Advocates for Families First Policy Agenda

Click here to link to the full Policy Agenda pdf
Click here to link to the Policy Recommendations at a Glance

Introduction

Advocates for Families First was created to develop a common voice in support of children and youth in kinship, foster, adoptive families.1 Our primary goal is to ensure that when children and youth cannot live safely with their birth parents, they have a safe, loving, supported, and prepared family to care for them. This policy agenda promotes changes needed at the federal, state, and tribal levels, which we hope to accomplish with the support of the entire foster, adoptive, and kinship care community.

To realize the goal of achieving a safe, loving, supported and prepared family for every child or youth who cannot remain with his or her birth parents, Advocates for Families First proposes reforms in a variety of areas. As a country, we need to:

  • Prioritize family-based care when removal from a child or youth’s parents is necessary.
  • Ensure children and youth have opportunities to be full participants in their case plans and caregivers have rights to make decisions for children and youth in their care.
  • Ensure children, youth, and families have the support and services they need to be stable and successful.
  • Ensure caregivers are prepared and able to meet the specific individual needs of children and youth in their care.
  • Ensure children and youth grow up in permanent families, not in residential settings.
1  Please note that many foster and adoptive families are also related to the children and youth they are caring for.
2  When we use the term “states,” we include the District of Columbia.

As we present the recommendations for policy reform below, we acknowledge that policy changes will only take us so far toward improved outcomes for children, youth, and families. Policy implementation and child welfare practice are critical to accomplishing true reform. To achieve our goals, the child welfare system must:

  • Ensure that workers and supervisors receive the training, supervision, and support necessary to implement the policy and practice changes recommended in the spirit in which they were written.
  • Ensure that services provided are culturally and linguistically responsive to the communities being served.
  • Hold agencies and systems accountable for outcomes for the children, youth, and families they serve.
  • Collaborate with caregivers and youth and treat them as partners in the provision of services and development of policies.
  • Collaborate with other agencies serving children and youth, including departments of education, health, and juvenile justice.

Although the focus of Advocates for Families First is on children, youth, and families in kinship care, foster care, and adoption, this policy agenda is in no way intended to infringe upon the rights of birth parents to care for their children and youth or to decrease the support provided to birth families. We strongly believe that children and youth have a right to be raised in their birth families whenever it is safely possible. Similarly, although we make recommendations for tribes, we acknowledge that tribes are sovereign nations with rights and responsibilities for the children and youth in the tribe. Nothing in the agenda should be interpreted as lessening the rights of tribes or Indian children, youth, and families as provided by the Indian Child Welfare Act. We also acknowledge that tribes typically have less access to financial resources than states and we believe the federal government should ensure adequate funding for all of the proposed reforms outlined below.

 Recommendations

  1. Prioritizing Family Care: Prioritize family-based care when children or youth are removed from their parents.

Children and youth want to grow up in families, and they fare better when they grow up in families. They want to be like their friends and not be set apart by a different living arrangement. They deserve to have normal childhood and adolescent experiences and have the right to their cultural, ethnic, and racial identities.

Research shows that when children and youth are placed with relatives they have more stable placement history and a better sense of both identity and belonging. It is preferable to place a child or youth with a relative or with someone the child or youth knows (such as a teacher, coach, religious leader, etc.) whenever possible to mitigate trauma, increase positive outcomes, and better ensure achievement of full potential.

The stories throughout this agenda illustrate the importance of supported, respected, and prepared families in the care, healing, and development of children and youth who cannot grow up with their birth parents.

Goals

Federal Recommendations

State/Tribe Recommendations3

A. New and extended families are found, recruited, and supported, especially for older children and youth and those with more complex needs; recruited families reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of the children and youth who need families.

All children and youth are eligible for Title IV-E reimbursement, with no restrictions based on their birth parents’ income.

Federal funding includes new and periodic opportunities for services that find families for children and youth.*
(* Recommendations marked with an asterisk relate to more than one goal and are repeated in different sections.)

States and tribes invest additional IV-E funds resulting from passage of the federal recommendation in increased efforts to find, develop, and support families, especially for those children and youth who are harder to place.

States and tribes fund and implement effective, comprehensive programs to find families for children and youth.

B. Children and youth are more often placed in supported families, and the use of non-treatment-oriented group care is reduced.

