Pennsylvania Moves to Find Families for Teens in Foster Care

Posted January 18, 2023, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A happy family sits together. They smile at the camera. On the left side of the frame is a Black teen girl. In the middle of the frame is a multiracial teen girl, who hugs a Black woman to her right.

Recent changes in a Penn­syl­va­nia law expand efforts to find sup­port­ive fam­i­lies and care­givers for teens in fos­ter care. The new pro­vi­sion improves recruit­ment prac­tices for fam­i­lies and helps pre­pare young peo­ple to thrive as they age out of fos­ter care and into adult­hood. The changes took effect on Jan­u­ary 22023.

This is a huge win for more than 5,500 chil­dren in fos­ter care who are ages 14 and old­er,” says Rachael M. Miller, pol­i­cy direc­tor of Penn­syl­va­nia Part­ner­ships for Chil­dren, a Casey grantee.

Increas­ing Sup­port for Teens in Fos­ter Care

The new law curbs coun­ty agen­cies’ use of Anoth­er Planned Per­ma­nent Liv­ing Arrange­ment (APPLA) — a process that allows local child wel­fare offi­cials to pri­or­i­tize inde­pen­dence over fed­er­al­ly pre­ferred fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships for old­er youth — by rais­ing the age of eli­gi­bil­i­ty from ages 16 to 18. It com­pels coun­ty agen­cies to per­sist in the hard work of locat­ing fam­i­lies for teens in fos­ter care, requir­ing them to doc­u­ment their efforts. Case plan­ning to deter­mine place­ment now must con­tin­ue until a child is 21 years old.

In addi­tion to chang­ing APPLA eli­gi­bil­i­ty, the law — which was approved by state leg­is­la­tors and Gov­er­nor Tom Wolf in late 2022 — requires:

  • Child wel­fare work­ers to iden­ti­fy young people’s kin as poten­tial care­givers, when avail­able, and include this kin in plan­ning for young people’s future. One goal of this effort is to ensure con­tact infor­ma­tion for rel­a­tives will be avail­able to young peo­ple who are prepar­ing to age out of fos­ter care.
  • An increase in the num­ber of adults recruit­ed to help sup­port a teen in fos­ter care, as list­ed in the child’s court-approved tran­si­tion plan. Past law required case­work­ers to iden­ti­fy one adult con­nec­tion for a youth. Agen­cies must now iden­ti­fy at least two and doc­u­ment how those sup­port­ive con­nec­tions were includ­ed in per­ma­nen­cy planning.
  • Strength­ened account­abil­i­ty by giv­ing judges the pow­er to deter­mine that young peo­ple have received sup­port ser­vices and an appro­pri­ate tran­si­tion plan.
  • A revamp of data col­lec­tion prac­tices by the state’s 67 coun­ty child wel­fare agen­cies. They must more clear­ly show how the old­er youth they serve are faring.

The change means coun­ty agen­cies and case­work­ers will have an addi­tion­al two years, or more, to search for long-term fam­i­ly place­ments for young peo­ple who need sup­port­ive adults in their lives,” Miller said. We are real­ly doing all we can to set this pop­u­la­tion up for success.”

Read more about permanence

More Sta­ble Con­nec­tions for Teens

Plan­ning for inde­pen­dence is con­sid­ered a last resort. Child wel­fare agen­cies should instead focus on per­ma­nen­cy options that pro­vide a fam­i­ly: adop­tion, reuni­fi­ca­tion with the birth fam­i­ly or guardianship.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, Penn­syl­va­nia law per­mit­ted coun­ties to place youth in an APPLA arrange­ment at age 16, giv­ing up on help­ing build fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships just as young people’s devel­op­ment requires these vital con­nec­tions. Some teens would stay in group care set­tings until they aged out of fos­ter care. In many cas­es, the agen­cies assign­ing teens to APPLA would stop look­ing for the per­ma­nent place­ments and care­givers that would help those young peo­ple thrive.

Accord­ing to the Casey Foundation’s 2018 Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions, an esti­mat­ed 37% of young Penn­syl­va­ni­ans who aged out of fos­ter care did not have sta­ble hous­ing. The report also high­light­ed the needs of old­er youth, a quar­ter of whom had not fin­ished high school or earned a high school equiv­a­len­cy cer­tifi­cate. Data show that young peo­ple who have been in fos­ter care expe­ri­ence poor­er out­comes by age 21 than their peers not in the sys­tem. This kind of data — as well as tes­ti­mo­ny from young peo­ple with fos­ter care expe­ri­ence — helped Penn­syl­va­nia advo­cates urge law­mak­ers to strength­en efforts that con­nect teens with families.

Young peo­ple need, want and deserve more than APPLA pro­vides,” said Leslie Gross, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group. We hope more states will fol­low Pennsylvania’s exam­ple of rely­ing less on APPLA and more on con­nect­ing young peo­ple with kin and trust­ed adults in their own com­mu­ni­ties. Legal per­ma­nen­cy options that form fam­i­lies, such as kin­ship and the pro­posed SOUL Fam­i­ly option that Kansas is pilot­ing, address young people’s need for rock-sol­id rela­tion­ships that help them thrive.”

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