child welfare and legal systems in the early identification and consideration of all
    reasonable options for permanency.
   Frequent and constructive use of parent-child visitation as part of reunification
    efforts. This implies visits that are carefully planned, based on the child’s

                                                              Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                  Research to Practice Initiat ive

    developmental needs, and used for both skill development and assessment of parental
    progress. The frequency of visits in concurrent planning is based on the unique
    family and child needs rather than on arbitrary policy guidelines.
   The early use of foster/adoptive placements or kinship placements that can provide
    permanence for children if they are unable to return to their families of origin.
   Involvement of foster/adoptive and kinship parents in working directly with the
    biological parents to teach skills, and communicate children’s needs.

Model Variations

Most concurrent planning programs target young children from families assessed to have
chronic pathology and thus considered unlikely to be reunited. Indeed, the approach was
developed to address the very young child’s more acute need for timely permanence.
However, the model also has also been applied with older youth and many argue that
children at every age should benefit from the measures to expedite permanency that are
part of concurrent planning. When models do target only younger children, commonly
used age ceilings are six and eight years. Some evaluation research has found that
younger children are more likely to benefit from concurrent planning and one study
(Potter & Klein- Rothschild, 2002) showed that it was most successful for children placed
before age three.

Most concurrent planning programs use an assessment matrix to assist in jud ging the
likelihood of reunification in order to select those families who are candidates for
concurrent planning. Such tools should include not only indicators of poor prognosis, but
consideration of strengths that might mitigate the effects of negative factors. Many
programs use the strengths and poor prognosis tools developed by Katz and her
colleagues or an adaptation of them, but some have developed their own. The most
commonly included poor prognosis indicators are the following (Lutz, 2001, p. 4-5):

   Parent has previously killed or seriously harmed another child through abuse or
    neglect and has not significantly changed since the incident.
   Parent has repeatedly and with premeditation harmed or tortured a child.
   Parent’s only visible support and only apparent connections are to the drug culture
    with no significant effort to change over time.
   Parent has significant, protracted and untreated mental health issues with no progress
    over time.
   Parent’s rights to another child have been involuntarily terminated with no significant
    change in the interim.

It is important to note that assessment tools do not infallibly predict outcomes. The
assessment tools used in concurrent planning were developed through consensus and
their reliability and validity remains questionable and subject to further refinement
through research.

Many concurrent planning models also include either family group conferencing or
mediation. Family group conferencing especially seems to fit well with concurrent

                                                              Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                  Research to Practice Initiat ive

planning given its ability to bring together all those with connections to the family and to
promote full and honest communication.

Findings of Evaluation Research

Research into the effects of concurrent planning is just emerging. Early evaluation
efforts were encouraging, but most programs studied were in private agencies which
served smaller numbers of children and had greater control over workloads (Katz, 1999).
However, some public agency and public-private partnership programs have now been in
operation long enough to have evaluations supporting their effectiveness. Findings of
some of the more prominent studies are summarized below:


Colorado instituted concurrent planning in pilot counties in response to 1994 legislation
mandating that all children age six and younger entering foster care must be in a
permanent placement within twelve months. This legislation specifically directed the
courts to work together with the public child welfare agency to achieve this mandate.
The state’s response, called Expedited Permanency Planning Process (EPP), included
concurrent planning combined with an accelerated judicial process for families with
young children.

An evaluation was conducted between 1995 and 1998 in the first two counties to
implement concurrent planning. The study sample consisted of a treatment group of 130
children and a comparison group of 105. Children were followed for a period of 18
months beginning with the filing of the dependency petition. In one county, 85% of the
EPP children attained permanence within 12 months and in the other county this was true
for 84% of the children. Differences with the comparison group were statistically
significant and impressive (22% to 32%).

In further research of EPP conducted during 1997 and 1998, Potter and Kle in- Rothchild
(2002) reviewed the cases of 366 children to determine which factors were associated
with attainment of permanency within one year. Factors pertaining to agency procedures
and service delivery were:
         Number of caseworkers (each additional caseworker assigned decreased the
            odds by63.2%)
         Number of placements
         Placement of children directly into foster care (rather than a receiving home)
         Clear identification of the concurrent plan in the written service plan
         Parental signing of the service plan
         More days per week of family visitation.