Federal reimbursement for non-treatment-oriented group care is restricted, and the resulting savings are required to be reinvested in recruiting and supporting therapeutic foster, adoptive, and kinship families for children and youth who cannot return home.

States and tribes reduce the use of non-treatment oriented group care and redirect saved funds to recruit, train and support families for children and youth, and to provide effective in-home and community-based support services.

C. Families are engaged for all children and youth from the moment they become involved with the child welfare system.

Federal law offers guidance and financial incentives to ensure immediate assessment of viable kinship resources and emergency placement of children and youth in kinship families.

Federal law eliminates barriers to timely assessment of viable kinship resources and emergency placement of children and youth in kinship families, including funding and facilitating an accessible national database for timely, no-cost criminal background checks.

States and tribes pass policies that ensure agencies:

  • Develop clear processes for timely identification andengagement of extended family members either as a placement resource or ongoing support for each child and youth.
  • Immediately assess viable kinship resources and make safe emergency placement of children and youth in kinship families.
  • Arrange family team meetings that bring all known family support to the table to prevent removal from the child or youth’s home whenever possible.
  • Use family finding strategies to identify family members for placement resources and other supports.

D. Provide children and youth with access to needed time-limited therapeutic residential treatment, without forcing parents to give up custody or be charged with abuse or neglect.

Federal Title IV-E funding covers necessary, time-limited residential treatment when services cannot be provided to a child or youth within the family or community, as long as the treatment plan includes family involvement.

Federal Title IV-E rules allow reimbursement of caregivers’ maintenance payments when their children and youth are in time-limited residential treatment and the family remains involved in the child or youth’s care and treatment plan.

States and tribes include funding for necessary, time-limited residential treatment in their adoption assistance and guardianship assistance programs. States and tribes ensure parents are not charged with child abuse or neglect solely because they are securing therapeutically necessary out-of-home residential treatment for their children or youth.

3 In all cases where we have a federal recommendation that would require state or tribal action, we also recommend that states and tribes opt into the program and take full advantage of the federal funding and requirements. For example, we recommend Title IV-E reimbursement for caregivers when children or youth are in time-limited, family-involved residential treatment. For this policy to succeed, states and tribes must also opt to provide the maintenance payments to caregivers.

Charlie: Youth who, at almost 16 years of age, was at risk of leaving care without a family Charlie had been assigned a number of diagnoses: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder resulting from early child abuse, autism, and mental disabilities. At age 15, he’d been in foster care for at least four years and had never even learned to throw a ball. Sorting through his extended family to find a loving relative to save him would no doubt be tough.

Tom Prudden, a retired Kansas City police officer and the Extreme Recruitment investigator at the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association, was tasked with finding a family for Charlie. He started by going to Charlie’s birth grandmother and mom. “I’m a people finder,” he explained to them. “We’re going to expand your family tree.” He asked for names of siblings, uncles, and cousins. He wrote down some that hadn’t come up before, including Uncle Tony Barnes.

Tom’s search yielded two hits on the name Tony Barnes. One looked likely, but he found only an address. He took a chance and went to the home. Just waking from a nap, Tony was still a little groggy as he listened to Tom explain about Charlie.

In his early 40s, Tony was in restaurant management and planned to retire in a couple of years. Then he thought he might start a family. Tom told him more about Charlie and showed him a picture. He told him that the teen had been in foster care for many years, had developmental delays and disabilities, and that he needed a forever family. That hit Tony: “How could a member of my family not have a home to support him?” He thought back to his own parents, who had long since passed away. Tony recalled visiting with Charlie’s grandmother and mother but had seen the teen only once, as a newborn. Tony had had no idea the boy had been in foster care.

A few days after Tom came to the home, Tony called the investigator and said he wanted to meet Charlie. That came after prayer and thought and long discussions with his partner, James Grimsley. In the end, one thing prevailed for the two. “He was family,” Tony says. “I thought the right thing to do is to take care of him, help him, because he is a part of my family.” The adoption became final not long after that.

Now Charlie is proud to live in this home with a big couch for movie nights, a backyard pool, and his own bedroom. Tony and James painted those walls and hung posters, and stocked shelves and boxes with toys. Every night at six, the family sits down in the dining room for a full meal.

