Defining “Normal”: Creating a Sense of Normalcy For Foster Youth

For many, childhood is marked with memories of sleepovers and vacations or passing the driver’s exam and taking that first drive to an after-school job. For foster children, however, it can be difficult to share in these experiences that so many consider normal. As wards of the state, foster children are at the mercy of the legal system – their foster parents are required to go jump through several legal hoops such as restrictions on car insurance, required background checks for potential chaperones or pre-scheduled court dates and visitation periods. Some of these even require the foster parents to personally fund the endeavors. Child welfare providers across the country are increasingly recognizing that these regulations, once thought to protect children, actually impede the foster care system from providing the best care possible.

What Is Normalcy for Foster Youth and Why Is It Important?

“Before, we were trying to keep kids from getting hurt…. We put them in a room and made sure nothing happened to them,” Mike Watson, an executive for a Florida foster care agency, said of previous foster care standards. “We don’t want supervisors. We want people to parent. We had created this artificial relationship where you had state-sanctioned individuals in a home acting like a jailer.” Now, there is a push for “normalcy.” Normalcy is a standard of care that enables foster youth to share in the everyday activities that allow them to develop the skills that will build a true sense of independence. But what, exactly, is normalcy for foster youth? Continue reading

Religious Freedom and LGBT Adoption Laws Face Off

While the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage and gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face challenges that heterosexual families do not. Among the most contested issues is whether foster care agencies can deny placing children based on the foster parents’ sexual orientation.

LGBT Adoption Laws

National LGBT Adoption Laws

Two opposing bills have been sent to Congress to determine whether faith-based foster care agencies are required to place children with families who don’t share their religious beliefs. LGBT rights advocates have proposed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. It would prevent agencies receiving federal funding from denying foster care placements or adoption to members of the LGBT community and allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withhold Title IV funding to states that don’t comply. The other bill in Congress proposed by religious advocates, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, would protect agencies from losing state funding for only providing service to those who share their religious beliefs.
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Keeping the Faith? Georgia Act Threatens LGBTQ Parents’ Ability to Adopt

Georgia’s Senate recently passed the Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act (Senate Bill (SB)375), which would permit the state’s foster care and adoption agencies to refuse LGBTQ parents and others who do not share the agencies’ religious beliefs. As reported in Newsweek, the state Senate passed the bill on Friday, February 23.

LGBTQ Parents’ Ability to Adopt
The implications of this Act would reach deeper than many might think, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ rights organization. Not only would it allow agencies to refuse adoption to LGBTQ parents but also to interfaith couples, single parents and those who have been divorced. It would also impact services offered to LGBTQ youth in care.

In a statement, Marty Rouse, National Field Director of the Human Rights Campaign said, “It’s unfortunate that leaders are focusing on this bill instead of concrete ways to improve the child welfare system in Georgia. We ask the Georgia House of Representatives to reject this bill.”

While detractors, including GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, call the Act an imposition of religious values for the purpose of discrimination, others feel the Act will not impact the LGBTQ community in the ways it fears. Georgia Senator William Logan has stated that prospective LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents will be able to go through other non-faith based agencies, adding that such arrangements would allow agencies tied to religion the ability “…to exercise their fundamental right to practice their faith.”

Georgia is a stark contrast to New Jersey, where LGBTQ families are welcomed by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. To learn more about National LGBT Adoption Laws, click here.

The State of Kinship Care Legislation 2017, Part I: Best Intentions

Every year, child welfare agencies across the country are increasing their emphasis on kinship care, a form of foster care that gives placement preference to relative caregivers instead of traditional foster parents who are strangers to the children placed with them. Widely recognized as the better way to care for foster children, kinship care legislation has been making its way to law for the better part of the last decade. However, kinship placements are very different from traditional ones – the complex intrafamily dynamics and unique family relationships combined with support systems that fail to account for these aspects of kinship care often mean that legislation can fall short of helping relative caregivers. In 2017, California introduced its Resource Family Approval process (RFA), a reform that, in part, aims to register and financially compensate relative caregivers in the same ways that the state handles traditional foster parents.

A typical complaint of relative caregivers is a lack of state support so this reform seemed to be, from the legislators’ perspectives, a slam dunk – getting these kinship families registered with the state would make it easier to pay them the appropriate stipends while also linking them up to necessary supports beyond the traditional financial assistance.

Very quickly, however, flaws with the system began to emerge. “I’m actively expecting my landlord to show up at any point in time and hand me a three-day notice and start the eviction process,” Mahoganie LaFranks, a Los Angeles kinship provider, said. “I love this kid, but I am completely petrified.” LaFranks had begun the RFA process in September of 2017, but had been caring for a teen since January. By the time December rolled around, the process was still not complete – meaning LaFranks was not receiving the $923 monthly stipend that resource families typically receive in California. With many new responsibilities regarding the teen but without the extra money, LaFranks found herself behind on rent and struggling to find a job that fits into her parenting schedule. Continue reading

Foster Youth Graduate High School and College at Lower Rates than Peers

With less than three percent of foster youth graduating college nationally each year, many youth who are, or were, in foster care find themselves dangerously disadvantaged educationally.

Foster Youth Graduate high school
The numbers are stark. According to Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation on foster care issues, it is estimated that 30-50 percent of youth exit the foster care system without a high school diploma or high school equivalent. Meanwhile, only 30.7 percent of children who grow up in foster care graduate from high school.
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NJFC Scholar Spotlight: Sophia Orama

Whether it’s something trivial like tying a shoe or something major like choosing a college, most children have their parents to turn to whenever they need help. However, for kids in foster care, that parental support is often not there. In the case of Sophia Orama, a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, she had to be the one providing support.

NJFC Scholar Spotlight: Sophia Orama
With an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, Orama was forced to become the caretaker of the household. “I stayed with her [my mother] for many years because I was the one that was taking care of her,” Orama said. “It wasn’t until the time that I was 16 and I was a junior in high school and I was like, ‘I got to start thinking about myself,’ because college was coming up.”
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