SOUL Family Permanency Option for Older Youth in Foster Care

Updated on May 9, 2022, and originally posted April 2, 2022, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young Black man holds older Black woman

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.

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