NACAC believes that every child and youth—regardless of age, special needs, or length of time in foster care—has a right to a permanent, legal connection to a caring family. The child welfare system has an ethical obligation to ensure that no child or youth leaves foster care without a real opportunity to achieve permanency, whether through reunification with birth family, placement with relatives or other kin, guardianship, or adoption (including customary adoption). The key to achieving such permanency is determining and implementing the right plan for each individual child or youth and providing all needed support to the permanent family.
NACAC also believes that older children and youth should have a powerful voice in any decisions made about their future, including in their permanency planning process. Children and youth, as developmentally appropriate, should be actively engaged in decisions to seek permanency, recruitment and family-finding efforts, and in the transition to permanency. We believe that older youth should only have the option to opt out of permanency options such as adoption after a serious and youth-centered process of education and counseling that explores the importance and the legal implications of achieving permanency. If a youth does choose to opt out of a specific permanency option after this process, the system should seek and support stable, committed lifelong connections for that youth.
Opportunities for achieving permanency should not end when a child turns 18 or ages out of foster care. Workers should explain to any youth who appears likely to age out of care that it is never too late for them to achieve permanency, and that legal adoptions can happen even for adults.
The key to successful permanency planning for older children and youth is an ongoing, individualized process that focuses on preparing and engaging the youth, working to identify potential families, and supporting a successful transition and placement. The process should start with a comprehensive, individual assessment for all children or youth that explores—within a framework of lifelong development and needs—their permanency options, their wishes, and their current and former connections.
Each child and youth should also receive education and counseling related to the importance of permanency and the legal implications of having a permanent family. No youth should be allowed to opt out of permanency planning without such in-depth counseling and education. For youth who do opt out of permanency, as long as the youth remains in care, workers should continue these discussions about permanency options and should continue permanency efforts for the youth.
The permanency planning process must also include a process of working with the child or youth and an identified family during the transition and placement to help them build a real bond and to overcome any hurdles. The process must also include ongoing post-placement support.
Specifically, child welfare agencies should:
Engage in Family-Finding from a Youth-Centered Perspective
- Work closely with and engage older children and youth in exploring all permanency options and identifying existing and potential connections that may lead to a permanent placement
- Use as the primary strategy child-specific recruiting, which relies on reviewing social histories and case files to identify individuals who have, have had, or could have a connection or relationship with the child or youth
- Invest in targeted family-finding efforts where experienced individuals search for relatives and fictive kin who may serve as a permanent family for the child or youth
- Think inclusively and creatively about expanding the pool of prospective parents, including professionals who may know the child or youth and maternal and paternal birth family members as prospective permanency resources
- Engage and support administrators, supervisors, and front-line staff who believe that youth permanency is possible and necessary; implement rigorous efforts, including ongoing training and permanency-oriented supervision, to ensure that all staff understand that permanency is possible and valuable for all children and youth
- Work closely with prospective families to ensure that they understand the specific needs of the older children and youth who need a family; establish supportive services throughout the preparation and transition process to reassure families and respond to any questions and concerns they may have
- Use all available resources to find adoptive families—state/provincial, regional, and national photolisting services; interjurisdictional placements, and emerging or creative technologies and options
Prevent Group or Residential Placements from Adversely Affecting Permanency
- Ensure that older children and youth have the best chance for achieving permanency by placing them in the least restrictive setting for the shortest time possible, so that each child and youth has the opportunity to build and maintain connections with a family
- Continue to actively engage in permanency planning for all youth in group or residential placements, including planning for wraparound and other supportive services they will need during a transition to and after placement with a family
Empower Youth in Their Own Permanency Planning
- Work with children and youth to identify key adults who might be prospective permanent resources, and fully engage children and youth in their own permanency planning efforts
- Help children and youth examine their fears and other feelings about adoption and other permanency options, and make sure they understand the lifelong value of having a permanent family
- Pair foster youth with mentors who spent time in care and either achieved permanency or aged out of care, and who can serve as role models and enable the youth to build another positive relationship
Integrate Independent Living Services into Permanency Planning Efforts
- Provide life skills support and independent living services to all older children and youth in foster care and integrate those services into permanency planning, so that children and youth do not have to choose between permanency and support
Provide Sufficient Post-Placement Services to Support Permanency
- Provide specialized post-placement services for families who provide older children and youth with permanency through reunification, kinship placement, guardianship, or adoption; services should be tailored to the needs of the individual child/youth and family, and the lack of supportive services should never be a reason that a child or youth remains in care
- Provide equitable support and benefits in foster care, adoption, and guardianship
NACAC seeks reforms to current adoption policy in the U.S. and Canada that serve as barriers to permanency for older children and youth. Specifically, federal, state, provincial, territorial, tribal, and other government entities should ensure that:
- Laws require true permanency for every child and youth by embracing permanency goals of reunification, kinship placement, guardianship, and adoption, and by acknowledging that goals such as emancipation, independent living, long-term foster care, and another planned permanent living arrangement are not permanency goals.
- Youth consent-to-adoption laws give children and youth a strong voice in their permanent plan without enabling them to opt out of legal permanency without a thoughtful, ongoing, youth-centered process that includes discussion and counseling about the importance of legal permanency.
- Benefits for foster youth who age out of care (such as tuition waivers and independent living supports) are available to all older foster youth even after they achieve permanency, so that no youth is placed in a position between having a family and going to college or preparing for life.
- Family members and other kin who were once ruled out as permanency resources can and are reconsidered as permanency options, when it is in the child or youth’s best interests.
- There is a legally recognized path to permanency (such as reinstatement of parental rights or adoption by birth parents) with birth parents who are found to be able to safely care for their children and youth, when it is in the child or youth’s best interests.
- All qualified families are included in the pool of prospective permanent families by removing any legal restrictions to certain categories of individuals or families (such as LGBT families, single or non-married families, or larger families).