“All you have to do is one thing: Not think about yourself,” Tony says. “As long as I make my mom proud in heaven and [Charlie is] happy, that’s all I want.” Charlie is happy here. “I wasn’t safe before,” he says. “Uncle Tony saved my life. I love him with all my heart.” All it took was for someone to find Tony. If no one had looked for him, he never would have been found. And Charlie might never have had a permanent family.

“I am Uncle Tony’s son,” Charlie says. “Right?” Mr. Barnes smiles back. “Yes. Yes, you are.”

  1. Empowering Youth and Family Voices: Ensure children and youth have opportunities to be full participants in their case plans and caregivers have rights to make decisions for children and youth in their care.

Children and youth in care have knowledge about what they need and where they want to grow up, if it cannot be with their mother and father, but they are rarely consulted. The very experience of being removed from their home can leave children and youth with an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness, which affects their ability to develop the skills they will need to become successful adults.

Often children and youth in foster care are excluded from extracurricular activities at school, sports, field trips, sleepovers, camping, and more due to system-imposed policies or a lack of clarity about rules for foster families and their children and youth. Foster and kinship caregivers have the most current and complete knowledge of their children or youth. They often are left out of important decision-making processes, resulting in decisions that have not been informed by vital information.

To make the most appropriate choices, decision makers must hear from the children and youth themselves and their caregivers. Input from those most affected contributes to better decisions and improved outcomes, and aids in restoring children’s and youth’s sense of self-worth and self-determination.

Goals

Federal Recommendations

State/Tribe Recommendations

A. Children and youth are partners in their permanency planning process.

Federal law provides that youth age 12 and older are actively engaged in the development of their permanent plan and have a chance to choose other members of the permanency planning team.

Title IV-E allows reimbursement of costs related to technology used to assist youth engagement, as long as the technology does not supplant any required or necessary in-person meetings or contacts.*

States and tribes develop policies to ensure children and youth have a voice, a say, and active engagement in decisions affecting their care such as:

  • Children and youth receive skills-building practice and support so they can actively participate in permanency meetings, permanency roundtables, and permanency hearings, and are given information about opportunities for voicing their opinion and participating in making decisions.
  • Children and youth are engaged in identifying, recruiting, and selecting their preferred placement.
  • Youth age 12 and older are active participants and leaders in permanency meetings, permanency roundtables, and permanency hearings. Younger children are given the option to participate. Children as young as five are interviewed to determine their preferred placements.
  • Permanency meetings, permanency roundtables, and permanency hearings for eligible participating youth are scheduled after school hours or during school breaks.States and tribes create and support diverse youth advisory boards and provide other opportunities for youth to provide critical feedback about the child welfare system.

B. Kinship and foster parents have a voice in court and legal decisions.

States and tribes develop policies to ensure foster parents and kinship caregivers have a voice in legal decisions affecting the children and youth in their care including:

  • Expanding the availability of quality, affordable legal services to all caregivers.
  • Notifying caregivers in advance of all hearings affecting the children and youth in their care.
  • Ensuring foster parents and kinship caregivers have a right to be heard in person at court and other hearings related to the children and youth in their care.
  • Providing a process to petition the court for legal standing for relatives of children or youth placed outside of their birth parents’ home and foster parents who have had care of the children and youth for 12 months or longer. Children and youth covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act are excluded from this provision.

C. All children and youth in out-of- home care have the opportunity
to participate in age-appropriate activities, and their caregivers have the right to make decisions about children’s and youth’s participation, with respect for each child and youth’s cultural and religious heritage.

Federal law provides a reasonable and prudent parent standard — developed with input of caregivers, children, and youth — that enables foster and kinship caregivers to grant permission for children and youth to participate in age-appropriate activities.

States and tribes adopt a reasonable and prudent parent standard informed by input from children, youth, and caregivers.

D. Kinship caregivers have the right to make educational and medical decisions for the children and youth in their care.

Federal law provides relative caregivers with the right to consent to medical care and educational plans and activities for children and youth in their day-to-day care, regardless of legal custody.

States and tribes adopt educational and health care consent policies to help kinship caregivers who do not have legal custody enroll children and youth in school and consent to health care.

* Relates to more than one goal.

