Report: Youth in Foster Care Need Family, Not Just Skills for Independence

Posted March 5, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Permanence study chart

A grow­ing num­ber of old­er youth are exit­ing fos­ter care with­out legal, per­ma­nent con­nec­tions to fam­i­ly — a real­i­ty that imper­ils their abil­i­ty to suc­ceed as adults, accord­ing to a new report from the Nation­al Cen­ter for Youth Law.

Pro­mot­ing Per­ma­nen­cy for Teens describes what states and child wel­fare agen­cies can do to help teens thrive upon leav­ing fos­ter care. The report, which the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion fund­ed, places par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on the pow­er­ful role that sup­port­ive adults can play. Absent such con­nec­tions, young peo­ple who exit care are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence a dev­as­tat­ing storm of aca­d­e­m­ic, phys­i­cal and finan­cial struggles.

States are using a vari­ety of strate­gies to address per­ma­nen­cy for teens — some good, some not so good,” says Tracey Feild, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. This time­ly study can help pol­i­cy­mak­ers and child wel­fare prac­ti­tion­ers make urgent­ly need­ed pol­i­cy and prac­tice changes.”

More than 23,000 young peo­ple age out out of fos­ter care each year — an increase of 21% in just two decades. Yet, young peo­ple do bet­ter when they reuni­fy with fam­i­ly or gain fam­i­ly through guardian­ship or adop­tion, accord­ing to research. Unless we change how we sup­port young peo­ple — espe­cial­ly in their quest to be part of a lov­ing fam­i­ly — they will con­tin­ue to face poor out­comes when they age out of fos­ter care,” says Feild.

Pro­mot­ing Per­ma­nen­cy for Teens iden­ti­fies five key ele­ments of suc­cess­ful teen per­ma­nen­cy poli­cies. These are:

  1. efforts to locate rel­a­tives of teens in care;
  2. parental vis­i­ta­tion with teens in care;
  3. teen voice and rep­re­sen­ta­tion in per­ma­nen­cy and case planning;
  4. pay­ments and ser­vices for teens and care­givers achiev­ing per­ma­nen­cy; and
  5. efforts to locate and sup­port teens miss­ing from care.

The report also out­lines five basic rec­om­men­da­tions that states should fol­low to bet­ter address a young person’s need for fam­i­ly. These are:

  1. Search for fam­i­ly ear­ly and often. Require a robust and ongo­ing search for rel­a­tives and oth­er mean­ing­ful adults.
  2. Pro­mote fre­quent fam­i­ly vis­its. Require parental vis­i­ta­tion at least once a week, empha­siz­ing dai­ly vis­i­ta­tion and con­tact for teens like­ly to reuni­fy with family.
  3. Plan for per­ma­nen­cy from the start — and nev­er stop. Require month­ly per­ma­nen­cy plan­ning and fam­i­ly find­ing ser­vices that fea­tures input and par­tic­i­pa­tion from teens and their cho­sen representatives.
  4. Tear down per­ma­nen­cy bar­ri­ers. If finan­cial and ser­vice bar­ri­ers to per­ma­nen­cy exist, remove them.
  5. Search for run­aways and miss­ing teens — and nev­er give up. As the report notes: Youth who run from their fos­ter care place­ment are often at extreme risk of fur­ther harm,” yet state efforts to locate and per­cent run­aways vary wide­ly.” To rem­e­dy this, the Nation­al Cen­ter for Youth Law rec­om­mends requir­ing agen­cies to sup­port ongo­ing, active and doc­u­ment­ed search­es for miss­ing young peo­ple and to have ded­i­cat­ed staff mem­bers con­duct these searches.

Read the full report

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