How Policymakers Can Ensure Foster Youth Successfully Transition to Adulthood
This is the third fact sheet from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Juvenile Law Center in a series focusing on Transition Age Youth. With the first two showcasing that the Commonwealth is well-positioned to strengthen policy and practice in the child welfare system for older youth, now is the time to act and ensure we are fostering successful youth transitions into permanency and adulthood.
Background: When people think about foster care, they often think of infants and young children. However, almost one-third of the foster care population are Transition Age Youth – or what is typically defined as age 14 to 21 – who are placed in out- of-home care through the child welfare system. Youth who are either currently in or are transitioning out of the foster care system experience poorer outcomes compared to their peers in the general population, such as increased rates of homelessness, unemployment, and low educational attainment. Youth of color experience higher rates of placement change and are less likely to achieve permanency. As policymakers and advocates we can reverse data trends by providing these youth with a network of supportive connections to gain the skills necessary to help them thrive into adulthood.
Enhancing Family finding efforts
Improving accountability measures
Providing robust permanency services, enhancing family finding efforts, and improving accountability measures for older youth outcomes will help ensure that all youth receive the support they need to make a successful transition into adulthood: What Transition Age Youth Need and How to Meet It
1. Permanency All children in out of home placement deserve a court-ordered goal that aims to provide them with a forever family. To that end, the preferred goals are reunification, adoption, guardianship and placement with a relative. However, older youth receive the goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) far too often. The goal of APPLA means a child will not receive a forever family and is more likely to exit care on their own without permanency. No youth younger than 18 years old should have a goal of APPLA, but unfortunately this can still occur in Pennsylvania for children who are over age 16. Effective services to help achieve permanency are not provided to older youth as they should be. Effective permanency services can be offered through strong casework practice or through contracted services, like those offered through the Statewide Adoption Network. Reforms should require ensuring that specific
categories of permanency strategies are provided and that we are collecting consistent data around the following practices: • Services utilized to identify permanency resources for older youth so that no child is discharged or ages out of care without a list of identified supportive adults and connections • Providing services that prepare youth for permanency to assist with identifying and addressing the trauma, grief and loss that often becomes a barrier to achieving a forever home • Services to maintain and strengthen identified supportive connections such as counseling, training or activities that build the rapport and relationship between youth and those supports • Maintaining and strengthening sibling connections so that visitation and contact is as frequent as possible, but no less than twice per month
2. Family Finding Identifying and connecting youth with family and kin is the best way to achieve permanency. Family finding – an effective method of locating biological and non- biological supports for children in placement – is currently required by law annually, to begin at the time family is accepted for in-home services and continue through the life of the case. Proactive family finding strategies help build strong family support systems while concurrently engaging kin as resources should placement become imminent. However, in practice family finding is often started at the time of placement and not always revisited after the initial finding effort. Family finding efforts are required annually but should occur at least every six months. Every day a child spends in foster care is one that we should be attempting to locate kin and supportive connections. A child’s age should never be the factor for discontinuation of family finding.
3. Accountability Pennsylvania needs to better understand the challenges youth face in the transition to adulthood to develop smart and precise responses and to ensure improved outcomes. Consistent data collection surrounding family finding efforts, delivery of permanency services and outcomes are critical to a responsible reform agenda. Pennsylvania needs to increase the type of data collected, analyzed and disseminated. Some important data elements include: • Youth exiting care who have completed high school and are enrolled in higher education • Youth who have obtained employment or are receiving some form of public benefits • Confirmation that youth have original documents such as a birth certificate, social security card, drivers license, medical card
Poor Outcomes Have High Costs
All youth need and deserve the support of a family. We have an obligation to youth in the child welfare system. Those who leave foster care without supportive connections, permanent families and services to prepare them for adulthood have increased rates of incarceration, homelessness and entering the mental health and substance use disorder systems, impacting not only the life of that youth but also costing taxpayers as a whole. By ensuring we are providing a supportive network for Transition Age Youth at the outset and focusing proactively rather than reactively, we are not only setting them on a path to a successful adulthood, we are building a stronger Pennsylvania.
Youth, Age 22, Entered Care at age 10 When I came into care, the plan was reunification. When my mother stopped trying it seemed like so did my team and my goal became APPLA. I was just told that the goal changed; no one asked me. While I was in care, I was in about 15 foster homes, two group homes and one shelter. No one ever tried to find any supportive and stable connections for me for after I left care. I was connected with my sister and an aunt, but the connections didn’t last, and I did not get help keeping these ties. When I was 20 years old, I tried to discuss my options and what I could do to ensure me aging out would not leave me homeless and without a support
A child having that extra love, support and stability can ultimately affect their upbringing and chances at living a happy and successful life. system, but no one really wanted to help me plan. In my opinion, the biggest barriers to foster youth gaining permanency are for starters, the grueling process families, family friends, kinship and the youth’s friends must go through to get or even maintain contact with the children. The caseworkers and advocates should try to be more diligent in their efforts to find connections for the youth. A child having that extra love, support and stability can ultimately affect their upbringing and chances at living a happy and successful life. Everybody needs some type of guidance and love and companionship, which usually comes from family and friends. Not having this as I grow up means I do not have a stable place to live and a place I consider home. I do not have someone to call when I want to talk and who cares and will give me advice. I do not really know what it means to have a healthy relationship with people who care for you and want the best for you, and who you can trust. Not having family and a support system makes you feel lonely and unwanted.
Youth, Age 20, Entered Care at 15 When I came into care at age 15, I was not sure what was going to happen. By age 16, I had been in about five placements, foster homes and group homes. When I was about 17, the group home I was in was closing and I knew I had to move. I did not know what was going to happen next and I was used to not expecting much. One of the staff at the group home that was closing asked me if I wanted to live with her. I was surprised and did not know
what to say. No one had ever asked me that before. I did not expect things to be how they are now. I became part of a family. It took time, but it happened without me realizing it. I consider my foster mommy mom. My mom knows me, is honest with me and is there for me. When I turned 19, I wanted to try to live on my own. I was afraid that if I Ieft home, my momwould not be there for me anymore and that I would lose her. I did not. I talk to her all the time. She calls and checks on me to see how I am doing. I go home and see her. She was in the delivery roomwhen I had my baby. My mom and my family had a welcome party for my baby. I am about to turn 21 and I am happy that things turned out like they did. My momwants to adopt me, and I hope this can happen. I do not know everything that is going to happen next in my life as I turn 21, but I know I can count on my mom and family. I did not expect things to be how they are now. I became part of a family. It took time, but it happenedwithout me realizing it.