AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
ADOPTED BY THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES
FEBRUARY 10, 2014
RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to enact and implement legislation and policies which prohibit youth from transitioning from foster care to a status of homelessness, or where a former foster youth will lack a permanent connection to a supportive adult.
FURTHER RESOLVED, That to promote these objectives, legislation and policies should provide for:
Eliminating the case goals or outcomes of “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement” (APPLA) or “Emancipation”; and
Adding in their place a goal and outcome of “Safe and Secure Housing/Permanent Significant Adult Connections”.
FURTHER RESOLVED, That, to improve transition outcomes for older youth in foster care, governments and courts implement the following specific reforms:
(a) Providing support for housing assistance to young adults who turned 18 while in foster care and have aged out of care thereafter;
(b) Requiring dependency cases not be dismissed without a court hearing and finding that the youth has:
1) Housing, including the option of placement with a family;
2) A permanent adult connection to at least one supportive adult;
3) Where such youth has a disability, a successful transition to adult systems that provide health care and other supports for adults with disabilities; and
(c) Making efforts to reduce use of congregate residential care settings as a long-term
placement, while recognizing that youth with severe and chronic disabling conditions may require long-term residential treatment where other permanency options are not in their best interests.
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges the legal profession and the judiciary to improve and enhance support for foster youth transitioning to adult independence, providing education, materials, and other resources on permanent adult connections for former foster children and on safe and secure housing opportunities for youth exiting foster care.
Federal child welfare law and policy operates under the theory that foster care should be a temporary measure, and that foster care is not where children should grow up.1 To help foster children exit that system to legal permanency, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 established five permanency goals for children and youth in foster care: (1) return to parent; (2) adoption; (3) legal guardianship; (4) permanent placement with a fit and willing relative; and (5) something called “another planned permanent living arrangement”.2 The final permanency goal, hereinafter referred to by its commonly used acronym, “APPLA”, is only supposed to be used if the other four permanency goals are not viable.3 As the ABA Center on Children and the Law pointed out in its 2002 book on foster child permanency, APPLA is “the least preferred permanency option” and that the often-used case plan goal for foster children of “emancipation” also is not a valid permanency goal.4 That book also noted that Congress had deliberately eliminated the permanency option of “long-term foster care”, concluding that it did not really provide a permanent living arrangement for a child. Since the law creating APPLA has been enacted, in order to designate APPLA as a youth’s permanency goal, the state must show that it has a compelling reason for doing so.5
The federal intent to limit the use of APPLA is often not reflected in state child welfare practices. APPLA is commonly used for older youth because finding permanent families for them can be more challenging than for younger children.6 For example, in 2009, 38% of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in foster care nationwide had APPLA as their permanency goal.7
In practice, APPLA is often synonymous with either what has been called “long-term foster care” (which, if properly used, has a youth remaining until adulthood with the same foster parents who agree to care for the child indefinitely), that is, with adults who make a commitment to care for the child until they leave the foster care system, and ideally beyond), or emancipation (what is commonly called “aging out of foster care”).8 Some youth, of course, will prefer to remain with foster parents who make a commitment to permanently care for them. Other youth may want to be totally emancipated from care, allowing them the freedom to live on their own. Their expressed wishes should be heard and respected.
However, the plans for youth with an APPLA goal are too often simply to keep them in the care of the state or county until they are old enough to leave it.9 Unfortunately, the nature of the child welfare system too often denies these youth the opportunity to develop significant and permanent connections with responsible adults who can provide support on an ongoing basis after the youth leaves the foster care system.10 Youth need stable and caring relationships with committed adults in order to transition smoothly into adulthood and avoid negative outcomes like poverty and unemployment.11 Youth with APPLA as their permanency goal, for example, are among the most at-risk for homelessness once they are discharged from care.12 And many youth who “emancipate” from foster care don’t have any permanent connections to adults to support them and provide them a place to stay when they need it.
Based on work of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Commission on Youth at Risk, and Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, the American Bar Association has long supported reforms in law, policy, and practice that address the plight of youth in and exiting our country’s foster care system. A 2007 resolution approved by the ABA urges changes in child welfare practices to ensure that each youth who transitions out of foster care has a permanent, significant connection to an appropriate adult. That resolution also proposed that states provide a continuum of housing options for youth leaving foster care. Most recently, in 2010 an ABA policy calls for broad and flexible definitions of federally reimbursable “supervised settings” for former foster youth living independently.