Michael: A young man who experienced more than 16 foster placements, including many in group care, and never found a permanent family as a result of never being heard while he was in care

In 1998, 12-year-old Michael and his siblings, Randy, Katasha, and Beau (10, 8, and 6), needed help when the state determined that they couldn’t safely stay with their mother. Michael and his siblings were placed in a shelter and then a foster family. When the foster parents retired the children went to another shelter.

Michael repeatedly told workers he wanted to find his extended family. When that didn’t happen, he became distraught, ran away, and acted out. “They wanted to do a psychological evaluation on me due to the fact that I had been running away and showing poor behavior,” explains Michael. “I was placed in a mental health facility. After three months, they said that I really didn’t have any major mental health issues and basically said I was a pretty good guy.”

So Michael and his siblings were placed together with another foster family. Michael explains, “We stayed with that foster family for about a year, which was the most permanent placement I had in foster care.” Between ages 14 and 18, Michael moved more than 13 times. He did not live with his brothers and sister and rarely got to spend time with them.

At 15, Michael was moved to a group care facility. While there, he found a family who was willing to adopt him. Instead, a judge ruled that Michael be placed 100 miles away with a family he didn’t know.

Michael missed his friends and ran away to see them. He was sent to another group facility to be evaluated for behavioral issues. Explains Michael, “I didn’t have any behavioral issues other than I wanted to be around the people I knew.”

At 18, Michael aged out of foster care with no permanent family, as did his brother Randy. Katasha was adopted while Beau remained in foster care. Michael reflects, “In my opinion, foster care destroyed our whole sense of family in the end. We can’t sit down together and feel like we are siblings. If the state had invested the same money they spent putting us in all those placements into weekly visits with our mother and had given her skill lessons, it might not have escalated to us needing to go into permanent foster care.”

If that hadn’t worked, Michael wanted to get in touch with his aunt and uncle. “From childhood, I remember that my Aunt Cassie took us to church and that she was a very good person. She and Uncle Mike owned their own business,” explains Michael. “In fact when I was young, I had a heart problem and I lived with her for over a year. She probably would have taken us in.” Tragically, no one ever listened to Michael or pursued the family resources he suggested.

  1. Supporting Families: Children, youth, and families have the support and services they need to be stable and successful.

Children and youth in care may have experienced a wide range of traumatizing events, including prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and finally, removal from their home and family. They are entitled to a wide range of competent, accessible, and appropriate supportive services to address these negative experiences and promote healing and recovery.

Often the services caregivers can access for their children or youth are inadequate or inappropriate. When services do not match children’s and youth’s needs, are not available or accessible, or are delivered by providers who are not competent and informed about kinship care, foster care, and adoption, there is a great potential for additional harm to children and youth.

Any time a child or youth is removed from his or her birth parents’ care, the government makes an inherent promise to provide a safer, more appropriate experience. This promise can only be kept if the children, youth, and their families are able to access effective supports and services in a timely manner.

Goals

Federal Recommendations

State/Tribe Recommendations

A. All children and youth entering foster care or experiencing a placement change have periodic and thorough trauma-informed and culturally informed assessments of their needs and strengths.

The federal government provides guidelines on effective trauma-informed and culturally informed assessments and on how to meet any needs identified by the assessments.

Federal law modifies Title IV-E to remove reimbursement limits on case management skills training, including training on how to conduct mental health assessments.

States and tribes provide funding for trauma-informed and culturally informed assessments and establish court oversight to ensure such assessments happen in a timely manner.

States and tribes provide services identified as needed during the assessments.

B. All children and youth who are, or have been, in foster care are cared for and thrive in foster, adoptive, guardianship, relative, and birth families that have access to ongoing support services.

The federal government designates specific funds for ongoing support services for foster, adoptive, guardianship, relative, and birth families, with specific funding available for each type of caregiver.

States and tribes operate or fund comprehensive, ongoing support service programs for foster, adoptive, guardianship, relative, and birth families. Funds are designated to evaluate the effectiveness of provided services.

C. Extended family members who care for children and youth who were diverted from the child welfare system or who did not come to the attention of the child welfare system have access to information, supports, and services they need to ensure the children and youth thrive.

The federal government makes funds available to states and tribes to provide successful programs to keep children and youth out of foster care and safe within their birth or extended families.

