Foster youth often feel misunderstood and marginalized by society as a whole. Within the larger foster youth community, however, certain groups must deal with even more stress. Those groups, and how to help them build fulfilling lives, are the subjects of the latest set of policy recommendations by the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council.
The council focused its 11-page September policy briefing on the needs of these “special populations” of foster youth: the homeless, expectant and parenting youth, and those who have been trafficked for sex or are in danger of experiencing it. Other special populations addressed include youth of color; those who age out of care without permanency; unaccompanied minors from other countries; and youth with non-traditional sexual or gender identities.
The foster youth policy council identified six priorities for policymakers to consider for these special populations, along with guidance on how best to support them.
To achieve its aims, the council wants to leverage the power of the 2-year-old federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which aims to improve the financing of services to families at risk of entering the system. The law’s goal is to prevent children from entering foster care by allowing federal reimbursement for mental health services, substance use treatment and in-home parenting skill training. It also seeks to reduce the placement of foster youth in congregate care, increase rates of family reunification and improve long-term outcomes.
Training should be provided to staff, caregivers and youth on how to recognize the signs and to protect young people from sex trafficking. Staff who work with young people in foster care should also be trained to teach youth about and how to access appropriate support services and emphasize their right to use them, the policy recommendations state.
To address the needs of expecting and parenting youth, the youth council wants policymakers to prioritize gender-equitable practices that ensure youth can access legal, prevention and independent living services. In addition, they should also receive child development and parenting support services without fear that they will be separated from their children. Both fathers and mothers should receive such support, they state.
Another identified priority is for policymakers to understand that youth who have been abused or neglected should not automatically be treated as delinquents. Foster youth who get locked up should continue to receive child welfare support, including from families. In addition, caseworkers should attend all court hearings so they have all the information they need to help the young person.
The council’s fourth priority is to promote inclusive spaces and mandate training on the needs of young people who are identified in the report as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and two-spirit, or LGBTQIA2-S.
Youth also need to have ongoing support in maintaining existing relationships and establishing long-term networks of people and resources, especially upon entering and exiting foster care, and children lacking these relationships shouldn’t be excluded from Family First Prevention services.
Finally, the policy recommendations call for acknowledgement and implementation of cultural awareness and inclusivity to help youth understand and celebrate who they are, the report states – a necessity for stronger communities and a reduction on the trauma children deal with while in foster care.