SOUL Family Permanency Option for Older Youth in Foster Care
The proposed SOUL Family permanency option would create a circle of caring adults who provide support, opportunity, unity and legal relationships for young people ages 16 and older as they move from foster care to adulthood. At this critical point of development, young people need the anchor of a nurturing, lifelong family.
For young people in foster care, the current legal options for permanence are adoption, guardianship and reunification with their birth families. These options forge families that benefit many young people. However, young people have made clear that these do not meet the needs of many others. Each year, about 20,000 young people age out of foster care without a legal, permanent family, and they need support.
Young advocates with foster care experience proposed SOUL Family to expand the options, making it the fourth legally recognized family. The innovators are Jim Casey Fellows supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
What Is SOUL Family for Older Youth in Care?
Like adoption and guardianship, SOUL Family would establish a legal connection between a young person and at least one caring adult, ensuring young people exit foster care with a support system as they transition into adulthood.
Unlike adoption or guardianship, SOUL Family would allow young people to make these new connections without severing their legal ties with birth parents and siblings.
When reunification with birth family isn’t possible but maintaining bonds with loved ones and community is healthy and desirable, SOUL Family offers choices.
Promoting the SOUL Family Permanency Option
To help inform and educate state policymakers and legislators in adopting the SOUL Family permanency option, the Casey Foundation is investing in several strategies.
- Supporting a network of young adults with foster care experience who designed the proposed permanency option. These leaders are advocating with decision makers and child welfare systems to make this arrangement an available legal option.
- Raising the need for an array of community-based services that support young people’s well-being and success beyond foster care. Young people who leave foster care continue to need help to heal from trauma, thrive in a new family and prepare for adulthood. Many need help securing jobs, completing college and finding safe housing. Public systems should continue to support them during this key developmental window.
- Funding demonstration sites to share the experiences of states in their efforts to adopt the SOUL Family permanency option.
- Developing informational resources and sharing lessons to create a youth-led movement to do better by young people and help states and jurisdictions offer the type of lifelong family connections that support their needs and well-being.
SOUL Family Resources
SOUL Family Overview describes how this new model could support a young person — and how to support the adoption of this option in your state.
The SOUL Family Pathway infographic outlines what young people need to succeed and how SOUL Family helps connect youth with supportive relationships, tools and resources.
The SOUL Family Relationship Wheel infographic explains how a network of adults — including primary caregivers, birth parents and others — can help young people in foster care thrive.
Permanency Option Comparison Chart summarizes and compares at a glance key features of adoption, guardianship, reunification and the proposed SOUL Family permanency option. At full size, this version of the chart prints as a an 11x17-inch document.
Frequently Asked Questions answer common questions about SOUL Family, as well as about the importance of lifelong families for young people in foster care.
Youth-Friendly Frequently Asked Questions explain the SOUL Family proposal to young people in foster care and their peers involved in foster care advocacy.