Kansas to Pilot Permanency Option for Older Youth in Foster Care

Posted April 5, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A woman hugs another person, whose back is turned to the camera. The woman is smiling and happy. h

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Fel­lows have pro­posed a new legal path­way for young adults in fos­ter care to build per­ma­nent fam­i­lies. The option would allow youth ages 16 and old­er to choose a cir­cle of care­givers and kin to serve as their life­long SOUL Family.

SOUL stands for sup­port, oppor­tu­ni­ty, uni­ty and legal rela­tion­ships, which describe the goals of the pro­posed per­ma­nen­cy pathway.

Expand­ing the Path­ways to Permanency

States have long offered three path­ways to per­ma­nen­cy for young adults in fos­ter care: adop­tion, legal guardian­ship and reuni­fi­ca­tion. These cur­rent options do not fit every young person’s cir­cum­stances. They did not fit mine,” says Patri­cia Duh, a Jim Casey Fel­low from Hawaii and per­ma­nen­cy con­sul­tant for SOUL Fam­i­ly.

Duh recalls that, when her time in extend­ed fos­ter care ran out, she was left to man­age her basic needs, recon­nect with estranged birth fam­i­ly mem­bers and begin to heal. If a SOUL Fam­i­ly option had exist­ed, she says, her path to self-suf­fi­cien­cy might have been less stressful.

There is no one shoe, one size, that fits all youth when they age out,” Duh says. We have to begin to devel­op oth­er options.”

Cue the Kansas Depart­ment for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, which has signed on to serve as a SOUL Fam­i­ly demon­stra­tion site.

We are thrilled to wel­come part­ners in Kansas to this vital effort of strength­en­ing and expand­ing legal per­ma­nen­cy options for teens in fos­ter care,” says San­dra Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez, vice pres­i­dent of Casey’s Cen­ter for Sys­tems Innovation. 

A Youth-led Initiative

SOUL Family’s inno­va­tors — peo­ple who, like Duh, are no strangers to fos­ter care — are seek­ing legal recog­ni­tion for the pro­pos­al so that states can offer it to young adults as option no. 4 in the path­way to permanency.

Their quest is decid­ed­ly personal.

SOUL Fam­i­ly is a promis­ing pro­pos­al respond­ing to needs iden­ti­fied by young peo­ple who expe­ri­enced aging out,” Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez explains. They craft­ed this pro­pos­al to make the path eas­i­er in the future for youth who need families.” 

Jim Casey Fel­lows Speak Up

Since 2018, Jim Casey Fel­lows from 17 sites across the nation have been shar­ing their expe­ri­ences with adop­tion, fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion and legal guardian­ship. Some lived on their own after aging out of fos­ter care. Some expe­ri­enced failed place­ments. Many believe they had lit­tle or no pow­er in deci­sions that defined their fam­i­lies as they left fos­ter care.

While work­ing with child wel­fare experts, legal advo­cates, allies and peers, they con­clud­ed that the exist­ing per­ma­nen­cy options need to be strength­ened and expand­ed. They want a per­ma­nen­cy option to provide:

  • con­nec­tions to their sib­lings, com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures to sup­port their sense of whole­ness and belonging;
  • rela­tion­ships that last beyond the state-des­ig­nat­ed age of maturity;
  • free­dom from the too-com­mon dilem­ma of hav­ing to choose between gain­ing a per­ma­nent fam­i­ly or receiv­ing finan­cial assis­tance for basic needs; and
  • a voice in deci­sions made about their futures and their families.

As a young per­son myself that did not achieve per­ma­nen­cy, SOUL Fam­i­ly spoke to me so much,” recalls Andrew Salazar, a Jim Casey Fel­low and SOUL Fam­i­ly per­ma­nen­cy con­sul­tant from New Mex­i­co. It gives young peo­ple the chance not only at achiev­ing per­ma­nen­cy but at achiev­ing per­ma­nen­cy on their own terms.”

Enter­ing Adult­hood Alone

Every year, about 20,000 young peo­ple — almost half of youth ages 16 and old­er in fos­ter care — tran­si­tion out of fos­ter care with­out a lov­ing, sup­port­ive and per­ma­nent fam­i­ly. Black and His­pan­ic youth are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly among those sud­den­ly on their own and at risk of expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness and oth­er major setbacks.

To address the con­tin­u­ing chal­lenges of young peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing from fos­ter care with­out a fam­i­ly, we must be bold and inno­v­a­tive and try some­thing new — some­thing designed by young peo­ple, who know best what they need,” says Leslie Gross, who directs Casey’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group.

How SOUL Fam­i­ly Would Work

The pro­posed path­way posi­tions young peo­ple, ages 16 and old­er, to choose one or more pri­ma­ry care­givers and addi­tion­al car­ing adults to be their SOUL Fam­i­ly. Pri­ma­ry care­givers would com­mit to form­ing a legal­ly rec­og­nized, life­long rela­tion­ship with the young per­son, and the oth­er adults would artic­u­late their sup­port­ive roles. 

Form­ing a SOUL Fam­i­ly would not sev­er the young person’s bio­log­i­cal fam­i­ly ties. Mem­bers of the SOUL Fam­i­ly could include birth par­ents, rel­a­tives and sib­lings as well as for­mer fos­ter par­ents, men­tors, coach­es and oth­er fam­i­ly friends. This new and expand­ed con­cept of fam­i­ly would sup­port youth in access­ing crit­i­cal resources, includ­ing pay­ing for basic needs, such as hous­ing and edu­ca­tion expens­es. The exact aid offered may dif­fer from state to state.

For Duh, the evo­lu­tion of SOUL Fam­i­ly is a wel­come move in the right direc­tion, dri­ven by the right experts. We all need to lis­ten to what young peo­ple are telling us regard­ing per­ma­nen­cy,” she says. They have a wide range of hopes and indi­vid­u­al­ized needs, and our sys­tems and laws need to reflect that.”

Learn more about SOUL Family

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