On Monday, December 12 the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth held their last round table discussion for 2016. This week’s discussion focused on foster care and “normalcy” or attempts to make foster care placements as family like as possible for children in care.

The overview was provided by Jenny Pokempner from the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Her comments focused on what the Law Center has seen and experienced across the country in terms of implementation of the two-year-old provision found in the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. That law directed states to establish a “prudent” foster parent standard for family foster care homes and for institutional settings.

Ms Pokempner discussed what the goal of “normalcy” or normal life style would be for a youth or child in foster care and discussed what states have done in terms of policies to implement the program. The Center’s research indicates that about half the states have enacted provisions into law while the other half of states have generally provided policy guidance in implementation. When talking about normalcy for children and youth in foster care, the policies reflect more caregiver flexibility in make decisions on behalf of children in care.  This can sometimes mean not being required to go back to the agency or caseworker to get approval for some basic activities and decisions such as afterschool activities including sports, clubs and extracurricular activities. She also discussed a topic that generally comes up and that is the issue of liability which can be a hindrance in the decision making by foster parents.

There are other ongoing challenges.  One is the challenge of meeting the need for age and status appropriate activities for certain groups of young people such as LGBTQ youth, pregnant and parenting youth and youth with disabilities.  Another challenge exists for youth in group placements.  While the law designates that there must be a person in a group home who can be the decision maker with the appropriate training and decision-making power, the implementation has been limited and difficult.

Discussing the Children’s Bureau’s efforts was Jenny Wood representing Commissioner Rafael Lopez.  Ms. Wood highlighted recent efforts and technical assistance the Bureau has provided recently including an information memorandum, and resources through  the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

The discussion included a description of what the state of Illinois has been doing to carry out the law.  April Curtis (CWLA Fellow and past Board Member) discussed legislation and policy change in that state.  Illinois has re-written standards, state rules and regulations and guidelines.   And how the state has taken opportunities to make sure that foster families as well as caseworkers are aware of the requirements and practice.

The forum also included a round table discussion including observation of some young people—some congressional staff now—who had been in foster care and the number of challenges they faced in trying to experience life activities as basic as sports. There was also some discussion in the round table about the challenge of foster parent recruitment strategies and how turnover and shortages can have an impact on establishing and maintaining prudent parent standards.