Kinship Care is Better for Children and Families
Being 18 can be a really exciting age as a teenager. This may even be the most exciting time of their lives. They are becoming older and now they are able to do things such as, staying out long past their normal curfew, being free from the rules that their parents have given them for the past 17 years. They are becoming a legal adult, and some may think of it as a good thing, while other teenagers may think of it being a bad thing. There are some teenagers that turn 18 and they do not have a home to go back to once the sun comes up. There are many children that are living in foster care in the United States, this new age could bring fear and anxiety. How will they finish school? Who will help them find a place to live? If they need medication, who would help them get it? Because they have little to no experience, who would help them find a stable job? Young adults face many ups and downs upon aging out of foster care, such as homelessness, health issues, or even finding or keeping a job. But the main issue is, reuniting with their biological family. All in all, reunification is the goal, but guardianship is most important. Aging out of foster care is a severe issue among the youth of America, and Kinship Caregivers could support and help guide them succeed and open their eyes to a new world of opportunity.
The Federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351) revised the title IV-E program to give States the opportunity of allowing youth to stay in foster care after reaching age 18. The youth have not reached the age of 19, 20, or 21, so the State chooses them to remain in foster care until the age of 18.
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How it works
With the help of the title IV-E program, as one of the largest federal block grant programs, Title V of the Social Security Act (SSA) is a significant foundation of support. It serves as support because it enhances, improves, and also promote the health for the health of children and their families It also focuses on the major components of child welfare. Its focus is on providing safe and stable out-of-home care for children who are in and out of different homes due to them being treated unfairly or other circumstances. But, until they are able to accomplish permanency in their placement by being safely returned home, placed permanently with adoptive families, or placed in other planned arrangements. According to Child and Family Services Review, Title IV-E funds are available for Adoption assistance Implementation and operation of a Statewide Automated Child Welfare, monthly maintenance payments for the daily care and supervision of eligible children, administrative costs to manage the program, and more importantly, training of staff and foster care providers. Title IV-E offers a wide array of assistance when it comes to extending foster care.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIS), there are requirements that the title IV-E program have in order to continue funding if the youth remain or return to foster care. So, in order to receive funding over the age of 18, the youth have to be in the process of completing high school, working toward their General Education Development (GED), or proceeding on to a postsecondary option whether that is attending college, trade school, or having stable employment. The youth must be employed 80 hours a month. If the youth are incapable of school and/or work, they will need to provide a documented medical note from their doctor’s office.
Policy Analysis: Strengths
There are placement agreements, and if the youth would like to return to foster care or extend it, it may be completed through a written agreement or through court order between the youth and the department, and in many cases, it is voluntary on the part of the youth. If it is voluntary, it serves as a contract between the agency and the youth. The agreement identifies the resources and services that will be given to the youth and the responsibilities of the youth regarding the services. There is a service plan, and the service plan is made to reveal the youth’s needs, strengths, and circumstances and to encourage the young adult’s successful transition to economic self-sufficiency and emotional and independent adulthood living, (CWIS).
There is also transitional help, there will be academic support that will include tutoring, study skills, teaching them how to locate educational resources. Furthermore, the youth could get help applying to college or a vocational training program or other educational institution that will allow financial aid. The transitional support will also help the youth be able to help with career preparation, they will help the youth locate jobs, writing resumes, completing job applications, developing or summer employment programs. Helping the youth identify basic life skills is definitely one of the most important factors when it comes to transitional support. Gaining knowledge about housing education and home management skills, such as meal planning and preparation, laundry, nutrition, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and basic home maintenance. Creating awareness about being healthy is very important especially at a young age. With the help of Kinship Caregivers, they may be able to assist with some if not all of these things. Learning about sex education and healthy relationships, abuse prevention could really benefit the youth because it is important to know about your health and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Not only does the transitional services help with basic life and career skills, but it also helps them transition to a group home or even another foster home, or more importantly reuniting with a Kinship Caregiver. With the help of Kinship Caregivers, they may be able to assist with some if not all of these things (CWIS). According to the CIWS, in the state of Illinois, a court may continue the wardship of a minor until age 21 for good. So, once the youth reaches age 21 in the state of Illinois, there may be the closure of a case and the funds from the title IV-E program may be stopped. But if the youth remained with their Kinship Caregiver, they would still be able to receive the funds throughout the ages of 18-21. Currently, Illinois is one of the few states that has a policy of extending care up to age 21, and has demonstrated more success than others in doing so in practice; the state accounts for a considerable proportion of those over the age of 18 in care in the U.S. (Bussey et al., 2000; Fernandes, 2008, pg.1).