The federal government preserves existing flexible funding sources that states and tribes can use to offer supports and services for extended family members caring for children and youth such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Children and the Social Services Block Grant.

States and tribes work proactively with care-giver groups and partner agencies to create effective programs that keep children and youth out of care and safe within their birth or extended families.

States and tribes preserve and enhance policies, supports, and services for extended family members caring for children and youth such as those currently funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Social Service Block Grant.

D. Foster families and families who adopt or take guardianship of children and youth from foster care have adequate financial support to meet the children’s and youth’s needs.

The federal government requires states to use U.S. Department of Agriculture data to determine minimum foster care, adoption assistance, and guardianship rates adequate to meet children’s and youth’s needs.

The federal government requires states and tribes to provide the same level of support and access to the same types of services to a child or youth who has moved on to permanency as the child or youth would have received in a similar level of foster care.*

States and tribes use U.S. Department of Agriculture data to determine the minimum reimbursement rates for children and youth in foster care, adopted from foster care, and who left care to guardianship.

States and tribes provide the same level of supports and services to a child or youth who is adopted or placed in guardianship from foster care as the child or youth would have received in foster care.*

States and tribes take the option to use
federal Title IV-E funding to create and operate subsidized guardianship programs for eligible children and youth exiting foster care.*

E. All adoptive, foster, and kinship families, and children and youth who are not living with their birth families, have access to an independent advocacy organization to help them advocate for their needs.

Federal law requires and appropriates funds so states and tribes can support advocacy organization(s) in their state plans.

States and tribes provide direct funding to nonprofit organizations that advocate for children, youth, and families’ needs in kinship care, foster care, and adoption.

* Relates to more than one goal.

Anne: A relative caregiver who had to choose between making a permanent, legal commitment to her grandsons or accessing the supportive services they would need

Several years ago, Anne discovered by chance that her two grandsons, six-year-old John and one- year-old Curt†, were at a children’s shelter. Anne’s daughter had been struggling, but Anne had no idea how much until she got the call. Anne immediately located the boys’ social worker and drove 150 miles to visit her grandsons. During this visit, the social worker asked if she could attend the boys’ court hearing.

At the hearing, the judge asked Anne, “Can you take the boys?” Anne asked when and the judge replied, “Now. Today.” Anne explains, “I was stuttering as I said, ‘Yeah.’ I had to buy a car seat for the baby. I knew he was sick, but they didn’t tell me he had pneumonia. They gave me a bottle of Amoxicillin and said, ‘Here, he should take this.’ Basically I got the boys with the clothes on their backs.”

Anne became John and Curt’s foster parent. “The boys are both really special!” exclaims Anne proudly. “Curt is one of the most loving children you could ever imagine. John is also very caring. If John ever got a treat from the doctor’s office, he made sure he got one for his brother,” says Anne. Like many grandparents who take in their grandchildren, Anne desperately loves them both but knows they need special care as a result of the trauma they experienced. For example, both needed smaller school settings to help them learn. “John has learning disabilities and we were advised to get him into special ed,” explains Anne. “It took a special volunteer that sat with him for hours until finally—when he got it, he got it!”

Anne believes John may have suffered sexual abuse: “I took him to counseling, but he had a really hard time with it. He has learned to deflect so much and he would change the subject.” John still struggles with anger that stems from his feelings of being abandoned by his birth parents.

“Curt had night terrors that lasted until he was about eight. All I could do was sit and hold him,” reports Anne. “I would try to comfort him and he would scream, ‘No, no, no, no!’ The doctor said he wouldn’t remember it in the morning, which he didn’t.” For seven years, Anne was up at night. Nothing seemed to help Curt until she got a tip to have him sleep in a sleeping bag, which comforted him. Curt’s special needs include moderate hearing loss, sensory motor integration problems, difficulty in school, and autism.

Although she is committed to caring for the boys forever, Anne didn’t want to adopt them because they are her grandsons. Guardianship wasn’t a good option for the family because they would lose the extra support the boys require due to their special needs.

So, John and Curt remain in foster care, and the family contends with court visits and caseworker oversight. “I would have loved to have taken the boys out of foster care and become their guardian,” explains Anne. “But I could only have done that if the boys would have been able to continue to receive support for their special needs. I couldn’t have afforded to pay for all those services on my own.”

