Baby co-ops as an alternative to foster care

Baby co-operatives could provide a real alternative to foster care in the US according to Professor Michelle Goodwin, an academic at the University of Minnesota.

Baby co-operatives could provide a real alternative to foster care in the US according to Professor Michelle Goodwin, an academic at the University of Minnesota.

Professor Goodwin came up with this project six years ago when she was doing research on supply and demand to adopt in the US. Statistics show that only one in five children are adopted from Foster Care in the United States.

Michelle Goodwin explained: “The supply of children in US foster care far exceeds the demand for their adoption. Many of the people in the US who might want to adopt children in Foster Care may not be able to do so. The majority of children come from African American, Latino or from other poor economic areas.

“The population of people who may be inclined to adopt may also come from these areas, but might not have the kind of resources necessary to adopt. These individuals if they do not have the necessary resources may not fit the profile. It does not mean they are not good, responsible or loving people."

Professor Goodwin also stressed the current major issues revealed by the Child Welfare Report of 2010 on Foster Care in the US. They include: high incarceration rates, juvenile delinquency and sexual exploitation while under the state’s supervision.

To address these issues, Professor Goodwin proposes a radical alternative in the form of baby co-operatives. This new platform would enable individuals to gather together as a family through a legal partnership, the protocol being quite similar to the current one that people who want to adopt go through. The programme would be based upon the idea of institutionalising contracts between related adults, for example a mother and a daughter or two friends.

“What we have today in the US Foster Care is something that has evolved, but we sort of stumbled across and it is a programme that has not invested in articulating a new dynamic a new framework. The current clientele for adoption is very different than the clientele of 40-50 years ago.”

Two to five adults in a “family civil union” would form “baby co-operatives”. To qualify as a family civil union the individuals involved would have to: have known each other for at least two years prior to application submission, possess sufficient income to support their present households without relying on government assistance and provide references that can attest to the bond of the individuals applying for civil union.

They would also need to undergo screening for criminal records and child protective service records and an assessment of their stability and their home's safety. They would also need to complete an orientation and pre-placement training programme prior to civil union licensure and a home study.

Professor Goodwin said that although there are many loving carers among those fostering, abuses have also been made in some instances. She believes the money incentive can determine people who seek a financial opportunity, rather than the children themselves, to foster care and this does not guarantee children will grow up in a loving environment.

Professor Goodwin claims the baby co-op alternative would secure a permanent home for children, not a provisional one, “a transplant, not a dialysis”. She also added that if more adoptions were enabled, money which would otherwise be spent on Foster Caring could be redirected to fund colleges for children currently in Foster Care.

Michele Goodwin is the Everett Fraser Professor in Law at the University of Minnesota. She holds joint appointments at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Professor’s Goodwin’s article "Baby Co-operatives: Rethinking the Nature of Families" is available online.


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