Prioritizing Engagement, Connections for Youth and Families to Improve Long-Term Outcomes

May 1, 2021
| Taffy Compain, National Foster Care Specialist| Children’s Bureau
Smiling family in a group hug

Engaging youth and families to make sure they are actively consulted and heard in their case plans and court hearings improves safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for those most affected by child welfare decisions. When dedicated partners go the extra mile to help youth and families build lasting relationships along the way, they are creating vital connections to support future well-being and success. This year's National Foster Care Month campaign recognizes these principles of engagement and connection as essential to expediting reunification and permanency and promoting long-term stabilization for youth transitioning to adulthood.

More than 423,000 children and youth are in foster care in the United States. While family reunification is the most sought-after goal for children in foster care, older youth often choose to emancipate to independent living. Regardless of the end goal, a key priority of this year's National Foster Care Month is to empower youth and families in this process. Parents whose children have been placed in foster care as well as older youth who are navigating the system deserve high-quality legal representation to ensure their voices are represented in permanency planning and, when necessary, in transition planning.

This year's initiative continues the theme from the prior 2 years, “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents," to emphasize the Children Bureau's (CB) commitment to children, youth, and parents—and how we can help them emerge from their care experience stronger and more resilient while supporting their families and caregivers through that process. Over the last few years, CB has actively solicited input from young people who’ve gone through the child welfare experience on how we can improve the system. What emerges overwhelmingly is the importance of being heard and the value in strong social connections—with family, friends, child welfare professionals, and others—as a determinant of future well-being and success. This contributes to improved self-esteem, leadership skills, and expedited permanency.

Join our 2021 National Foster Care Month campaign as we seek to highlight the importance of securing meaningful participation in case plans and connections for our youth and families. The National Foster Care Month website Visit disclaimer page hosts resources for showing how agency staff, court personnel, and others can elevate youth and family voices and promote permanency and long-term stability for all involved. The website includes information on the following:

  • How to involve youth and families in case-, permanency-, and transition-planning meetings
  • How to ensure high-quality legal representation
  • How efforts to authentically engage youth and families can increase family stabilization and expedite reunification and permanency
  • How youth engagement can support adolescent brain development and well-being, including improved self-esteem, the development of leadership skills, and the capacity for essential social connections
  • How to increase connectedness and collaboration between birth parents, foster parents, and youth through virtual engagement practices

In addition to resources specifically designed for parents, foster parents, kinship caregivers, youth, guardians, and Tribal members, this year's website features personal stories from young people, parents, caregivers, and professionals who have experienced the child welfare system. These first-person accounts illustrate the enormous validation and sense of empowerment that comes from being heard and are powerful examples of how active engagement and connectedness can increase positive outcomes for youth and families involved with child welfare. They also provide a valuable tool for tying real-world experience to practice issues and may be helpful for training and recruiting purposes and for raising awareness for National Foster Care Month in media campaigns.

The Spread the Word section Visit disclaimer page offers an outreach toolkit Visit disclaimer page to help you raise awareness about National Foster Care Month in your community. Find social media posts, sample email messages and signature blocks, Facebook frames, and shareable graphics to spread the word in your area.

Help us this month as we raise a toast to the selfless caregivers, case managers, community-based service providers, and volunteers who are giving so much to support the children, youth, and families in your community who are working toward reunification or permanency. Visit the National Foster Care Month website Visit disclaimer page today to find what you need to support and promote this importance cause. 

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