Strengths: Success Stories
In 2008 Laura was a single foster mother, and she came to Our Children’s Homestead (OCH), because her 5-year-old foster daughter, Angel needed specialized care. Angel, was like much other foster youths, suffered the kind of abuse no one wants to picture in their head. Her little body was wrapped in rope to keep her from escaping the basement she was locked in. Her life up to this point included severe horrific abuse and severe neglect, it was the only lifestyle she knew. After being placed with Laura, Angel would have bad dreams in the middle of the night horrified, and she used to cry for two hours every morning. Even taking a shower was very overwhelming for her. There was a time in school, where Angel’s class was reading a story about a basement, and this caused Angel to have flashbacks. Angel continued to get services from OCH, and also, she was finally adopted, and Laura is planning to keep her until she ages out of their care which is until 21.
“I have been in the system since I could remember, somewhere around 5 or 6. I was placed in about 15 different foster homes and 3 group homes. When I was a teenager, I was placed into a new agency that ultimately changed my life. The best foster home I was in I was her first foster girl and she took a huge leap of faith for me. From there I got my GED, a job, and a sense of love. Before I was in this amazing home I was labeled as an excessive runaway, I never ran away from this home, I actually stayed until I was 19 and moved out into independent living. Danielle stayed in the system until she was 23, and she is taking advantage of the many programs DCFS has forwards. She then stayed in the independent living program until age 21 and from there I went to college and received benefits for maintaining good grades and enrollment. At age 23, Danielle was left on my own to figure things out, but she was not scared because of the OCH program. The program had already given her the tools to provide her with a support system. Even after it all, her foster care mother stayed on her to accomplish her goals. Because of all of the support that she has gotten, it motivated her to become a foster parent. She realized that after being in so many homes that had mistreated her, she wanted to give back and help others. At the age of 24, she then contacted OCH and began the process of becoming a licensed foster parent.
Weaknesses: Social Issues
Some teenagers are not ready to be one their own around the age of 18 or even 21. If they make the decision to age out of foster care at the age of 18, they could potentially set themselves up for failure. There are 20,000 children every year, that ages out with nowhere to go, they may not be reunited with their biological family, which will lead to them being required or forced to live on their own and begin their young adult lives without a vital attachment to a primary caregiver which may lead to poor social and health outcomes such as becoming homeless (McMillen et al., 2005; Samuels & Pryce, 2008). Unlike their friends, they do not have an option to stay with their parents and be financially stable and keep a roof over their heads. According to Dworsky, Napolitano, and Courtney, (2013), a review of research published between 1990 and 2011 has suggested that between 11% and 36% of the youths who age out of foster care become homeless during the transition to adulthood (pg. 1). Dworsky and Courtney collected data from youths transitioning out of foster care in 3 Midwestern states. The odds of becoming homeless by age 19 years were higher for those who (1) had run away more than once while in foster care, (2) were placed in a group care setting at baseline, (3) had been physically abused before entering foster care, (4) had engaged in more delinquent behaviors, and (5) did not feel very close to a biological parent or grandparent (pg. 1). Because of them becoming homeless, it can lead to poor health outcomes and not receiving proper health care.