San Mateo County, California began its concurrent planning program in 1980. In an
evaluation conducted between 1990 to 1996, the median length of stay for children

                                                               Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                   Research to Practice Initiat ive

entering foster care was five months, compared with 17 months elsewhere in California.
Data also suggest that this shortened length of stay was accomplished without increased
risk of re-entry. Rate of re-entry for concurrent planning cases in San Mateo county was
12% compared with 19% for the state as a whole (Schene, 2001).


The Kentucky Adoption Opportunities Project (KAOP) was designed to achieve
permanency within one year for children ages eight and younger who were assessed as
being at high risk of remaining in foster care. It included concurrent planning along with
representation of children by a single attorney, structured efforts to improve
communication between the agency and courts, and measures to eliminate delays in the
judicial process. Evaluation was conducted in the pilot sites and included one urban and
one rural court. The operational definition of concurrent planning used in the study was
placement of the child in a kinship or foster/adoptive home willing to become a
permanent family if reunification efforts failed. A unique aspect of the model was that
the assessment instrument (an adaptation of that developed by Katz) used to determine
eligibility for concurrent planning was completed by the attorney at the court, rather than
by caseworkers.

The evaluation included 84 children in the urban and 30 in the rural court. Results were
less impressive than had been hoped, with 33% of the urban children and 27% of those in
the rural setting being in permanent placements at the end of twelve months. However,
lengths of stay were significantly shorter for the sample children than for the larger foster
care population. In the urban county, length of stay was 11.6 months versus 31.8 months
for other children and children in the rural region stayed for 16.9 months compared with
24.7 for the non-sample children (Martin, Barbee, Antle, & Sar, 2002).

The lack of early, accurate assessment of parent and child needs was identified as a major
barrier in attaining the services and making decisions that might have led to more time ly
permanence. Further, the qualitative component of the KAOP project which included
interviews with stakeholders, revealed that there were misconceptions in pilot sites about
goals and activities of the project and that these resulted in inconsistent imp lementation
of the model (Martin, et al., 2002)


Iowa’s Permanency for Teens Project (PTP), was a collaborative effort between the
public agency and a private non-profit agency. Unlike most other concurrent planning
programs, it targeted youth between the ages of 11 and 18 who were legally available for
adoption but for whom no adoptive resource had been identified. The study sample
consisted of 30 youths ages 13 to 17 who participated in the project and a comparison
group of 44 youths who also met the eligibility criteria. The approach included an in-
depth three-month assessment that involved the youth in identifying any persons, whether
related or not, with whom he or she had a connection. These persons formed a
“permanency team” who together worked with the youth to help realize his or her goals

                                                                Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                    Research to Practice Initiat ive

for permanency. Multiple options were explored simultaneously. Teams convened
Family Unity Meetings to develop assessment reports and plans and members
participated in targeted recruitment of resource families. They sought both to find
permanent families and to establish other positive supportive connections for the youths.
In a number of instances this involved re-connecting the teens with members of their
biological families.

Evaluation results showed that teens involved in the project improved on several
measures of wellbeing (e.g., greater self-esteem, lowered depression, internalizing and
externalizing behaviors). Although outcomes were mixed, results did suggest some
benefits in permanency and placement status for the PTP youths. More were in adoptive
placements and fewer were in residential care than in the comparison group Landsman,
Malone, Tyler, Black, & Groza, 1999).

Challenges and Considerations in Implementation

Target Population

Agencies implementing concurrent planning must determine whether they wish to target
only a specific group of children, such as those below a certain age, or those from
families with certain characteristics. Key considerations in this decision should include
the workload and level of skill of agency staff and the availability of foster/adoptive
home resources.

Resource Families

Virtually all evaluations of concurrent planning cite the recruitment, preparation, and
support of foster/adoptive parents as the greatest challenge. These families are asked to
commit to be a permanent resource for a child, yet to work actively and sincerely with his
or her birth family toward reunification. In addition, foster/adoptive families take part in
preparing and supporting resource family applicants and newly approved families.
Resource families require careful preparation, clear definition of their multiple roles, and
ongoing support from the agency. Because of this critical need, the Lutheran Community
Services model assigns separate, paired, caseworkers to biological families and resource
families (Northwest Resource Center for Children and Families, 2003).


Successful implementation of concurrent planning requires staff acceptance that it is
possible to work sincerely toward reunification while also developing an alternative plan.
It also assumes high levels of skill in conducting differential family assessment, applying
services that address both presenting and underlying parental problems, and in working
directly and openly with parents, foster parents, and the array of other professionals
involved in permanency efforts.

