Facilitating permanency for youth in foster care can be very challenging work. Many teens that have been in the child welfare system have experienced multiple placements and relationships and are at a challenging crossroad between childhood and adulthood. Adults who work with youth have an ethical and moral responsibility to help them identify caring, committed adults with whom they might want to establish a lifelong connection. The practice and professional literature speaks to the importance of permanence for youth and how continued instability increases the long-term risks for teens, which may continue well into adulthood.
One young woman from the foster care system said it best at a workshop presentation on the importance of permanency for youth, when a participant asked if she would still want to be adopted as a 17-year-old:
Who wouldn’t want a family? Who wouldn’t want to have a family to spend holidays with, to call when things don’t go right? Who wouldn’t want that?
So if long term foster care is not the answer (and it isn’t) --the larger question then becomes: How can practitioners best achieve permanence for teens?
There is no easy answer. In fact, no “one size fits all” fix to this dilemma exists, because permanency and developmental needs of adolescents in foster care are complex and varied.
As if the main question itself were not complicated enough, two additional questions exists as well. The first is:
- How has independent living become viewed as the default plan for most adolescents in foster care?
- How do states jointly deliver independent-living skills development services while working to achieve permanence for youth?
Contemporary child welfare, despite systemic reform efforts, has held firmly to a crisis orientation that tends to focus especially on younger children, who it views as more vulnerable. Independent Living as a separate program with a separate funding stream, combined with questions regarding adolescent adoptability and willingness to be adopted, have contributed to the system’s further estrangement from its adolescent population, who often experience long lengths of stay in care.
All adolescents, even those who live with their birth families, require independent living skills, a set of self-sufficiency skills to assist them in transitioning toward adulthood. But all youth also need stability and permanence in their lives as well. Even with solid life skills training and practice