One challenge young adult’s face after aging out of foster care is being provided the health care that they need. According to Paula K Jaudes, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, children that are placed in foster care, suffered from different forms of health issues such as, chronic medical problems, birth defects, developmental delays, substance abuse, pregnancy, retardation, and also emotional issues (pg.1170). The teens can go through all of these things during homelessness after aging out of foster care at the age of 18, if they continue to stay in care until the age of 21, these issues are not likely to happen because they will receive not only financial support but emotional support as well.
Weaknesses: Policy Issues
While foster care is planned to provide temporary safe shelter for abused and neglected children, too many of these youth spend years in foster experiencing something that they tried to break free from. There were class action lawsuits that were filed against different states for failing the Child Welfare Systems. In New York City, there is an advocacy organization called Children’s Rights. And Children’s Rights uses the law to serve and protect many neglected and abused kids when child welfare systems fail to do so. Many states such as Arizona, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas, all have class action lawsuits against them for failing the child welfare system. Krinsky (2007), states that we allow these outcomes to remain in place year after year and doom generations of abused and neglected children to follow in these footsteps of despair (pg. 2). According to the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI), In 2012, there were approximately 679,000 instances of confirmed child maltreatment from the over 3 million reports generated and Children with a diagnosed disability of any kind, including a learning disability, are twice as likely to age out of the foster care system.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly a quarter of the approximately 442,995 children in foster care are age 14 or older and more than 17,000 young people age out of foster care at age 18 each year. What can we do as a society to help adolescents that choose to age out of foster care the age of 18? How can we help them figure out ways to get through life at such a young age? If the goal of providing children with a new home is to be able to give them a new start or helping them to find independent living, as a society, these kids are failing because of us. We can’t just take kids out of a home, place them in a new home, and then expect them to thrive. The extension of foster care has a huge impact on Kinship Caregivers and the ones they care for. It will allow the caregivers to bond with the youth and also still receive financial support from the government.
Providing the most normal childhood and adolescent experience possible through love and care, educational opportunity and stability, extracurricular activities, helping them transition into their own independent living will be delivered the best by Kinship Caregivers. The ability to engage in their life forever and them knowing that they do not have to share a room with three other people, or jumping house to house, or getting treated unfairly is invaluable. Placement or reunification is the goal, but guardianship is very important. Enforcing placement stability amongst kinship caregivers is very important. Park, Helton (2010) shows that children that are placed in informal kinship care, experience a high level of placement stability in spite of a high rate of transition from kinship care to formal out-of-home care.
If youth would like to see changes within their foster care experience, I recommend them to get to know their Legislators and Legislative Staff. Show up and be heard and let them know how you would want to live. I recommend the age to be extended to 23 instead of 21 because I feel as if 21 is too early for the child to be on their own. Most likely, they will return back home anyway. I would also want to extend transitional support while extending the age because that is really important when it comes to receiving help at a young age. All in all, I will continue to support the Federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act and continue to fund the policy as well.
- Bruskas, D. (2010). Developmental health of infants and children subsequent to foster care. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 231-241
- Dworsky, A., Napolitano, L., & Courtney, M. (2013). Homelessness during the transition from foster care to adulthood. American Journal of Public Health, 103(S2), 323.
- Jaudes, P., MA, MD, Weil, L., MA, Prior, J., MEd, Sharp, D., PhD, Holzberg, M., MPH, PhD, & McClelland, G., PhD. (2016). Wellbeing of children and adolescents with special health care needs in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 276-283.
- Krinsky, M. (2007). A case for reform of the child welfare system. Family Court Review, 45(4), 541-547.
- McMillen, J. C., Zima, B. T., Scott, L. D. Jr., Auslander, W. F., Munson,M. R., Ollie, M. T.Spitznagel, E. L. (2005). Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among older youths in the foster care system. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,44(1), 88–95
- Park, J., & Helton, J. (2010). Transitioning from informal to formal substitute care following maltreatment investigation. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(7), 998-1003.
- Peters, C. (2012). Examining regional variation in extending foster care beyond 18: Evidencefrom Illinois. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(9)