Success and Impact

'Promoting Permanency for Teens': Resource Aims to Bolster Foster Care Supports

Young person sitting and smiling

Having loving, consistent caregivers is critical for healthy teen development. Despite this, foster care removes teens from families, peers, and community at a time when they have a strong developmental need for someone to provide care and guidance.

To help inform and support healthy policy in this critical space, the National Center for Youth Law co-authored “Promoting Permanency for Teens: A 50 State Review of Law Policy.”
The in-depth report, published in 2018, explores the diversity of U.S. state policies and practices for teens in foster care in two potentially competing areas: teens’ need for a permanent connection to a family (either their birth family, or an adoptive or guardian family), and teens’ developmental and practical needs in transitioning to legal adulthood, independence, and self-sufficiency. Given these concurrent needs, policies, practices, and programs can serve to significantly incentivize and/or disincentive pursuing permanency for teens.

Recommendations for states

Child welfare agencies can use a variety of strategies to achieve permanency for teens and to assist in meeting teens’ developmental needs. In this report, the authors consider policies and practices that help achieve both goals. The recommendations are framed as minimum standards, but ideally states would exceed them. Specifically, the authors recommend that states should:

  • Require a robust and ongoing search for relatives and other meaningful adults who will care for the teen. In the first month in care, states should require daily searches for relatives. Searches must be weekly for the next five months, and monthly thereafter. These initial and ongoing efforts should be made with the teen’s input and participation. Strategies to locate and identify fit and willing relatives and other meaningful adults must include interviews with the teen and parent(s), notices to known relatives, and database and records searches.
  • Require parental visitation at least once a week, with emphasis on the importance of daily visitation and contact for all teens for whom reunification is a primary permanency goal. States should require parental visitation within a few days of removal from the home for all teens to reduce the traumatic impact.
  • Require monthly permanency planning and family finding services that include the teen and the teen’s chosen representatives’ input and participation.
  • Remove financial and service barriers to permanency for the teen. This can be achieved, as examples, through the provision of equitable payments for relatives and other adults who care for teens entering care, and the allowance of continued eligibility for all benefits the teen would be eligible for if they remained in foster care until age 21 — such as education, career, health, and independent living supports and services — when they reunify with their family or otherwise attain permanency.
  • Require ongoing, active, and documented searches for teens who are missing from care, using dedicated personnel. The missing teen’s placement should be held open for at least one month. The child welfare case should remain open. For teens who return to care there should be an updated case plan to address the reasons the teen was missing from care.

Co-authors of the report, alongside NCYL, are the Child and Family Policy Institute of California, and the University of California-Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. The research was funded by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.