Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #12: Federal Foster Home Preservation Strategies

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Jennifer Rhodes, 23, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University.

The Proposal

Jennifer Rhodes, 23, a graduate of
Jennifer Rhodes, 23, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University. Photo: CCAI

Rhodes would establish a pilot program that funds one or several child welfare agencies to supply what she calls “foster placement preservation services.” This would entail trained professionals offering conflict resolution training and support to help settle problems in a foster placement before they got to the point that a foster home would request the child be removed.

Rhodes would also have Congress “establish federal guidelines for all foster youth to receive a 14- to 30-day notice of a placement change.”

The Argument

Recent federal data shows that 85 percent of foster youth are in care for a year or more. Of that group, two-thirds experience three or more foster care placements.

“Multiple placement moves have a detrimental effect on the child’s ability to develop close, trusting relationships in the long term,” Rhodes argues. The frequent changes make it all the more challenging to master problem-solving skills and develop positive relationships with adults.

In Her Own Words

“During my time in foster care, I remember being in 16 foster homes, one group home, and two juvenile detention centers. The majority of my placement moves came without warning or explanation.

Moved from one unfamiliar place to another, I remained the only thing permanent in my life. This instability, accompanied by feelings of being unwanted and worthless, created a traumatic childhood.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

As Rhodes highlights, 85 out of 100 foster youth are in care for more than a year. And of that group, 66 of 100 will go through three placements or more.

There is probably not a practical way to put a hard stop on placement frequency, either at a local, state or federal level. But Rhodes makes a brilliant recommendation aimed treating the problem with weed killer before it grows into an unwieldy bramble.

Some percentage of placement changes are going to happen, with or without some attempt at mediation. But Rhodes’ gambit is that, with a professional attempt at conflict resolution, some of those foster families and foster children will be able to work out their problems or differences.

2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program. Photo: CCAI
2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program. Photo: CCAI

And along the way, the child will have learned a meaningful lesson in problem solving, instead of a harsh reminder of how easy it is for non-biological family to give up on you.

Will it work every time? Of course not. But if such a pilot program could demonstrate a marked decline in placement changes, you would have the grounds to make a case for more investment in that approach.

There is little chance Congress would consider a broad requirement of notice before removal; that is a fairly significant intrusion into how states manage their foster homes. It is, however, an excellent idea to push individually on a state level, where legislators might have never even considered this issue.

We’d throw in one caveat: Some group of older foster youth, maybe eight and above, should be able to waive notice so they could move placements immediately, if that’s what they wanted. You wouldn’t want to put a youth in the position where they were staying with a family that had expressed a desire to move them, if that isn’t what the youth wanted.

And were a federal pilot program on foster home preservation services to grow into something bigger, Congress would certainly be smart to make such a notice period a requirement to use federal funds for the preservation services.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1117 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.