Foster Youth “APPLA Goals”, Emancipation, and Lack of Permanency
“Permanency” in the child welfare context should mean a family’s life-long support.13 Most former foster youth who were interviewed for a 2006 study described permanency in broad terms, referring to stability, long-term arrangements, or a specific place to be.14 Some view permanency as long-term commitment and security characterized by permanent connections to significant others.15 One youth defined permanency as “when you always have somewhere to live, to stay…you won’t be moved to different foster homes, kicked out of somewhere, so you’ll just always be there.”16 A 2004 study found that former foster youth largely agreed that relational or emotional permanence was more important than physical or legal permanence.17
As mentioned earlier, APPLA has been defined by federal law as one of five permanency goals for children and youth in foster care.18 Emancipation has also been another common case goal for older youth in care, even though it is not a permanency option under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act.19 Emancipation refers to the formal end of the legal relationship between the state and the youth in the state’s care.20 In 2010, emancipation was the case goal for over 24,000 foster youth, and over 27,000 youth exited foster care through emancipation.21 Most youth emancipate out of foster care at the age of 18 or older (up to their 21st birthday), but this is not always the case. A 2002 study found that 15% of former foster youth in California had “emancipated” out of the child welfare system before they were 18.22
The use of APPLA and emancipation as case goals is problematic because youth with these goals often lack permanent connections to family and/or other supportive adults. In 2009, 80% of eighteen-year-olds who aged out of foster care through emancipation had no permanent family to turn to.23 Research indicates that youth who leave foster care without permanency experience high rates of poverty, unemployment, young parenthood, homelessness, and physical and mental health challenges.24 Youth with APPLA as their permanency goal are also at high risk for homelessness, and a 2002 study in California found that youth who emancipate out of foster care have a substantially greater risk of becoming welfare recipients.25
State courts that hear cases of youth in foster care are the ultimate arbiters of whether or not the child welfare agency’s case plan for the youth will be approved, put into effect, and enforced. As long as the court maintains jurisdiction over these “dependency” cases, judges have the opportunity to help assure that youth, at the time of their exit from the foster care system, will have suitable housing and not become homeless. The court can also play a key role in assuring that foster youth will maintain, after their transition to independence, “connections” with supportive adults.
California law requires that case plans for older, transitioning foster youth, include “steps the agency is taking to ensure that the child….achieves permanence, including maintaining or obtaining permanent connections to caring and committed adults.26 The court has a key role in monitoring that this provision is effectively implemented. California has had an initiative—a collaboration of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and other state organizations—to provide training to help family members or significant others maintain a permanent and responsible role in a foster youth’s life. Experience shows that without permanent connections, youth leaving foster care face even more overwhelming odds against a successful adulthood.27
Children who were 12 years old or older at the time of entry into foster care, and children with a diagnosed disability, are significantly less likely to exit foster care to a permanent home.28 Older youth and children with disabilities and behavioral or emotional issues have often been viewed as unadoptable within the child welfare system.29 If reunification is not possible for these children and youth, other attempts to find permanent homes for them have often been abandoned.30 A study of foster youth in Connecticut conducted from 2002 to 2003 found that the most cited reason for a permanency goal change from adoption to long-term foster care or “independent living” (providing the child with resources for a period to time to help them achieve successful independence) was the child’s behavior and/or special needs, followed by the consideration that an adoptive resource was unlikely to be found.31
Older youth in congregate care settings (i.e., group homes and institutions) are also more likely to leave foster care without a permanent family home. Congregate care facilities are the least family-like placements for abused and neglected children.32 Congregate care facilities are generally staffed with young shift workers with high turnover rates.33 As a result, youth in congregate care are less likely to form long-term relationships with committed and responsible adults who can offer them support, guidance, or a place to stay as they transition into adulthood.34 Additionally, African American, Asian, and Native Hawaiian youth are at greater risk for aging out of foster care without permanency than White, Hispanic, and Native American youth.35
Since APPLA fails to accomplish permanency for so many foster youth and often results in youth homelessness, it should no longer be used as a permanency goal. Other organizations that work with homeless youth and/or youth in the foster care system have come to the same conclusion. You Gotta Believe!, a homelessness prevention program based in Brooklyn, New York, finds placements for older youth in foster care who need permanent families.36 Pat O’Brien, the executive director of the program, has testified before the congressional Human Resources Committee of the Committee on Ways and Means that APPLA is a barrier to finding permanency for older youth in foster care.37 Mr. O’Brien has also advocated for abolishing APPLA as a permanency goal.38
The North American Council on Adoptable Children recommends elimination of the foster care system’s use of emancipation, independent living, or APPLA as permanency goals and encourages states to use goals that are family-based.39 The Council also calls for the use of permanency planning for youth that focuses on life-long connections to a family.40 Additionally, a report published by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute recommends abandoning the use of emancipation and independent living as foster youth case goals.41
Some states have already taken steps to limit the use of APPLA through state law.
