Before beginning work on securing placement for youth from foster care, it’s important to first initiate and sustain permanency-focused conversations with the young person, centered on issues such as conditional versus unconditional relationships, and how to seek, maintain, end and learn from relationships.
Jeff was a youth in foster care who lived in several group homes for most of his adolescence. As a result, the people he spent time with were a rotating series of staff members with whom he had conditional relationships.
When I started working with Jeff on developing permanency options, it was clear that unconditional relationships and permanency were both very foreign concepts to him. The conversations I had with him centered on identifying the people in his life who have the potential to provide unconditional love and acceptance.
Many of the people that Jeff discussed came from his past, and became the primary targets of the initial round of family search and engagement efforts. Once Jeff connected with these individuals — sometimes in person, sometimes over e-mail, phone or text — he was able to have deeper conversations with his therapist and other supportive adults about both his grief and loss history as well as his hopes and dreams for the future.
Through his initial experiences with permanency, Jeff came to the conclusion that while he loved spending time with his relatives, who were located on the other side of the country, that this was not home for him. Ultimately, Jeff established a strong connection with one of his Aunts and they remained in contact with each other my phone and text. Through this relationship, Jeff was able to find a strong measure of Permanency that he was in fact loved by his family.
It was only through Jeff’s courage combined with our commitment to having permanency focused conversations with him that he was able to reach this conclusion for himself. The importance of initiating, supporting and maintaining permanency conversations with youth in foster care is a critical component to all permanency efforts.
Dr. Greg Manning is a licensed clinical psychologist and nation-wide professional trainer, and serves as a senior consultant for the National Center for Adoption and Permanency (NCAP).