Removing Barriers to Everyday Experiences: Normalcy and Foster Care
It’s hard enough for any young person to grapple with the myriad changes and challenges that come with growing up. But teens in foster care face seemingly endless barriers to everyday experiences that their peers who aren’t in foster care often take for granted.
Youth in foster care often cannot attend a sleepover unless the friend’s family undergoes a background check. They cannot play on a sports team because of the liability associated with potential injuries. Some child welfare systems even require court approval for a hairstyle change. These typical experiences, which range from working a summer job to joining the school band and getting a driver’s license, are often out of reach for young people in foster care because such factors as restrictive child welfare policies designed to keep children safe, frequent placement moves, and the lack of funds and transportation.
Collectively referred to as “normalcy,” these growing-up experiences are proven by research and experience to help young people learn how to navigate the world responsibly and with confidence.
“The main thing that I wanted to do but couldn’t because I was in foster care was basketball,” says Eddye Vanderkwaak, a young fellow with the Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. “There was nowhere for me to stay for games out of town. I did not want to ask my coaches and teammates’ parents if they would have a background check done. It wasn’t normal. It was humiliating and I lost out on so many supports and meaningful experiences I could have had during my teenage years.”
To help address these challenges, the 2014 federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (the Strengthening Families Act or SFA), includes key provisions aimed at promoting normalcy for young people in foster care, such as:
- Requiring states to implement a “reasonable and prudent parent” standard that allows caregivers to make more daily decisions for young people in their care;
- Mandating child welfare systems engage all young people in their case planning beginning at age 14; and
- Eliminating the use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as a permanency goal for children under 16, as well as the addition of case planning and oversight requirements when APPLA is used.
Casey’s recent issue brief, “What Young People Need To Thrive: Leveraging the Strengthening Families Act to Promote Normalcy,” details these provisions and also includes young people’s recommendations for how states can effectively implement them. The brief highlights the importance of normalcy to the overall healthy development of young people in foster care and captures how youth view normalcy and foster care — both what they wish for and the barriers they face.
Additionally, the Jim Casey Initiative has recently hosted a six-part webinar series, “Leveraging the Strengthening Families Act,” to highlight key SFA provisions that hold potential for righting the experiences of young people. Many of the new requirements could make the stories of youth in foster care much more like the stories of all youth.
SFA’s combined focus on family, youth engagement and normal growing-up experiences provides a much-needed boost to improving overall well-being for young people in foster care. It does this in part by giving youth and their foster parents greater authority to make decisions and build critical relationships, says Todd Lloyd, a senior policy associate for the Casey Foundation.
“The Strengthening Families Act is an opportunity to reduce the hurdles foster parents face,” Lloyd says. “The normalcy provisions can enable foster parents to focus on being loving, supportive parents to young people in their care to help them make the critical transition into adulthood.”