The findings of the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR) report, Focus on Youth CFSR Findings: 2015-2017, published by the Children’s Bureau details how child welfare agencies are working with older youth between the ages of 16 and 17 in foster care. The report addressed the following questions: (1) How well do agencies meet the needs of older youth in foster care? and (2) What are the perceptions and experiences of older youth in foster care? Evaluators reviewed 65 cases and interviewed multiple stakeholders, including youth in each of the 38 states participating in the CFSR. The reviewers then rated each item as either a Strength or an Area Needing Improvement (ANI).
Findings indicate that older youth spent an average of 39 months in foster care and the most common permanency goal was “other planned permanent living arrangement” (OPPLA), also known under the law as APPLA, another planned permanent living arrangement. Fifty-eight percent of older youth had a permanency plan of OPPLA indicating a failure on states in helping to achieve positive permanency goals for older youth.
Strengths identified through the CFSR included involvement in case planning, caseworker involvement, sibling visits, needs, and services being individualized and appropriated, and meeting the youth’s physical, mental, and behavioral health needs. When siblings were separated, fifty-one percent of older youth visited with their brothers and sisters at least once a month. Cases in which youth were aged 16–17 were significantly less likely to have frequent visitation compared to cases involving younger children between the ages of 0–5. The difference between older youth and children aged 6–12 and 13–15 with respect to sibling visitation was not significant. The placement for older youth included 76 youth being placed in a non-relative foster family home, 43 being placed in group homes, and 36 youth being placed in relative foster family homes.
Youth described that the placement stability struggle for older youth included mismatching of placement and youth needs, the closing of foster and group homes, and the location or placement type outside of the youth’s home of origin. In addition, only 59 percent of concerted efforts to maintain sufficient quality sibling visitations were made compared to 79 percent for children between the ages of 0 to 5 and 76 percent for children between the ages of 6 to 12. Youth expressed that placement with their siblings influenced their transition into adulthood and a hot topic of discussion for several other youth and young adult in foster care. Family relationships and connection with relatives helps older youth maintain connections and placement instability creates barriers for family engagement.
Aging out of foster care or having OPPLA as your permanency goal seems to be an end of services and supports for older youth in foster care and older youth discuss how the transition into adulthood was stressful. Older youth remarked that they were not involved the case planning process or to the degree they deemed appropriate, even though older youth were most likely to be involved in case planning than any other age group. Youth stated that “there was no discussion regarding the potential consequences of aging out without a permanent connection to a caregiver of family support.” Recommendations from youth included caseworkers assisting with finding and reconnection with siblings because lots of older youth said that when placed in a separate home than their brothers or sisters lost contact and relationship. Older youth reported that they would like help from agencies in establishing new connections, including having a mentor.
In 2014 Congress passed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (PL 113-183) that included restrictions on the use of “another planned permanent living arrangement’’ referred in this report as OPPLA instead of or APPLA. Many advocates and congressional critics saw the use of the APPLA classification as a way for states to avoid permanency through reunification, adoption or relative care for youth in care. There was some debate within Congress and the advocacy community to eliminate the term altogether. Instead the 2014 law prohibited the use of this as a permanency option for any child or youth under age 16. For youth in care 16 or older Congress mandated a number of additional requirements. The law now requires three requirements for the purposes of approving the case plan for the child and the case system review procedure for the young person in care:
• Documentation of intensive, ongoing, unsuccessful efforts for family placement meaning that at each permanency hearing, the state agency is to document the intensive, ongoing, and, as of the date of the hearing, unsuccessful efforts made by the agency to return the child home or secure a placement for the child with a fit and willing relative (including adult siblings), a legal guardian, or an adoptive parent, including through efforts that utilize search technology (including social media) to find biological family members for the children.
• Redetermination of the appropriateness of the placement at each hearing meaning the agency must implement procedures to ensure that, at each permanency hearing, the court asks the child about the desired permanency outcome for the child; a judicial determination explaining why another planned permanent living arrangement is the best permanency plan for the young person and provide compelling reasons why it continues to not be in the best interests of the child to return home, be placed for adoption, be placed with a legal guardian; or ‘‘be placed with a fit and willing relative; and
• Demonstration of support for engaging in age or developmentally appropriate activities and social events. This requirement means that each permanency hearing, the agency documents the steps the agency is taking to ensure that foster family or institution is meeting the reasonable and prudent parent standard; and the youth has regular, ongoing opportunities to engage in appropriate activities.
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