Ohio, for example, requires child welfare court proceedings (commonly called “dependency cases”) to find by clear and convincing evidence that APPLA is in the best interest of the youth, in order for APPLA to become the youth’s permanency goal.42 Montana law requires a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that APPLA is in the best interests of the child and that more permanent placement options are not appropriate.43 In New Mexico, APPLA is only an acceptable case goal if there is substantial evidence that none of the other permanency options are appropriate.44 APPLA is only an option in Virginia if the child has a severe and chronic disabling condition that requires long-term residential treatment, and where other permanency options are not in the child’s best interests.45
Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth
Homelessness is a significant issue for older youth who are aging out of foster care. Federal law defines homelessness as lacking “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” having a “primary nighttime residence that is a public or private space not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings,” or “living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living arrangements.”46
Studies from the past two decades have found high rates of homelessness among former foster youth.47 One study, conducted from 2000-2001, found that 18% of interviewed former foster youth reported living in a homeless shelter and 19% reported living on the streets at some point after leaving care.48 Additionally, almost 1/3 reported that they did not have a place to live when they were discharged from care.49 Another recent study found that 65% of youth aging out of foster care in California lacked safe and affordable housing.50
From 2002 to 2011, the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth followed the outcomes of over 700 former foster care youth in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.51 The Midwest Study found that 36% of participating youth reported at least one episode of homelessness by age 26.52 The study defined homelessness as “having to sleep in a place where people weren’t meant to sleep, sleeping in a homeless shelter, or not having a regular residence in which to sleep.”53 The study also found six factors associated with an increased risk of homelessness for former foster care youth: (1) being male; (2) running away from a foster care placement at least once; (3) experiencing more placement changes while in foster care; (4) having been physically abused prior to being in foster care; (5) engaging in more delinquent behaviors; and (6) having symptoms of a mental health disorder.54
The problem of homelessness among former foster youth needs to be addressed through law and policy reform. Homeless youth are more likely to experience a number of negative life outcomes, including sexual victimization, abuse, suicide, poor physical health, substance abuse, gang involvement, chronic homelessness, and early death.55
The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, also known as the Chafee Act (after its Senate sponsor), provides federal funding for state programs designed to help foster youth transition out of foster care.56 The Chafee Act doubled the amount of federal money available to states to implement “independent living services” for older youth in foster care.57 These services are generally provided through independent living programs with a focus on employment, education, housing, and daily living skills.58 However, only 2/5 of eligible youth actually receive the independent living services that the Chafee Act is designed to provide.59
Further action is needed to help former foster youth find safe and secure housing and avoid homelessness. One approach is to simply forbid a child leaving foster care from becoming immediately homeless, as this resolution proposes. New York has enacted a state regulation that prohibits child welfare agencies from discharging youth from foster care to a state of homelessness.60 Other states have implemented targeted housing programs for youth transitioning out of foster care. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families offers a continuum of housing options for older youth in foster care.61 The level of program supervision decreases as the youth get older and gain more experience living independently.62 The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services’ Youth Housing Assistance Program helps youth find affordable housing and connect with community resources.63
The Importance of Permanent Adult Connections
Far too many former foster care youth experience homelessness because they leave the child welfare system without the skills and connections necessary to support them as they transition into adulthood. Youth in our society are reaching the developmental benchmarks that characterize transition into adulthood at an increased age.64 The markers of the transition to adulthood include completing school, finding full-time employment, moving to independent housing, getting married, and becoming a parent.65 This time of transition is referred to as “emerging adulthood” and generally occurs between the ages of 18 and 25.66 The longer period of transition allows youth time for experimentation and the gradual development of skills necessary for adult life.67
Many youth in foster care are unable to rely on their parents or other relatives for support during this time of transition, or later.68 For these youth, the child welfare system may be the only source of support in their lives and the system’s supports and services become no longer available once youth “age out”.69 Youth who age out of foster care can find themselves suddenly expected to live as adults without any network of support or time for gradual transition.70
Youth are best prepared to enter adulthood when they have at least one stable relationship with a caring and committed adult.71 Research indicates that youth who age out of foster care without significant family ties lack the resources they need to become self-supporting.72 Positive relationships with adults provide critical support for youth transitioning into adulthood, including emotional support, guidance on employment and education, and emergency assistance.73 Permanent adult connections also help youth aging out of foster care maintain feelings of normalcy and safety.74
