I've told myself several times that I should write a book on "101 Ways a Match Can Fall Apart." I kept track during 2005, and while 96 children came home, 120 children were matched with families that they were never placed with. Here are the top five reasons that I have seen for a match not turning into a placement (not necessarily in order).
1) The foster parents change their minds and decide to adopt. This happens SO often. Foster parents, who for years have been saying they are not interested, are doing so because they really never believed that the time would come that they would have to say goodbye. So they wait until the last minute before they say, "HEY, WAIT. We want these kids." I never get too upset when this happens because I do matching for the sake of the kids and most of the time it is best for the kids to stay with a foster family that they are bonded to, even if that family is slow in making a commitment. I have seen the foster parents step in and insist on taking the kids as late as two or three days before the selected adoptive family was supposed to meet the kids. It is a horrible thing to go through, but it happens a lot.
2) The family that is matched changes their mind about the kids after reading the case file. My experience is that MANY adoptive families decline the first child whose file they read. Case files are horrible nasty things that detail the abuse the child has suffered and their behaviors from their first day in foster care until the day they are waiting to be adopted. So there is a great deal of yucky stuff, to use a professional term, in the case file. Many matches fall through at this time.
3) A surprise appeal is filed. Birth parents can file an appeal to the Termination of Parental Rights decision and when they do so a hold is placed on the case and the social worker cannot proceed with a placement. So often it the adoptive parents do not want to wait and they move on. Or, once and a while, the birth parents win.
4) A relative comes forward. Social workers are supposed to do an extensive relative search BEFORE letting other non-relatives know about the available children. But sometimes a relative cannot be found that turns up after a family is selected. The case is put on hold until it is determined if it is in the child's best interest to be adopted by the relative and it is often determined that it is best for the child to go to a relative.
5) The case is delayed and the family just can't wait and they move on. There are so many ways that a placement can be delayed. A worker has a death in the family, or goes on maternity leave, or goes on vacation. A worker quits and the case has to be reassigned. The Interstate Compact Office in one state or the other takes a long time or puts a hold on the placement. The child becomes unstable and needs a psych hospitalization or a stay in a residential treatment center or a medical procedure. The supervisor or program director can request more information. The subsidy negotiations take too long. Paperwork is missing and needs to be collected. The homestudy is now out of date and needs to be updated. Some families after waiting three or four or six or ten months just can't wait any longer and give up.
There are variations of these five things as well as a few other reasons that aren't as common. But the bottom line is that even if you are matched with kids it doesn't mean they are moving in. People ask me "when should I get emotionally involved with the child?" and after doing this for four years, I often respond, "When you see them sleeping in their own bed in your own home you can begin."