Family is critical for young people in and from foster care. We know, from what Lived Experience (LEx) leaders have told us, that too often, foster youth are unnecessarily placed in congregate care facilities which has long-term impacts on their well-being, family connections and transition to adulthood, especially as these placements which can stretch on for years. We must do better.
Foster youth have advocated for necessary protections and oversight to prevent unnecessary placements into facilities and ensure that if a foster youth needs an intervention that can only be provided in a residential setting, that they are protected and supported in getting back to family as quickly and safely as possible. These protections, oversight and changes were included under the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.
LEx leaders have provided several recommendations on how we can ensure all foster youth have what they need to heal and thrive. What is overwhelmingly clear is that foster youth need #FamiliesNotFacilities.
Family Voices United
Family Voices United LEx leaders shared their perspectives on how support could be provided to families to keep a child in-home, rather than being placed in a facility:
1. Invest in our mental health and well-being by ensuring we have access to trauma-informed therapy and mental health services.
2. We need support groups for youth, parents, and kinship caregivers.
3. Communicate with us. Honest and transparent conversations help us feel safe while connecting us to resources that meet and support our everyday and basic needs.
4. Invest in our normalcy, access to activities that promote positive youth development, family engagement and connections to the community.
5. Focus on intensifying in-home services and supports based on our families’ specific needs, as opposed to rushing to remove us from our families.
Read the full recommendations including quotes from young people, parents and kinship/relative caregivers here.
National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council
The National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council released two priority statements on Congregate Care - one focused on improving services:
A. Policies, oversight and staffing of congregate care operations must be improved
B. Congregate care settings must provide trauma informed services
and one focused on reducing reliance:
A. States should make efforts to prevent disruptions and ensure placement in congregate care is appropriate
B. Establishing lifelong connections should be a priority for children placed in congregate care settings
In their most recent statement, the Council elevated several priorities:
1. Ensure QRTPs are taking care of the needs of the “tough” kids, and not just those with the easiest to meet needs.
2. Ensure my entry into a QRTP intervention is fair and appropriate.
3. If it is determined a QRTP intervention is the best option, it should be within the young person’s community. If it can’t be, it is incumbent on child welfare professionals to ensure the young person has access to and is able to retain their community, family, and cultural connections.
4. Part of curbing the over-reliance of medication is to ensure informed consent and have an established and independent appeal process available to youth with a medication regimen (especially while the regimen is being considered regardless of whether the medication is over the counter or prescribed including off label use).
5. Systems should have standards and measures of well-being, and QRTP’s should be held accountable to meet these standards in a young person’s treatment plan.
6. Urgently address the vulnerabilities to sex-trafficking that are associated with placement in a QRTP.
When we listen to young people who have lived through foster care and congregate care placements, we can understand the impacts of current policies and practices and identify a clear path to prevent harm and ensure foster youth can heal and thrive. There are times when young people who have experienced trauma will need help. We need to do all we can to provide that help in family and in their community, and to keep them connected to their family and community if they need a short-term service in a residential setting. The system-wide practice of using congregate care facilities as a dumping ground for at-risk youth, or as a punishment for acting out must be left in the past.
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