Removing Barriers to Everyday Experiences: Normalcy and Foster Care

Posted June 23, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog jimcaseynormalcy 2016

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.”

Find addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about SFA and its nor­mal­cy pro­vi­sions.

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