Lutheran Services in America led a diverse group of Lutheran social ministry leaders in a yearlong active learning cohort to implement innovative approaches to improve equitable outcomes for 3,000 children and youth in or at risk of entry into the foster care system. You may be wondering what we mean when we say “equitable outcomes” and why that is such a critical focus. It means that children and youth with the same potential have the same level of successful outcomes as their peers, regardless of the color of their skin, gender, or ZIP code.
Foster care and adoption is a major area of focus for Lutheran Services in America’s member organizations. National Foster Care Month presents us with the opportunity to offer sincere gratitude to the dedicated parents who touch so many lives — particularly given our continuing shortage of available foster parents and children in need — as well as the children who courageously embrace life-altering change. We invite you to view a collection of illuminating videos from foster care and adoption organizations within the Lutheran Services in America national network.
Is it possible to improve high school graduation rates, or reduce the number of homeless youth in our communities by December 2017? These questions and others were explored on September 15th and 16th, when leaders from 10 LSA member organizations traveled to Washington D.C. for the first LSA Results Based Leadership Institute (RBLI). Results Based Leadership is a highly regarded leadership development program developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for health and human service providers, and it combines results based leadership techniques with hands on implementation. At the start of this session, each LSA member committed to making a measureable impact toward the goal of ensuring that All children in the US are nurtured and on a pathway to successful adulthoodby December 2017. This is a very ambitious goal to achieve in a short period of time, but operating with a sense of urgency and call to action is a key component of the RBLI. LSA is offering this unique opportunity to LSA members through a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation who is generously covering the cost of the RBLI faculty, AECF design staff and travel expenses for participants. I am so proud of this partnership, because this is what we strive to do at LSA--bring resources and opportunities to LSA member organizations to help strengthen Lutheran social ministry organizations and improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
What challenges might arise when trying to help a youth achieve permanency, and how can they be overcome? This post looks at how to prepare youth for permanency, whether that means helping them consider the benefits of options other than independent living, unpacking their hesitation about adoption or guardianship, or working to resolve trauma that might create challenges in achieving permanency. As the bulletin “Preparing Children and Youth for Adoption or Other Family Permanency” from the Children’s Bureau notes, “Assessment of children’s readiness for a new permanent family generally focuses on their behavior in foster care, with input from social workers and mental health professionals. Decisions are based on the assumption that children will accept new homes and families once they understand that it is unsafe for them to live at home.” It argues that this is insufficient and more needs to be done to prepare children and youth for “relational and/or legal permanency.”
Where do fathers and their families fit into foster youth’s permanency plan? This is one of the questions the 2016 CYF Learning Cohort has been discussing. Too often fathers and their side of children’s families are overlooked when it comes to exploring family connections and placing a child who is in the child welfare system. This post looks at the benefits of a father’s involvement in his child’s life, and how to better engage a child’s father and paternal family when looking for a permanent home or even just a permanent connection for a youth in care. Also check out the National Fatherhood Initiative for more resources, including the free e-book “7 Steps to Starting a Successful Fatherhood Program,” and a tool to assess how well your organization engages fathers in its programs.
How large of a role should youth in foster care have in their permanency planning? Are adolescents ready for these big decisions? Can they be an asset in this process? These are some of the questions the CYF learning cohort is asking as they explore how to incorporate youth’s voices in their permanency programs. As it turns out, engaging youth in placement planning could actually help prepare them for adulthood. This post will look at two resources on engaging youth in transition planning, one from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative and the other from the Mississippi Teen Advisory Board. The first piece is “Authentic Youth Engagement: Youth-Adult Partnerships,” and the second, “Mississippi Youth Voice,” is a practice tool produced by a group of youth in the Mississippi foster care system which offers a look at their ideas for foster care improvement.
In April 2016, LSA CYF members launched a new learning cohort to identify and implement best practices for youth at risk of aging out of the child welfare system to achieve permanency, either with a permanent family (through reunification, adoption or guardianship) or through a lifelong connection to a committed, caring adult. The cohort’s objectives include exploring best practices, techniques and tools to support and assist organizations in integrating family placements for older youth into its culture and programming.
As part of this project, Natalie Goodnow from the Kennedy School at Harvard will share effective ways organizations can promote family placements for the older youth they serve.