Youth and others involved in the child welfare system have recognized the importance of permanent connections with adults. A 2008 study, in which 29 former foster youth were interviewed, found that the participating youth universally valued the ideal role of a family, and that families were recognized as a place where someone could belong, find unconditional love and acceptance, and receive support when needed.75 Youth frequently named “advice” as one of the most valued supports that adults were able to provide.76 The study also found that the majority of participating youth did not have any relationships that offered unconditional support.77
A 2007 study of 27 foster youth, 21 foster parents, and 40 professionals, found that participants from all three groups emphasized the importance of youth having a caring, long-term relationship with an adult as they transition into adulthood.78 The participants described permanent adult connections as critical for providing youth with information and support as they age out of foster care and can no longer access services through the child welfare system.79 Participants often portrayed permanent adult connections as more important than accessing formal services.80
States should, as this resolution proposes, incorporate this concept of “permanent adult connections” for transitioning foster youth into their state laws, regulations, and agency policies. California has adopted a law that requires the state to encourage the development of child protection practices that ensure that “no child leaves foster care without a lifelong connection to a committed adult.”81 Oregon regulations require all APPLA case plans to include a description of how the youth’s attachments and relationships, including those relationships that provide continuity, belonging, stability, support, and nurturing, can be developed while the youth is in care and maintained once the youth exits care.82
Beginning in 2003, New York’s Administration for Children’s Services engaged in a “culture shift” with the goal of ensuring that every youth who ages out of foster care has a “life-long connection that is as legally secure as possible to a caring adult committed to functioning in a parental capacity.”83 New York law now requires all APPLA goals to include “a significant connection to an adult who is willing to be a permanency resource.”84 Similarly, Maryland requires any APPLA case plan to include “goals that promote the continuity of relations with individuals who will fill a lasting and significant role in the child's life.”85
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and the Children’s Services of Roxbury run a program entitled Lifelong Family Connections for Adolescents.86 The program utilizes seven youth-driven, strengths-based, and culturally competent approaches to prevent youth from aging out of foster care without a significant family connection.87 In Jackson County, Oregon, the local Court Appointed Special Advocate Program affiliate currently is piloting a five-year program designed to ensure that youth aging out of foster care have a “social anchoring system.”88 The program’s case worker uses the “family find” model to help youth find and build relationships with family members.89 Similarly, in St. Louis, Missouri, the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition uses an Extreme Recruitment Program to identify relatives of children and youth in foster care.90 Once relatives have been identified, the program works with child welfare agencies to place children and youth in those homes.91
Transition Planning Requirements for Youth with Disabilities
States must pay special attention to the transition needs of youth with disabilities because youth with disabilities are over-represented in the child welfare system92 and are at greater risk for poorer outcomes than their non-disabled system-involved peers.93 Some youth in the custody of the state need to be in long-term residential treatment, but that should always be coupled with assurance that they will have “permanent adult connections” and housing options after they leave the institution. Special transition planning requirements must be put in place because the successful transition of youth with disabilities requires accessing benefits, services, and supports in adult systems that operate by rules and eligibility criteria very different than the child serving systems. Many of these services and supports have long waiting lists, are not entitlements, and require careful and early planning to ensure that the youth can access them upon discharge. In addition, because many of these youth cannot rely on a parent or caregiver to help them navigate this complicated transition, clear requirements and procedures for transition planning for these youth is essential to their health and well-being.
Currently, the transition planning requirement of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act requires that the transition plan contain specific options in health, health insurance, housing, education, employment, mentoring, and support services.94 To meet these basic requirements for youth with disabilities, states must require that planning is done with youth to insure that their treatment and rehabilitative needs will be met upon discharge from the system for their case to be closed with the child welfare agency. For many of these young adults, how stable housing and their basic needs will be met may be dependent on meeting these special needs. For the transition planning requirement to be met, at the very least, verification must be provided to the court that:
health insurance eligibility has been established;95
arrangement for treatment and care in the adult health care system has been arranged;
eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has been established or an application for SSI has been submitted for a youth with disabilities at least 90 days before discharge;96
eligibility has been established for Home and Community Based Medicaid Waivers for individuals with significant physical of developmental disabilities; and
eligibility has been established for or verification of an application for any available subsidized housing for individuals with disabilities has been made.