† Names have been changed.

  1. Preparing Caregivers: Caregivers are prepared and able to meet the needs of children and youth in their care

Foster, kinship, and adoptive caregivers are entrusted with the care and healing of children and youth who have experienced trauma. These children and youth have often been neglected, abused, or abandoned. Caregivers have a fundamental need for and right to education and support that enables them to meet their children’s and youth’s needs. Training must be affordable, accessible, and sensitive to the particular needs, circumstances, and cultural considerations of the children and youth.

State and federal foster care training, licensing, and reimbursement policies were designed with the intention of ensuring that caregivers of children and youth who are unable to remain with their birth parents are fit and able to meet the needs of those children and youth. Too often, however, these policies fail to consider the special circumstances of relative caregivers. Specific licensing requirements, such as those related to physical space within the home, may pose particular challenges for those who want to care for children and youth who are their kin. Some licensing requirements may be less important than the benefits of placing a child or youth with a relative to both lessen the trauma of removal and maintain family connections.

Finally, training funds should be available and accessible for the training of all substitute caregivers, including adoptive and kinship caregivers. Experts, youth, and caregivers should be included in the formation of such training programs, which should be regularly evaluated for improvement.

 

Goals

Federal Recommendations

State/Tribe Recommendations

A. Children and youth are cared for safely by parents and family caregivers who are able to meet their needs, including needs related to their race, culture, ethnicity, and heritage. Particular attention is paid to special populations of children and youth, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning children and youth; sibling groups; those who have been in institutional care; and those who have significant medical, mental health, behavioral, cognitive, educational, developmental, and/or emotional needs.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urges states and tribes to review their licensing standards for any unnecessary barriers to licensing safe and appropriate families. As a resource to states and tribes wanting to revise their standards, HHS recommends the “Family Foster Care Model Licensing Standards,” which meet all federal requirements.

States and tribes adopt ”Family Foster Care Model Licensing Standards,” which are reasonable, achievable, and based on the need to find safe and appropriate families for each child or youth in out-of-home care, including children and youth being placed with relatives.

Until the “Family Foster Care Model Licensing Standards” are adopted, states and tribes have a written policy for how they will apply individual waivers and variances for non-safety-related licensing standards for relatives, and they apply that policy by granting waivers and variances where appropriate.

B. Caregivers have access to comprehensive, relevant, effective, culturally informed, and trauma-informed training.

Title IV-E rules allow reimbursement for training for all foster parents, adoptive parents, and kinship caregivers raising children and youth who come to the attention of the child welfare system.

Federal law allows reimbursement to states and tribes for 75 percent of all of their eligible training costs, regardless of the percentage of children and youth who are Title IV-E eligible in the state or tribe.

Using Title IV-E, Title IV-B, TANF, and other sources of funds, states and tribes provide the following culturally informed and trauma-informed training4 across their jurisdiction:

  • For foster and adoptive parents — mandatory pre-service training before a child or youth is placed in the home.
  • For emergency kinship foster placements — mandatory training within the first three months.
  • For kinship caregivers outside of the formal foster care system, but where the child welfare agency is involved in the placement — accessible, effective, and free orientation (also available in the home) that addresses issues specific to kinship care and the specific child or youth within four weeks of placement.
  • For foster parents — mandatory annual in-service training.
  • For adoptive, foster parents, relative caregivers, and families who have taken
    legal guardianship of a child or youth — a comprehensive array of accessible, effective, and affordable training (also made available in the home) on the special needs of children and youth in care, including the effects of trauma and loss in adoption, foster care, and kinship care.
4 Training should not be limited by whether a family is affiliated with a public or private agency.

JJ: Youth who watched his grandparents face financial ruin trying to meet licensing requirements after taking him and his siblings into their care

“My experience with foster care is considered a successful case all the way around,” explains JJ. “My three younger siblings and I had one kinship placement. We were able to stay together and were adopted by our grandparents.” But the reality was extremely difficult.

“My mother had a nervous breakdown when I was 10, and I took on her role as the parent,” says JJ. “I got my three younger siblings up in the morning and made sure they ate breakfast and brushed their teeth. I helped them make their lunches and then I walked them to school. When I returned home, I cooked dinner, did the dishes, helped my siblings with their homework, cleaned the house, and sat down with my dad to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. I did this every single night for three years.”

