- November 2019
- Vol. 20, No. 9
Teens Shouldn’t Be Put in This Position
Written by Joshua Christian, foster care advocate, Indianapolis, Indiana
Young people in the child welfare system are often faced with challenges when finding permanency, which can look different depending on the best interests of the child. Adoption can take place when the legal rights of a parent or other guardian have been terminated. Although it is not meant for everyone, adoption can truly be a beautiful thing. Approximately one-quarter of young people in foster care are eligible for adoption, and it is important for these young people to have the necessary education.
If a young person believes they want to be adopted, they are faced with a decision that no young person should ever have to make: to become adopted and possibly lose out on services meant to help one achieve stability—such as programs that provide federal funding for school, mental health resources, or health care—or age out of care with full access to the services that were created to help them become successful. Lawmakers could consider offering the same services and resources to all youth, regardless of whether their case plan is geared toward adoption or other permanency options. Personally, I was faced with this decision when I found my forever family in my 18th placement. I knew my family could support me moving forward, but because of my love and respect for them, I told them that I would rather age out so we could utilize those services. When young people are adopted, the obstacles that aging-out services would help them face do not disappear.
As a local, state, and national advocate with almost two decades of lived experience, I want to encourage professionals to engage in authentic, real, and frequent conversations with youth about their permanency options. I also encourage states to ensure caseloads are a reasonable size so that case managers can focus on each young person and give them the attention they deserve. Too often, these conversations happen once, and that's the end of it. If professionals take a more long-term approach, they can address the fears and misunderstandings that come from exploring adoption as a permanency. It is necessary that these conversations happen repeatedly and consistently to ensure we are educating young people about their possible future.
Recent federal legislation has required all states to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act by fiscal year 2021. This will help states provide services to help young people transition into adulthood, which is really important given the research showing that 90 percent of young people tend to be exposed to trauma. (Williams-Mbengue, 2016). Young people entered foster care through no fault of their own, and each new placement change creates long-term challenges in many areas of life, including education, mental health and well-being, and social stability. Services are not only critical but necessary to help young people grow and overcome the obstacles they face.
Throughout the past 4 years, I have learned so much while advocating for young people in foster care. When having conversations with resource parents, I have seen common fears around taking youth in foster care into their homes, mostly related to common issues teens face going into puberty like having conversations around sex, being on their phones, not following rules, and dealing with trauma. I always highlight how I moved into my forever home a week before I turned eighteen and that my thoughts were not focused on puberty or breaking roles but simply about where I would be a few months later. I was thinking about having a place to call home, a place to go during the holidays, a place where I might get a hug from someone who loves me before I leave. I was worried about becoming one of the statistics in our country showing that out of roughly 20,000 to 30,000 young people who age out of care annually, one-fifth will become homeless and 1 in 4 of will become involved with the criminal justice system (Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, 2013). Resource parents' fears become a lot less stressful when they are engaged with talking about the reality of a young person aging out of care.
If we address these issues, states would have an opportunity to help more young people find a loving, safe, and permanent home, so that no teen has to be put in the position of questioning whether to join their forever family or forego needed services.
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Tools and resources. Retrieved from https://www.aecf.org/work/child-welfare/jim-casey-youth-opportunities-initiative/.
Williams-Mbengue, N. (2016). The social and emotional well-being of children in
foster care. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/Documents/cyf/Social_Emotional_WellBeing_Newsletter.pdf (775 KB).