The use of APPLA as a permanency goal should be abandoned altogether. APPLA is a barrier to permanency for older youth in foster care and contributes to the problem of youth homelessness. The same is true for inappropriate long-term placements of youth in congregate care facilities. In order to achieve greater permanency for foster youth and avoid youth homelessness among this highly vulnerable population, laws, policies, child welfare practices, and judicial oversight should focus on providing youth with age-appropriate housing options and helping youth develop and maintain permanent connections with adults who can offer them support and guidance as they transition into adulthood.
Vanessa P. Williams
Commission on Youth at Risk
GENERAL INFORMATION FORM
Submitting Entity: Commission on Youth at Risk
Submitted By: Vanessa Williams, Chair, Commission on Youth at Risk
1. Summary of Resolution(s)
The use of APPLA as a permanency goal should be abandoned altogether. APPLA is a barrier to permanency for older youth in foster care and contributes to the problem of youth homelessness. The same is true for inappropriate long-term placements of youth in congregate care facilities.
2. Approval by Submitting Entity. 10/24/2013
3. Has this or a similar resolution been submitted to the House or Board previously?
The American Bar Association has long supported reforms in law, policy, and practice that address the plight of youth in and exiting our country’s foster care system. A 2007 resolution (104A) approved by the ABA urges changes in child welfare practices to ensure that each youth who transitions out of foster care has a permanent, significant connection to an appropriate adult. That resolution also proposed that states provide a continuum of housing options for youth leaving foster care. Most recently, in 2010 (109B) an ABA policy calls for broad and flexible definitions of federally reimbursable “supervised settings” for former foster youth living independently.
4. What existing Association policies are relevant to this Resolution and how would they be affected by its adoption?
104A & 109B would be strengthened as there is continuing opportunity to implement best practices throughout the country, leading to the development of this Resolution that is calling for additional, specific law reform that can help achieve the goals of earlier, related Association policies.
5. If this is a late report, what urgency exists which requires action at this meeting of the House?
6. Status of Legislation. (If applicable)
7. Brief explanation regarding plans for implementation of the policy, if adopted by the House of Delegates.
The Commission on Youth at Risk, working closely with the Center on Children and the Law, will use the recommendations of this policy to develop educational materials, provide technical assistance and potentially for CLE and educational programming. This policy will also allow us to continue and further develop collaborative efforts with on-the-ground organizations like Casey Family Programs.
8. Cost to the Association. (Both direct and indirect costs)
9. Disclosure of Interest. (If applicable)
Commission on Homelessness and Poverty
Section of Litigation: Children’s Rights Litigation
Commission on Disability Rights
Criminal Justice Section: Juvenile Justice Committee
Government & Public Sector
Family Law Section
Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence
Center for Human Rights
AIDS Coordinating Committee
Section of Individual Rights & Responsibilities
Young Lawyer's Division
11. Contact Name and Address Information. (Prior to the meeting. Please include name, address, telephone number and e-mail address)
Garry Bevel, 1050 Connecticut Ave NW Suite #400, Washington, DC 20036, 786-374-5515
12. Contact Name and Address Information. (Who will present the report to the House? Please include name, address, telephone number, cell phone number and e-mail address.)
Vanessa Williams, 248-728-7250, 248-794-7276, R.L. Polk & Co., 26533 Evergreen Rd, Ste. 900, Southfield, MI 48076
1. Summary of the Resolution
The use of APPLA as a permanency goal should be abandoned altogether. In order to achieve greater permanency for foster youth and avoid youth homelessness among this highly vulnerable population, laws, policies, and child welfare practices should focus on providing youth with age-appropriate housing options and helping youth develop and maintain permanent connections with adults who can offer them support and guidance as they transition into adulthood.
2. Summary of the Issue that the Resolution Addresses
The federal intent to limit the use of APPLA is often not reflected in state child welfare practices. APPLA is commonly used for older youth because finding permanent families for them can be more challenging than for younger children. However, the plans for youth with an APPLA goal is too often simply to keep them in the care of the state or county until they are old enough to leave it. Unfortunately, the nature of the child welfare system too often denies these youth the opportunity to develop significant and permanent connections with responsible adults who can provide support on an ongoing basis after the youth leaves the foster care system
3. Please Explain How the Proposed Policy Position will address the issue
By encouraging a shift in the approach of judges, lawyers and youth advocates to “Safe and Secure Housing/Permanent Significant Adult Connections,” financial incentives to states to improve older foster youth outcomes, increasing accountability to ensure foster care and dependency cases are not closed without certainty a youth has housing, and providing new support for housing assistance to young adults who have turned 18 while in foster care and have aged out of care thereafter.
4. Summary of Minority Views