“As the oldest child, I felt it was my duty to protect my younger siblings from the abuse my father inflicted, so I endured most of it,” JJ recalls. When JJ’s youngest sister was six, she packed her toys and clothes and ran away to her grandparents’ house. JJ’s nine-year-old brother soon followed.

When social services became involved, a caseworker told the family that if the children couldn’t stay with their grandparents, they “would go into foster care and probably get split up.” JJ was horrified. “Out of all the tribulations I struggled with, nothing made my heart ache as much as that statement did,” laments JJ. “At the time, my siblings were like my own children. I did not suffer the cutting, beatings, suicide, drinking, and abuse for someone to uproot us from the only loving bond we had to other human beings.”

When the siblings moved in with his grandparents, JJ says, “I thought my life would be simple now. I thought I could relax.” Soon the family learned the regulations and barriers his grandparents would face as kinship caregivers. “My grandparents were told their house was too small, there were too many animals, they didn’t make enough money, they couldn’t sign field trip permission slips…the list went on.” The family was forced to move to a bigger house. “We spent countless sleepless nights bringing the new house up to DHS’s standards, putting up handrails and grouting the bathrooms before we could move in,” JJ recalls.

JJ’s grandparents’ income couldn’t handle a new mortgage, two car payments, four new mouths to feed, therapy bills for the children, medication, school clothes and supplies, and adoption costs. “To be completely honest, my grandparents just couldn’t afford us,” states JJ.

There was no financial assistance available to JJ’s grandparents. They were prepared financially for their own retirement, but taking in their grandchildren caused them to fall six months behind on their house payments, have their cars repossessed, and face eviction. “My grandparents eventually had to file bankruptcy,” says JJ. “I carry guilt inside me to this day. There simply wasn’t any help out there for us. Grandparents shouldn’t have to trade the love they have for their grandchildren for financial ruin and despair.”

  1. Achieving Permanency: Children and youth achieve permanent families.

Every child and youth has a right to grow up in and grow old with a stable, loving, and committed permanent family. Federal law requires that all children and youth who enter out-of home care have safety, well-being, and permanency. Once they are safe, it is essential that all efforts be focused on securing a permanent, supported family for every child and youth. This lifelong connection is the best route to ensuring well-being.

The current use of Another Permanent Planned Living Arrangement (APPLA) contributes to the fact that 25,000 youth leave care each year without a family. These youth often face negative outcomes, such as homelessness, joblessness, risk of

violence and pregnancy, and reduced academic achievement. As youth have told us, there is nothing permanent about Another Permanent Planned Living Arrangement. We owe our youth better opportunities for a satisfying and successful adulthood.

Model programs have shown that when children, youth, and caregivers are given a say in their permanency plans, those plans are more readily achieved and sustained.

Finally, it is essential to provide the necessary supports for children and youth who have been affected by their early experiences and time in care so that they can remain safe and stable.

Goals

Federal Recommendation

State/Tribe Recommendations

A. The use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) is reduced or eliminated.

Federal law eliminates the use of APPLA as a permanency goal and requires that every child and youth have a permanency goal that includes a permanent legal connection to a family.

Federal funding includes new and periodic opportunities for services that find families for children and youth.*

States and tribes develop policies that eliminate the use of APPLA as a permanency goal.
States and tribes require ongoing court oversight and agency director approval of all APPLA designations and ensure compliance with the identification of a committed adult who will remain engaged in the youth’s life after the age of majority.

B. Children and youth who leave foster care for permanent families have increased support.

Federal law increases funding for Title IV-B2 and designates specific mandatory percentages for post-adoption, post-guardianship, and post-reunification services while maintaining current designation for family preservation services.

The federal government requires states and tribes to provide the same level of support and access to the same types of services to a child or youth who has moved on to permanency

as the child or youth would have received in a similar level of foster care.*

States and tribes take the option to use federal Title IV-E funding to create and operate subsidized guardianship programs for eligible children and youth exiting foster care.*

States and tribes provide the same level of supports and services to a child or youth who is adopted or placed
in guardianship from foster care as the child or youth would have received in foster care.*

States and tribes designate a significant portion of their adoption incentive payments and the funds received as a result of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act’s expanded Title IV-E adoption assistance eligibility to fund post-permanency support services to children, youth, and families.

