Policymakers, agencies, and professionals continue to expand and develop best practices around achieving permanency for young people served by the child welfare system. Whether it is adoption, reunification, or guardianship, the path to permanency can look very different depending on the situation and the best interest of the young person. There are currently over 400,000 young people in foster care. Research tells us by virtue of entering foster care a young person is likely to face added obstacles and barriers which creates stress that often may show up in the form of extra challenges in their day to day life. Achieving permanency is a key aspect to finding some sense of stability.
Child welfare agencies must support young people in finding the best permanency option by: educating them on THEIR own permanency options and engaging them in THEIR own permanency plans.
My name is Aleks Talsky and I currently work as a legal professional at a law firm in downtown Milwaukee. I experienced the Milwaukee County foster care system while growing up in Wisconsin. I was born into a large family with 9 siblings and our experiences in foster care were significantly different as we did not grow up in the same home. In many instances our lives were altered by content, structure, and capability due to no fault of our own.
To help young people find the best permanency option, child welfare agencies must educate young people on all permanency options. As child welfare agencies continue to modernize to meet the needs of the child and the family, they must change how and what permanency options are presented to young people. Specifically, child welfare professionals must consider how the transition to reunifying families can impact what permanency options are presented and considered. Historically, child welfare agencies pushed adoption as one of the best and sometimes only options to achieve permanency. It is important child welfare agencies move away from this adoption saviorism and help families and youth explore what permanency options exist beyond adoption. For one young person, reunification with their family might be the best option but for another reunification might not be achievable. As the system modernizes to meet the needs of children and families, child welfare professionals will play an important role in helping young people determine their best permanency path.
Child welfare agencies must educate young people on all permanency options because disparities exist amongst each path. There are some resources and supports only available if a young person ages out of care. My experience with post support and resources was dramatically different than my adopted siblings because my grandma never adopted me. Upon aging out of care, I was able to gain services such as free health insurance and grants for college to help me transition into adulthood. On the other hand, even though my siblings endured similar traumatic experiences, they did not have access to the same resources and post support because they were adopted. It is essential young people learn what resources and supports are tied to each permanency option. Post support and resources are just one aspect of permanency child welfare professionals must educate young people on. Through education young people will have an understanding to help them find what permanency option can best serve them.
Educating young people on different permanency options is an important step towards engaging these young people in their permanency plan. The child welfare system and everyone on the young person’s team whether it is a case manager, social worker, CASA, or legal representative has an obligation to allow young people a voice and equal decision making power in THEIR own permanency plan. These conversations should not be a one time thing, in fact they should be frequent and often.
To ensure the best permanency is achieved for all young people served by the child welfare system, I urge policymakers, agencies, and professionals to research, develop, expand and implement best practices for educating and engaging young people in permanency planning.