A dozen or so former foster youth took part in a Senate Caucus on Foster Youth forum yesterday on Capitol Hill. The young people shared their stories of struggling to achieve or maintain permanency, while acknowledging the problems with permanency options like Another Planned Living Arrangement (APPLA) for far too many of the children and youth in care.
Caucus co-chairs Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spoke to the importance of finding permanent supports for youth in foster care. They both agreed that foster care should be used as a temporary support for children in need. Grassley also provided a brief historical context of the 1997 passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) which he described as a means to dealing with the problem of children remaining in long-term foster care without plans for permanency. Participants also heard from Congressional staffers who worked closely on ASFA as they explained the political climate at the time as well as the priorities of the various Members who were key players in the process. In the end, it was determined that ASFA must move from focusing on reunification to more consideration of what is in the best interest of the child.
Some of the young people who shared their experiences in foster care talked about being assigned an APPLA, while others stated that they had never heard of APPLA and if they did were likely unaware of what it meant for their particular permanency plan. Even worse, some youth described how they felt that permanency was not taken into consideration due to numerous failed placements. All of the youth agreed on one thing: while permanency may look different for each child and each situation, all children need permanent connections.
Senate staff explained that they were particularly interested in ways to improve and/or modify APPLA moving forward, and provided opportunity for the youth, advocates, and other stakeholders to share input on various changes that need to be made to the child welfare system that would achieve the goal of permanency for all. Most of the recommendations centered on youth engagement and ensuring that the youth are involved in the various stages of their permanency plans. In addition, participants highlighted the need to continue to revisit permanency planning for youth, as attitudes towards permanency are fluid and can change during a young person’s time in care. It is unclear whether the Senate plans to address this issue in the near future, but Grassley did mention in his opening comments that with respect to the groundwork laid by ASFA, much reform is still needed.