19, No. 2
Achieving Legal and Relational Permanence for ALL Youth in Foster Care
Every youth in foster care deserves a permanent home. Ideally, this takes place through legal permanence, which is defined as the reunification, adoption, or transfer of legal guardianship of the youth. However, even if that isn't possible, achieving relational permanence is key.
Relational permanence means "lifelong connections to caring adults, including at least one adult who will provide a permanent, parent-like connection for that youth" (Louisell, 2008). Recognizing the importance of relational permanence, North Carolina has made it one of the primary outcomes focused on by NC LINKS, our state's independent living program. For each teen in foster care we seek to build "a personal support system of at least five caring adults in addition to professional relationships."
Aging Out of Foster Care in NC
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau (2014) in North Carolina a 12-year-old in foster care is 2.5 times less likely to be adopted, and a 17-year-old 9 times less likely to be adopted, than a 2-year-old.
Although adoption is not the only path to legal permanence, many older youth are at risk of aging out without legal permanence of any kind.
Tool for Building Connection and Support
This planning tool was developed by FosterClub (www.fosterclub.org) to help youth and supportive adults establish, define, and maintain a relationship that is supportive for the youth. To establish a Permanency Pact a facilitator, such as a case worker, helps the youth identify adults they would like to have in their support system.
The facilitator then guides the process of expanding the youth's support system, which involves obtaining consents to share information, helping make contact with the adult, facilitating conversations between the youth and adult, and helping establish a written pact.
FosterClub's free, brief, easy-to-use Permanency Pact toolkit includes 45 potential supports that a supportive adult could provide to a foster youth to help establish relational permanency. These include supports such as a home for the holidays, occasional family style meals, spiritual support, storage space, mentoring, and more.
To learn more, download the Permanency Pact toolkit: http://fclub.he2236.vps.webenabled.net/content/fosterclubs-permanency-pact.
Developed by Dr. Darla Henry, the 3-5-7 Model helps children and youth prepare for permanency by encouraging them to reflect on who they are, what has happened to them, where they are headed, how they will get there, and when they will know that they belong. The model incorporates 3 tasks, 5 conceptual questions and 7 interpersonal skill elements to support this work. These are shown in the figure below.
The 3-5-7 model also gives special consideration to the trauma and grief children have experienced rather than labeling a child as having a behavior disorder. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse finds this model highly relevant to child welfare work; however, there is not yet enough empirical evidence of its effectiveness to give it a scientific rating. This may change: 3-5-7 is currently going through rigorous evaluation.
Whether this connection comes through legal or relational permanence, it is vital that we ensure connection for every young person.