A new report from the National Center for Youth Law looks at state policies that are successful at helping older foster youth gain permanency as they transition to adulthood.
For older teens, that is often difficult. According to the authors of the report, providers, agencies and advocates must balance two different visions of permanency when thinking about youth who are on the brink of aging out of the foster care system: a permanent connection to some kind of family and meeting the self-sufficiency goals of young people as they pursue a greater degree of independence in adulthood.
In “Promoting Permanency for Teens: A 50 State Review of Law and Policy,” National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) researchers look across the country for policies and practices that address permanency objectives for older foster youth.
The report makes the following five recommendations that should underpin permanency plans for teens in foster care:
- Require agencies to make a robust effort to locate relatives and other meaningful adults who could care for the teen.
- Include regular parental visits for teens in foster care, including at least once a week for young people for whom reunification is the primary path toward reunification.
- Make caring for teens easier for relatives and other non-related extended family members by providing equitable financial resources to caregivers and support to older youth, even after they’ve left foster care or reunified with family.
- Give teens a voice in determining different permanency options, including during the case-planning process.
- Provide well-resourced and thorough searches for teens who go missing from foster care and for youth who return to care, addressing their needs with an updated case plan.
The NCYL report notes that while the number of children in foster care across the country has plummeted over the course of the past 20 years, teenagers aging out of foster care without a permanent family has increased during that time, from 19,000 to 23,000 youth a year.
Not having a family or permanent connection can make many transition-age foster youth more vulnerable.
“Youth who exit care without achieving permanency are at risk of several negative outcomes, including lower income, poorer health and higher arrest rates than their peers in the general population,” the report reads.
As federal policy has increasingly emphasized permanency over the last several decades, states have created policies to help teens move toward permanency. The NCYL report reviews state permanency policies for teens in each of the five recommended areas, highlighting successful practices and identifying barriers that can complicate successful permanency through guardianship, adoption and reunification. To generate the report, authors used a 50-state survey, a review of state laws and interviews with child welfare professionals in all states.
For example, in the arena of family finding for teens, Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) is recognized as a successful public/private partnership aimed at permanency, along with Idaho’s work to collect best practices for searching for the relatives of teens. The report also provides a look at the varying practices of relative search and notification practices across all states.
To read the report, click here.