C. Incentives are increased for permanency outcomes for children and youth.

The federal adoption incentive program becomes a permanency incentive program that rewards states and tribes for adoptions, permanent guardianships, and reunifications, with safeguards in place to avoid the unintended consequence of moving children or youth out of care too quickly, taking children or youth into care unnecessarily, or placing children or youth in unsafe or unstable families.

States and tribes receive incentives for customary permanency placements for Indian Child Welfare Act-eligible children and youth, as long as the placements are in compliance with one of the preferred placements specified in ICWA.

D. Children and youth are partners in the permanency planning process.

Title IV-E allows reimbursement of costs related to technology used to assist youth engagement, as long as the technology does not supplant any required or necessary in- person meetings or contacts.*

States and tribes develop policies to ensure children and youth are engaged as partners in permanency planning such as through youth-led permanency roundtables.

State and tribal policies ensure that case planning includes identification of a responsible party for ensuring active involvement of youth in their permanency planning, including:

  • Providing transportation to and from meetings, permanency roundtables and permanency hearings.
  • Arranging for technology to include youth in real time during those meetings, roundtables, and hearings.
  • Giving them information about opportunities for voicing their opinion and participating in making decisions.
  • (Please see additional recommendations under Empowering Youth and Family Voices)

E. Youth in care have every possible opportunity for permanent family relationships.

States and tribes take the Federal IV-E option to extend foster care to age 21 while continuing to ensure these older youth have every opportunity to achieve a permanent legal family before they leave care.

* Relates to more than one goal.

The Shea† family: A family who accessed therapeutic residential treatment only when they had exhausted all other approaches, and continues to be the permanent, supportive, and loving family their child needs

Pat and Ken Shea adopted three siblings — Daniel, Jennifer, and Philip — from foster care. “They wanted to put Daniel in an institution and look for an adoptive family for Jennifer. I said, ‘You can’t do that. We have already grown to love them.’ We kept them and a year later, when their mom became pregnant and Philip was born, he came right to us from the hospital, and later we adopted all three of the children.”

Daniel was nearly four when he came to the Sheas. “He’d never had a haircut,” remembers Pat. “He was scared to go outside. Pat continues, “Daniel could only say two words and was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, mild mental impairment, and autism, but he has come so far! He is so good on the computer. He can read and write and even ride a bike.” Daniel, Jennifer, and Philip thrived beyond all expectations. Pat worked with local teachers to help them understand how to teach children with autism and fetal alcohol syndrome and help her children improve their skills.

After a while, though, things became more difficult. “When he turned 13, Daniel’s behavior became explosive,” explains Pat. “Daniel pushed one of the neighbor kids down so I walked him in the house and he smacked me right across my face. I saw stars. I was badly bruised after Daniel pulled a picture off the wall and hit me in the back. He threw a toy at me and bruised my leg. I felt like a battered wife.”

Frightened, Pat began seeking help. “His violent outbursts had escalated….I was afraid my son was going to get arrested. I was worried they would put him in detention when he didn’t need to be there. He needed help for his behavior, but he didn’t really know what he was doing,” explains Pat. “I knew eventually one of the neighbors or one of my other kids was going to get hurt, so I contacted the Department of Human Services and told them I needed help.”

Pat was told the only way she could get help for Daniel was to voluntarily place him in state custody. “I gave the state custody for 90 days,” says Pat. “Daniel was placed into three different shelters while they looked for a place to treat him. Daniel was not getting treatment and was placed so far away we could not visit. I called Daniel every night. He cried on the phone saying that he wanted to come home. It was heartbreaking; he didn’t understand why he was sent away.”

“After 90 days, the state took full custody of Daniel in order to put him in an out-of-state placement. Daniel needed an out-of-state placement because there are no in-patient group care facilities in [our state],” explains Pat. “The only way we could get Daniel the help he needed in residential treatment was to file a report of abuse and neglect even though we didn’t abuse or neglect our son.” The family was willing to do whatever was needed to help their traumatized child. “Daniel is my son,” adds Pat. “I love him and there is an emptiness in our family without him. I want him to get better and return to us as soon as possible.”
† Names have been changed.