Teens Need Families: Making a Year-Round Commitment to Finding Family and Permanency for Older Youth

Jennifer Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director,
Four youth sitting, making funny faces, laughing.

As part of National Adoption Month, we’re producing a special blog series focused on older youth in foster care and the importance of family and permanency.

As we leave National Adoption Month, we commit ourselves to advocating for laws and policies that ensure that all youth leave the child welfare system connected to family, caring adults, and resources that provide them the love, nurturing, and material and moral support all youth need to make a successful transition to adulthood.

Family connections are some of the strongest, most powerful indicators of future success in adulthood. As advocates for transition-aged youth, permanency is a central focus of our advocacy. Our vision of permanency—and the work we do to achieve it—must include the voices of youth. They have loudly and clearly told us that they, like all people, want family and connections with caring adults, but we need to understand and respect young people’s experiences to support them in finding this.  

Our blog series has highlighted what many in the child welfare field already know. While the law and child development research make connecting youth with family a legal and moral imperative, on a daily basis we are failing youth in foster care in large numbers. Our blog series shows that youth want permanency and can achieve it, but our systems are not yet equipped to do so on a large scale or in ways that make sense and engage youth. 

In the coming months, Juvenile Law Center commits to addressing the following questions to promote and enact policies that will ensure youth leave the child welfare system connected with family and a support system of caring adults:

  1. How can we create a child welfare system and community ethic that pursues permanency for older youth with urgency and purpose?
  2. If youth tell us that supportive relationships—relational permanency—is the priority for them, how can we develop strategies to ensure relationships are identified, supported, and shored up to the same degree as our pursuit of legal permanency?
  3. How can we develop comprehensive services to ensure biological family connections of older youth are respected and strengthened?
  4. How can we make sure how we talk to youth about permanency and how we work to help them achieve family are truly trauma-informed and informed by what we know about adolescent development?

We ask colleagues and community members to join us in answering these questions and doing this work. 

We look forward to the partnership and leadership of many in the field doing extraordinary work.  Here are just a few that give us great hope for making permanency and family possible for every young person in the child welfare system: