Editor's Message: Fostering Connections to SuccessFrom Vision to Implementation

Judge Dean Lewis

J. Dean Lewis, Judge (retired)
Former Member, National CASA Association Board of Trustees
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

 

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On October 7, 2008, President Bush signed into law the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (H.R. 6893/ P.L. 110-351). The legislation received bi-partisan support, passing by unanimous consent in the House and Senate.

Prior to passage of the act, numerous child welfare advocacy organizations analyzed the plight of older youth who emancipated from care and younger children experiencing “foster care drift” with no prospects for permanency. Studies found that "independent living" frequently became the child's permanency case plan as early as age 14 or 15, at which time the agency would discontinue its efforts toward reunification, relative placement, legal guardianship or adoption. Independent living services are critical to a teen's success in exiting foster care. However, such services do not replace the necessity of a permanent family for every child in foster care. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of youth aging out of foster care steadily climbed. The profile of many youth emancipating from the foster care system at age 18 revealed:

  • Youth with no adult or sibling family connections
  • Youth at risk of becoming homeless
  • Youth without a high school degree who lack job skills and are at high risk for unemployment
  • Youth with health, substance abuse and/or mental health issues
  • Youth at risk of sexual and physical victimization
  • Youth at risk of arrest or incarceration

Many provisions of the Fostering Connection Act target the problems of youth aging out of the foster care system without a permanent family or support system. The act provides federal funds to extend foster care services and oversight to youth through age 21 and offers new resources to address those aspects of the child welfare system that have historically inhibited older youth from achieving permanency before emancipation.

Provisions of the act address the following key areas:

  • Promoting the permanency placement option of kinship care by focusing on identifying relatives and eliminating barriers to relative placement
  • Promoting the permanency placement option of adoption by providing federal supports
  • Promoting sibling ties and family connections through federal support
  • Improving outcomes for older youth by continuing federal support beyond age 18 and requiring a transition plan for those leaving care after age 18
  • Extending training to more child welfare staff
  • Increasing access to federal funding to promote better outcomes for American Indian/Native American children
  • Addressing children’s health and education needs

The articles in this issue of The Judges’ Page address many of the child welfare issues targeted by the act.

  • The Winter 2011 National CASA Connection magazine focuses on youth aging out of foster care and provides a strong overview of the Fostering Connections legislation.
  • Charlie McNeely, a college senior who spent 15 years in Oregon’s foster care system, shares her personal struggle with both foster care drift and aging out of the child welfare system. Charlie did not have the benefit of the resources offered by Fostering Connections. Her story will serve as an incentive to judges and child advocates to pursue implementation of the Act’s provisions to ensure that other youth do not face these hurdles.
  • Heidi Redlich Epstein directs us to the recently released Judicial Guide to the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. This resource is available online. The guide will assist all who seek to understand the act and implement its provisions.
  • Judge Leonard Edwards addresses the importance of maintaining sibling connections during foster care and explains how the act specifies procedures to promote sibling relationships.
  • Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis explains the impact of the Fostering Connections legislation on Native American families involved in the child welfare system.
  • Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell offers insight from a model court about the importance of collaboration when courts and communities seek to implement provisions of the act.
  • The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project of the ABA Center on Children and the Law submission, “The Option to Extend Care Beyond Age 18,” explains the option that states now have to extend foster care beyond age 18 and the benefits this option offers youth.
  • The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project of the ABA Center on Children and the Law article, “90-Day Transition Plan,” gives a detailed explanation of the act’s requirement that the child welfare agency develop a transition plan for each youth within the 90-day period before discharge from care.
  • The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project of the ABA Center on Children and the Law article, "Judicial Considerations for Implementing Fostering Connections: Education Stability and Continuity,"  shares the provisions of the act that enhance the existing federal foster care education requirements. The article also offers recommendations to child advocates to promote effective education decisions.
  • Sally Erny, chief program officer, National CASA Association, explains that with the support of the Walmart Foundation, the National CASA Association has launched Fostering Futures, a program to match specially trained CASA/GAL volunteers with older foster youth to promote successful outcomes.
  • Paula Campbell of the NCJFCJ Permanency Planning for Children Department introduces us to the Judicial Education Checklist developed by Casey Family Programs in collaboration with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. The checklist was prepared to assist dependency courts in making a positive impact on educational outcomes for foster children.
  • Dennis Blazey educates readers regarding the training provisions of the act.
  • Lisa Merkel Holguin of the American Humane Association describes family group decision making (FGDM) and explains how the FGDM process of involving parents, children and family members in development of the foster care case plan enhances the Fostering Connection Act’s goal of promoting permanency placements and relationships.
  • Paula Campbell, information specialist at the Permanency Planning for Children of NCJFCJ offers additional research and web resources related to Fostering Connections.
  • At its annual conference in April, the National CASA Association presented Hon. Nan Waller, Circuit Court Judge, Multnomah County Juvenile Court, Portland, OR. Read about Judge Waller and other Awards of Excellence honorees.

Thanks to Carmela Welte, Deputy CEO of the National CASA Association, for securing the articles in this issue.

 

 

 

 

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