SOUL Family Permanency Option for Older Youth in Foster Care

Updated May 9, 2022 | 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: The Ori­gin Sto­ry details how the mod­el came to be. 

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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