Tools for Success: A Toolkit for Child Welfare Professionals

Youth Fostering Change,
People stacking hands in a "go-team" style gesture.

Across the country, over 20,000 youth age out of foster care annually without permanent family connections or stability. Within 18 months of aging out, 40-50% of former foster youth become homeless. In Pennsylvania, 8,639 (33%) of the state’s foster care population are between ages 14 and 21, generally referred to as “transition age youth.” Almost half (49%) age out without being reunified or connected to a permanent family. This means thousands of young people are leaving the state’s care without adequate support, a loving family, or the resources and people necessary for them to grow into thriving adults.

Many members of Youth Fostering Change aged out without family or supportive connections. Some youth advocates are about to leave the system without permanency, and they are uncertain about our lives and futures. 

This toolkit is based on youth advocates' experiences in care and with aging out. This toolkit is for social workers, advocates, case workers, and other child welfare professionals to further support their work to achieve meaningful legal permanency and relational permanency. It includes the definition and obligations for legal permanency planning, as well as tools and best practices for working with youth to achieve permanency.

Infographic on PA foster youth statistics
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Professionals can use this toolkit as a guide before client meetings as well as throughout the duration of a case in order to fully leverage the tools, tips, and best practices.

The following summary of YFC's recommendations are based on the youth advocates' experiences and are explained in more detail in the toolkit.

  1. Communicate the Importance of Permanency: Youth deserve respect: make sure to explain what permanency is and why it’s important, and listen to their views and concerns. Be mindful of trauma and adolescent development when communicating about a youth’s case planning and when building relationships with supportive adults.
  2. Meaningfully Engage Youth in Their Permanency Planning: To be successful in permanency planning, youth need to be on board, invested, and clear about their permanency goals. Engaging youth starts with including them in discussions and preparing them for planning meetings. Think about how meetings are planned, including the logistics for youth to attend and fully participate.
  3. Facilitate Placement Stability: Youth need to feel safe in placements. They deserve stable living arrangements where they are secure, treated with respect, cared for, and loved. Youth need to know about their new placement or placement changes in advance, including the location, when they will arrive, with whom they will stay, and the placement type.
  4. Cultivate Youth’s Connections with Kin: Youth need help staying connected with family. Research shows that many youth who age out turn to family for support. Family separation causes trauma and grief, and maintaining family connections is important for emotional health and well-being. Consider reunification, and if it isn’t an option, youth may still want those relationships.
  5. Focus on Relational Permanency and Legal Permanency: Youth want legal permanency when possible, but having a network of consistent, supportive relationships that last past aging-out of care is just as important. Most people don’t have just one person who provides all the support they will ever need. If youth have the option of multiple supportive adults, then youth can have all the support that they need.
  6. Follow the Family Finding Requirements: Family finding is a great way to identify people who can provide different types of support for youth to achieve permanency. State law requires annual family finding work; ideally this process starts early and increasingly involves youth as they age. Work with youth during family finding, so they can identify supportive connections and develop a plan for how to involve and reach out to the adult.
  7. Ensure a Comprehensive Transition Plan Is in Place, Including Direct Connections to Services and Resources: Regardless of a youth’s permanency goal, transition plans are vital to youth entering adulthood. Without a solid plan, youth tend to focus on short-term rather than long-term goals. Developing a transition plan with youth that includes connections to people, skill-building, and resources is essential for their stability.