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                                                                   Research to Practice Initiat ive

Staff workloads must allow time for individualized and intensive work with birth parents,
for scheduling, planning, and supervising frequent visits, and for searching intensively
and quickly for relatives and absent parents. Some public agencies implementing
concurrent planning have developed support positions to handle relative searches and
other administrative tasks in order to provide caseworkers more time to work directly
with families (Lutz, 2001).


It is imperative that supervisors support concurrent planning, both philosophically and in
working more intensively with caseworkers. Supervisors must be skilled in questioning
and supporting staff in analyzing case information and making difficult decisions within
short time frames. Supervisors must also exercise leadership in promoting collaboration
among all parties involved in each case.

Agency Procedures

Agencies implementing concurrent planning are advised to examine procedures that may
add time to the permanency process. These may pertain to levels of case reviews,
procedures for accessing resources, time frames for completion of case documentation,
procedures for relating to legal staff and the courts, or case assignment practices. For
example, Katz and her staff have suggested that agencies eliminate distinctions between
adoption and foster care staff in order to avoid additional transitions that can often create
delays and disrupt relationships (Lutz, 2001).

Legal/Judicial System and Service Providers

It is critical that agency partners in serving families be part of the planning, training, and
implementation process. Cross training and structured collaboration must take place both
initially and on a continuing basis. Lack of acceptance on the part of any group can
jeopardize the effectiveness of concurrent planning.

Successful concurrent planning requires not only cooperation from the judicial system,
but the development and enforcement of procedures that ensure the smooth progress of
cases through the court. As these changes often have workload implications for attorneys
and judges, their involvement in planning is imperative.

Services such as mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, and housing, typically needed
by families, must be available. External service providers should be included in planning
efforts to ensure that they both accept the concurrent planning philosophy and can work
collaboratively to expedite service delivery.


Overall, evaluations of concurrent planning offer good support for the adoption of this
approach, especially with younger children. The primary benefit is the one intended:

                                                                Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                    Research to Practice Initiat ive

earlier attainment of a permanent family outside of the foster care system. Additionally,
although not documented in the studies included in this review, it is reported that the
openness and direct communication between parents and caregivers in concurrent
planning leads to more voluntary relinquishments and open adoptions. It is reasonable to
expect that when parents recognize that they cannot adequately care for their children,
they are better able to entrust them to caregivers they have come to know and respect.

Implementation of concurrent planning does, however, require careful and deliberate
planning and preparation, not only within the agency, but with other stakeholders as well.
To succeed, it must be supported philosophically and with adequate resources both within
the child welfare agency and in the larger community. Inability to secure needed services
for parents or lack of capacity to move cases expeditiously through the judicial process
will undermine concurrent planning efforts even when agencies are otherwise prepared to
implement this permanency approach.


The information and conclusions offered in this document are based on a review and
synthesis of the following articles and reports:

Katz, L. (1999). Concurrent planning: Benefits and pitfalls. Child Welfare, 78(1), 71-87.

Landsman, M.J., Malone, K., Tyler, M., Black, J., & Groza, V. (1999). Achieving
     permanency for teens: Lessons learned from a demonstration project. University of
     Iowa, National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice.

Lutz, L. (2001). Concurrent planning: Survey of selected sites. Hunter College School
      of Social Work, National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency

Martin, M.H., Barbee, A.P., Antle, B.F., & Sar, B. (2002). Expedited permanency
     planning: Evaluation of the Kentucky Adoptions Opportunities Project. Child
     Welfare, 81(2), 203-224.

Munroe, F. (1997). Pathways to permanent placements for young children in high-risk
    situations. In E.Wattenberg (ed.), Redrawing the family circle: Concurrent
    planning - Pathway to permanence for young children in high-risk situations.
    University of Minnesota School of Social Work, Center for Advanced Studies in
    Child Welfare.

North American Council on Adoptable Children (2001). Three concurrent planning
     programs – Executive Summary. Available on line at

                                                             Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                 Research to Practice Initiat ive

Northwest Resource Center for Children and Families (2003). Lutheran Community
     Services concurrent planning evaluation, Stuart Foundation final report. Seattle,
     WA: Author.

Potter, C.C. & Klein- Rothschild, S. (2002). Getting home on time: Predicting timely
      permanency for young children. Child Welfare, 81(2), 123-150

Schene, P. (2001). Implementing concurrent planning: A handbook for child welfare
     administrators. University of Southern Maine, National Resource Center for
     Organizational Improvement.

                                                            Child Welfare League of A merica
                                                                Research to Practice Initiat ive