Child Welfare Ideas From the Experts #4: Training Older Youth

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 11 former foster youths who 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 carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today, we highlight the recommendation of Darrah Hall, 22, a senior at the University of Memphis and a peer advocate for foster youth in Tennessee.

Photo_Darrah_FYI2014
Darrah Hall, 22, Foster Youth intern for the Senate Finance Committee

The Proposal

The scope of the federally funded Court Improvement Program should be extended to support trainings of foster youths age 14 and above.

Trainings would “explain court and agency personnel, their roles, legal definitions, court processes and timelines.” They would also educate youths in applicable states about permanency options after 18, with a goal of increasing the amount of youth who choose to stay in extended foster care.

The Argument

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008, permits states to seek federal reimbursement for youths who choose to stay in foster care between the ages of 18 and 21.

So far, 19 states have created a reimbursable foster care system to serve these older youths. The Government Accountability Office examined data from 13 of those states and found just 4,997 youths above 18 for whom states received a federal foster care payments.

In Her Own Words

“As a peer advocate, I counseled older youth about their upcoming transition out of care. As I listened to them, I noticed a recurring theme of confusion surrounding their permanency and treatment plans, and many expressed disinterest in their transition plans.

The youth felt turning 18 meant ‘freedom’ from the system that regulated every aspect of their lives, and they preferred that ‘freedom’ even to their own detriment and future lack of support and services.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Hall appears to have hit on a blind spot in the measurement of Fostering Connections.  Much attention is paid to how many states are implementing the extension of foster care to 21, and why many states have not opted in.

But in the states that have implemented, it appears there is a lack of information on how interested older youths are in taking the state up on its offer.

On the one hand, you have Hall’s first-hand experience discussing the option with Memphis youths, who live in a state where an extended stay in foster care is on the table. She describes a frequently expressed distaste or distrust for the foster care system.

On the other hand you have a state like California, where the number of youths who have stayed in foster care past 18 has skyrocketed since Fostering Connections.

Hall’s broader recommendation is relevant in any state, whether or not participation in extended foster care is high or low. Older youths, facing the prospect of entering adulthood alone, deserve an informed training on what options are out there and who to talk to about them.

In the case of the disillusioned youths that Hall spoke with, such a training might reveal to them that in some states, some of the post-18 care options involve far less monitoring than what they are used to in normal care.

In other states, the nature of older care could be a problem. The GAO report cites several challenges to successful 18+ programs that were identified to them by states, including “developing a program that meets the specific needs of older youth.”

The dialogue on that is only helped by including informed older teens.

Click here to read Hall’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

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2 Comments

  1. If training is considered cruelty for orcas why is this okay language to use about foster kids? The simple use of a the word “for” after training would humanize this sentence, and even better would be to use different wording altogether. Treating us like we’re subhuman leaks through in your language, in case you were still wondering about why so few of us want to stick around after 18. Call it a post-care options seminar like you would if you were marketing the program to actual human people and you might see some improvement.

  2. Yes, in California the number of youth’s staying in foster care has skyrocketed. But, from my experience most do not last more than just a few months. Unfortunately, they’ve not been given the tools (not a toaster and knife set as a reward for attending ILP meetings) needed to make choices early on while still within their foster family where they can ‘safely’ practice succeeding and failing.
    We were a foster family for 20+ years, and our boys knew they still had a ‘home’ after 18. Eventually, our birth son (still single) bought a house for the sole purpose of giving his ‘brothers’ a home for as long as they needed it. Now, 5 yrs later with just 2 of them still there, he offered a bedroom to Gary, a graduate from the boy’s ranch where he is a counselor.
    Gary is learning to buy and prepare food, do laundry, manage his free time and, ride his bike to and from college; while living in a drug, tobacco and alcohol free home with other post-foster young men.
    It takes more than a government funded program. For foster kids to succeed it takes mentors like my son and his ‘brothers’ who will walk beside Gary as he ‘practices’ transitioning from the structure of a Level 12 group home to the freedom of adulthood.

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