May 12, 2010

Detailed Recommendations

1. Extend support for youth in foster care beyond age 18.

Transition to adulthood should be more gradual than it currently is for youth in foster care. Few 18-year-olds are ready to be completely independent. Financial support, adult connection, shelter, and other safety nets should be provided in a graduated way into the early 20s for youth who need it. Youth who choose to leave state care at age 18 should have opportunities to return on the basis of need. We recommend:

To the Governor and Members of the State Legislature

  • Support state legislation that creates multiple options of support past age 18 for youth, including:
    • allowing all former foster youth to stay in a current foster care placement for a period of time past age 18, regardless of their high school graduation or other status;
    • creating a diverse spectrum of other options for housing,  support, and guidance; and
    • developing transitional housing and other programs that meet the needs of a wider spectrum of young adults, including those with mental health needs, learning disabilities, and pregnant and parenting youth.
  • Increase the availability across the state of transitional living programs so that every youth leaving state care who needs housing will have it.
  • Provide the right to return to state care for youth who chose to leave at age 18 but who later find that they need support and help in early adulthood.

To Judges, Attorneys, and Child Advocates

  • Use existing laws to extend jurisdiction after age 18 in appropriate cases.
  • Create and offer youth alternatives to traditional foster care in extended jurisdiction.

To County Child Welfare Agencies and Social Workers

  • Prioritize resources for proven transitional living programs that provide meaningful life skills acquisition, guidance to youth traversing early adulthood, and strong bonds with competent, caring adults.
  • Set standards for and regulate adherence by transitional living programs and foster placements in the provision of on-going guidance, emotional support, and the opportunity to learn living skills.

To the Federal Government

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services should promulgate regulations for the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008that permit for the widest possible spectrum of independent living programs.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services should revise the eligibility requirements under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 to broadly interpret the eligibility of youth who have mental or emotional problems for medical waivers that would permit them to enter transitional living programs when they cannot meet program requirements for employment or school.

2. Guarantee that youth have useful emancipation plans.

Legally-mandated “transitional independent living plans,” which child welfare agencies are required to develop for each youth’s emancipation, should incorporate concrete arrangements for housing, income, connection to others, and medical coverage. We recommend:

To the Governor and State Legislature

  • Ensure that existing lawsrequiring transitional living plans are being implemented and are effective.

To Judges, Attorneys, and Child Advocates

  • Inquire and follow up at regular intervals on the status of plans for a youth’s emancipation.
  • Identify children and youth in foster care who have special needs, ensure that their post-emancipation plans address those needs, and take steps to ensure their needs are met.

To County Child Welfare Agencies and Social Workers

  • Ensure that every youth emancipating has a place to live, a source of income, and health coverage prior to emancipation.
  • Guarantee that every youth leaving care has an independent living coordinator and knows how to reach that person.
  • Evaluate systems and procedures to ensure that the perspectives of children and youth are incorporated in planning and assist them in identifying their goals.
  • Work closely with youth to complete the Independent Living Plan, beginning in early adolescence and continuing until the youth leaves care; involve people who care about the youth and can assist him or her in developing the plan; and allow sufficient time to discuss and take action on the youth’s goals.
  • Provide more information about services, programs, and support that exist post-emancipation.

3. Create real opportunities to develop skills for independence.

Everyday life skills should be taught in foster care at an earlier age and not just in a classroom setting. Youth should be provided opportunities throughout adolescence to practice tasks and skills for adulthood.

To the Governor and State Legislature

  • Review state laws and regulations, and support regulatory changes, or if necessary, legislation so that youth in foster care are not living in overly restrictive and institutionalized settings that limit opportunities for experiential learning.
  • Support regulatory or legislative changes so that foster parents, group home workers, and others caring for adolescents must create opportunities to learn adult living skills in the home.

To Judges, Attorneys, and Child Advocates

  • In preparation for and during court hearings, ask specifically about the types of opportunities individual youth in state care will receive for learning adult living skills, and follow up with court investigations or orders to ensure youth are getting the opportunities needed.

To County Child Welfare Agencies and Social Workers

  • Assess current skill-building programs and preparation for transition to adulthood policies and outcomes for youth. Assessments should rely on, among other things, information from the National Youth in Transition Database and input from former foster youth and other experts.
  • Train foster parents, group home workers, and others caring for adolescents on adolescent development and the basic skills needed for youth to prepare for adulthood; set standards for foster parents, group home workers, and others caring for adolescents holding caretakers responsible in part for passing on adult living skills and providing in-home skills acquisition.
  • Prioritize in training and standards experiential learning of adult skills and opportunities to learn.

To Foster Parents, Group Home Workers, Guardians, and Others Caring for Children in Foster Care

  • Ensure that young people have ongoing opportunities to participate in activities that promote adult skills.
  • Prepare adolescents for adulthood and ask for support from the county welfare agency.
  • Seek training in adolescent development and creative ways to impart living skills.

4. Help establish relationships that extend beyond emancipation.

To prepare youth in foster care for adulthood, the state should help them establish relationships with people who can offer guidance and support through early adulthood. We recommend:

To the Governor and State Legislature

  • Ensure that existing laws supporting long-term relationships for children and youth in foster care, such as family-finding, long-term mentoring, and adoption of older youth, are being implemented.

To Judges, Attorneys, and Child Advocates

  • Ensure through court orders and follow-up that every child and youth has connections with adults who are likely be in his or her life after leaving foster care.

To County Child Welfare Agencies and Social Workers

  • Prioritize resources to ensure that every child in state care establishes connections with adults who will be available to him or her after emancipation from care.
  • Create systems to contact and maintain connection with extended family and non-family members who may not be able to house a child but could commit to be in a child’s life in ways that build emotional support and ties to the community.

To Foster Parents, Group Home Workers, Guardians, and Others Caring for Children in Foster Care

  • Prioritize the creation of opportunities for children and youth to establish long-term, caring relationships.
  • Change group home policies and procedures so that children and youth have more access to people in the community and opportunities to pursue typical adolescent activities that build connections to adults and other youth outside of the system.