Supporting Expectant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care and Their Children

Posted November 28, 2014, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

As more child welfare systems extend foster care to the age of 21, these agencies will have an increased number of expectant and parenting youth in their systems. These young people will confront multiple obstacles as they balance their own transition into adulthood with the responsibilities of becoming nurturing parents. Recognizing the urgency of improving outcomes for these youth and their children, the Foundation partnered with the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) to develop and test a comprehensive set of policy recommendations geared to child welfare systems. New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services and the Child Protective Services division of the Sacramento County (Calif.) Department of Health and Human Services have been selected to implement and test these policy recommendations by developing a multigenerational approach for expectant and parenting youth and their children. 

Twice the Opportunity: Policy recommendations to support expectant and parenting youth in foster care and their children, outlines key elements to guide policymakers and child welfare administrators in developing a set of comprehensive strategies to improve outcomes for these young families.  

As the two jurisdictions begin implementation, all activities will be tracked and monitored with a strong focus on the following three policy areas:

  • Data
    Child welfare systems currently lack a consistent and reliable source of data for expectant and parenting youth in foster care and their children, which compromises the system’s ability to understand their complex needs and identify strategies to address them.  CSSP’s policy guide recommends the inclusion of a data point to trigger entry for data collection and tracking within administrative data systems.  This is a powerful tool to identify the needs of these young families, to track and document program outcomes, to assess a policy’s impact and to communicate how they are faring compared to expectant and parenting youth not in foster care.  Sacramento and New York City each will put in place sustainable strategies for ongoing data collection and analysis.  
     
  • Evidence-based and evidence-informed practice 
    To support these young families, child welfare systems need a range of evidence-rich services that are responsive to the developmental needs of adolescents and young children. CSSP recommends that all policies and practices be informed by research, evidence of effectiveness and credible theory. As part of the ongoing work to support child welfare systems in achieving results on behalf of these youth and their children, CSSP has compiled a compendium of evidence-based, evidence-informed services for this population. This tool allows jurisdictions to easily identify effective strategies geared toward their particular objectives in addressing the unique needs of these young families, and will be used to identify appropriate programs in Sacramento and New York City. 
     
  • Permanency and Fatherhood 
    Given the complex demands of transitioning to adulthood while taking care of a child, young parents need the support of a permanent family more than ever.  CSSP’s policy recommendations underpin the value of ensuring that these youth and their children have access to all permanency services and are not excluded from options due to their parenting status.  Additionally, it suggests policies that set expectations for father identification and engagement to help fathers become a positive force in their children’s lives. We expect to learn from New York City and Sacramento about their efforts to increase both permanency and fatherhood engagement for these young families. 

In addition to the areas above, the document outlines key elements of voluntary return policies for youth who exit foster care prior to 21, as well as elements of  key policy recommendations for addressing the health, safety, permanency, educational, housing and financial needs of both the youth in foster care and their children.
CSSP and the Foundation are committed to supporting child welfare systems in designing policies and practices that address the needs of these youth and their children and create a system of opportunities through which they can thrive.