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November 2022Vol. 23, No. 9Permanency for Youth on Their Own Terms

Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

This National Adoption Month, we have an opportunity to center permanency efforts on the recognition that all children and youth deserve an intentional and individualized approach to a lifetime of love and support, regardless of their age or circumstances.

Gather a team of agency staff, youth, and family members to think about the challenges and possibilities you face in moving toward flexible, youth-centered permanency planning. Start by asking yourselves “What would it take to ensure that every permanency plan from conceptualization to implementation is driven by and reflective of youth priorities?” Then, review the questions and ideas below as you create a plan for action.

Youth-Centered Concurrent Planning

Every youth should have the opportunity to define permanency for themselves and to have a plan that reflects their unique permanency goals.

Discuss the following questions with your team as you identify the steps your agency will take to ensure youth-centered concurrent permanency planning:

  • What policies and practices currently limit our opportunities to engage in concurrent, multitrack permanency planning for all youth?
  • How will we ensure all permanency plans are driven by youth priorities for legal and relational permanency?
    • How will we ensure youth are driving permanency planning from the very beginning? Is permanency planning approached as a series of ongoing conversations rather than a “one and done” process?
    • Are we remaining flexible as youth priorities change over time? Youth may define their priorities for permanency differently at age 13 than they would at age 20.
    • What needs to happen for permanency plans to reflect youth priorities instead of agency priorities? For example, is adoption on the table for all who want it? Is relational permanency a part of every plan? Are relationships with families of origin and kin (including fictive kin) facilitated for all youth who want them?
    • How can we ensure permanency plans for youth in special populations—such as youth with disabilities and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or other diverse identity—are structured to achieve permanency in the way they prioritize?

Ideas for Action and Tips for Success

Bring a team of youth together to review the agency’s permanency planning policies and practices to ensure they reflect youth priorities, including the following:

  • Engaging youth reviewers in a meaningful and psychologically safe way so they can share their perspectives honestly
  • Ensuring a feedback loop is in place so youth can see how their input informed changes in policy and practice

Check out Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare to find tips for engaging youth in system-level and agency-level efforts.

Support for Relational Permanency

While youth may have different priorities and perspectives about legal permanency, everyone should have lifetime access to a strong, supportive network of people who love them.

Discuss the following questions with your team as you consider the steps your agency will take to strengthen relational permanency for all youth:

  • How will we ensure all youth are connected to a large network of supportive adults (e.g., fictive kin), regardless of legal permanency?
  • How will we facilitate a relationship between youth and their family of origin if youth desire it?
  • How will we ensure youth are driving the permanency process at all stages?

Ideas for Action and Tips for Success

Invite supportive adults identified by youth into the permanency planning process and use the following strategies:

  • Engage youth and supportive adults as partners in the process. Being invited to the table is not enough. They need the freedom to set (and define) the table.
  • Engage a neutral third-party facilitator with skills and expertise in youth-driven permanency planning. 

Check out The Role of Leaders in Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted and Supervisor Toolkit: Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted for approaches to engaging youth in individual permanency planning.

Authentic Relationships

Centering youth voice in permanency planning requires strong relationships based on trust.

Discuss the following questions with your team as you consider the steps your agency will take to facilitate authentic relationships and shared decision-making in permanency planning:

  • What needs to happen for casework to be centered around building authentic relationships?
    • How can caseworkers’ time be freed up to focus on building relationships?
    • How can caseloads be adjusted to ensure time for caseworkers to adequately engage in thoughtful permanency planning?
    • How does the agency’s culture facilitate meaningful relationships with youth and families?
  • What steps will your agency take to center and prioritize lived expertise?
    • How are lived expertise and diversity infused throughout the case, peer, and agency levels?
    • What kinds of pathways to employment exist in your agency for people with lived expertise?
  • What steps will your agency take to ensure the workforce is reflective of the youth you serve?
    • How do your agency's hiring practices strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion?
    • What other diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging policies and practices are in place?
    • Are agency staff well versed in cultural awareness and culturally inclusive practices?

Ideas for Action and Tips for Success

Pair youth with peer mentors who have their own experiences with permanency and ensure the process includes the following:

  • Supporting and compensating peer mentors for their work
  • Ensuring youth have opportunities to explore different types of permanency and their own permanency priorities and goals with their peer mentor
  • Integrating peer mentorship into the permanency planning process

Check out the Menu for Youth Engagement series to learn more about developing peer mentoring programs.