Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #3: Individual Care Plans for Disabled Foster Youth

David Hall, 23, a graduate of Oklahoma City University. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

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. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.

Today we highlight the recommendation of David Hall, 23, a graduate of Oklahoma City University.

The Proposal

Hall argues for changes to federal law and policy aimed at protecting the interests of children with disabilities living in foster care. His first recommendation is that it be mandatory for a disabled child in foster care to receive an Individualized Care Plan (ICP) that would “inform appropriate placement decisions and improve their well-being and quality of life in care.”

He would also have the Department of Health and Human Services establish a clearinghouse for quality curricula and best practices on working with disabled children; establish a “reasonable efforts” standard for systems that are transitioning disabled kids to adult services; and prohibit federal funds for congregate care settings where there has been a substantiated case of institutional neglect or abuse.

The Argument

Hall argues that Congress long ago required school systems to develop Individual Education Plans (IEP) for students who need special education, and that this same need for customized attention is present among disabled foster youth.

“Like IEPs, the ICP would require that children be placed in the least restrictive environment based strictly on their assessed needs, not just on what services and settings may be available,” he said.

In Their Own Words

“During my first experience in care at 8 years old, I was placed in seven different inpatient facilities over one six-month period. I received poor counseling, was overmedicated, and I actively manipulated undertrained staff into giving me sedatives just so I could skip classes. During this period, my mom and my grandparents were not informed about my placement changes, and our communication was cut off.”

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

The Chronicle’s Take

Hall’s own horrific experience in foster care is a cautionary tale on what can happen if nobody has to stick to a plan based on the least restrictive setting for a child. Flung around residential care, overmedicated, family not involved – these are the stories that built Congress’ interest in limiting and regulating the use of such programs (at least with federal money involved).

We aren’t entirely sure what Hall sees as the scope of kids who would have to have an ICP; it sounds from his description like it would be any youth admitted to congregrate care facilities and diagnosed with a disability. If that is the case, it seems like an entirely plausible concept for ensuring the treatment stability and deserved special attention that an IEP is supposed to guarantee in school settings.

The notion of a third “reasonable efforts” standard for disabled youth aging out of foster care is a good one. Too often, we hear open acknowledgment of the fact that once a teen with high needs gets close to that age of emancipation, his or her case becomes a payer turf war, instead of what should be happening: a meaningful effort at seamless continuity to help manage complex needs.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1115 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.