Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #12: Improved Matching in Foster Care

Anna Zhang, 23, a graduate of Florida A&M University. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.

Today we highlight the recommendation of Anna Zhang, 23, a graduate of Florida A&M University.

The Proposal

Zhang calls for steps aimed at making states get foster care placements right the first time more often. She would require states to develop specific strategies for matching kids and foster parents in their diligent recruitment plans, and describe in other required federal documentation how they are building partnerships between biological families and foster parents.

Zhang would also amend the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act to require that the list of rights in each foster youth’s case plan include “the right to prior notice and review of placement changes.”

The Argument

Each movement in the foster care system can be an added trauma and complication in the life of a child. Yet more than a third of foster youth experience two or more placements each year, Zhang argues, citing data from the Kids Count Data Center.

In Their Own Words

“Throughout the four-and-a-half years I spent in foster care, I experienced over 10 foster care

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

placements. Every time I moved, I felt like I was starting a whole new life. Almost every time I changed placements, I also changed schools. This was very disruptive to my education and prevented me from creating lifelong connections and friendships even in adulthood. On several occasions when I changed placements, it was a surprise because no one ever notified me that I would be moving or why.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Zhang’s call for state plans on building partnerships between foster and biological parents brought to mind for us a recent pilot getting off the ground in Nebraska to focus on exactly this idea.

Zhang’s own personal account really hit home on how messed up it is to not give a child any warning that his or her life is about to be uprooted, again. We actually think her proposal – making notification of placement change part of a child’s list of rights – might not go far enough. The surveillance of state fidelity to such lists is pretty light, so no guarantee it would be happening. It’s still better than nothing.

But we also wonder if, on a state level, this could be litigated. Should a child welfare system be able to shuttle a child around willy-nilly without their consent, and without any way for them to object? Frequent placement changes is part of M.B. v Colyer, the lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights in 2018against Kansas, so perhaps the outcome of that will be telling.

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