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Looking At The Lives And Education Of Foster Children Social Work Essay

With an estimated 542,000 children in the United States foster care system, each year, the absence of permanency in the lives of youth in the child welfare system means that they are lacking the permanent support structure, which is essential to youth continuing education. A sample of 1,000 former foster care youth obtained from the Department of Children and Families data base were surveyed in a cross-sectional research design, to answer the question: What is the highest level of education completed by foster care youth after family reunification compared to non-reunified youth? The study uses an exploratory research design, to examine this vulnerable population and proposes implications to bridge the gap between the foster care system and school system, to increase achievement in higher education.

Each year, approximately 20,000 youth age 16 and older, transition from foster care to legal emancipation and find themselves on their own (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2007). Children in foster care are one of the most vulnerable populations within our educational system as they are at great risk for school failure (Zietlin, 2004). With an estimated 542,000 children in the United States foster care system, researchers have begun to look at factors which may impede a child’s educational attainment (Zeitlin, 2004). Several studies have started to focus on the lack of support for foster youth, significance of academic, emotional, and behavioral problems youth experience as well as lack of innovative interventions which may improve school outcomes (Zeitlin, 2004).

When children are removed from the home and placed in foster care, the County Department of Social Service’s authority to intervene occurs when a parent’s level of care for a child falls below the minimum sufficient level, with the safety of the child as the paramount concern (Bates, English, & Kouidou, 1997). When children must be removed from their parents, reunification should occur when parents can demonstrate their ability to provide a minimum sufficient level of care (Wulczyn, 2004). Congruently, agencies should explore and develop alternative permanent plans that can be implemented if reunification is not possible. These alternative plans help ensure permanency for children even if they are not able to return home (Pecora, Williams, Kessler, Downs, O’Brien, & Hirpi, 2003). Permanence is achieved when the foster care youth has a lasting, nurturing relationship with at least one adult, which is not necessarily biological, but is characterized by a mutual commitment that is legally secure (Wulczyn, 2004). Permanent resolutions include family reunification, custodial kinship care, legal guardianship, or adoption (Wulczyn, 2004).

The absence of permanency in the lives of youth in the child welfare system means that they are lacking the permanent support structure, which is essential to youth continuing education. Without adequate independent living resources, or safety nets, many experience homelessness and unemployment (Emerson, 2007). It has been suggested that 7 to 13 percent go on to higher education and only half graduate from high school (Emerson, 2007). Foster care youth are challenged by unique personal, academic, and financial barriers that impede their progress and higher education success. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (2007) there is a clear link between poor engagement in education and social exclusion in later life.

Many studies demonstrate the failure of the foster system to prepare youth for higher education (Cogner & Finklestein, 2003; Colton & Heath, 1994; Dishion, Nelson, & Bullock, 2004; Emerson, 2007; Kools, 2007; Leathers & Testa, 2006; Merdinger, Hines, Lemon, Osterling, & Wyatt, 2005; Zeitlin, 2004). However, there is not enough attention placed on the vital importance that permanent connections have in promoting self-confidence and future success (Dishion et al., 2004). The importance of permanency in the lives of foster youth raises the question: What is the highest level of education completed by foster care youth after family reunification compared to non-reunified youth?

The National Association of Financial Aid Administrators states that if foster youth attended postsecondary education at the same level as their peers, the result would be an additional 100,000 youth attending college in the United States, per year (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2007). Although there are specific provisions and programs that may provide foster care youth with more mental health services and financial aid than the average student, it is reported that many foster youth are not aware that college is an option for them (Dishion et al., 2004). Not only do students from foster care lack the support structure that other students rely on, many also have reservations about identifying their pasts (Dishion et al., 2004). This makes it difficult to perform outreach to provide information, funding, and other resources to assist them in achieving postsecondary educational goals. Shame over childhood history may also hinder foster care youth in completing the required personal statement portion of college applications.

Educational achievement among foster youth and reunified foster youth is important for social work research as it encompasses a variety of social issues. Such research can open doors to the educational system and the greater need for social workers in schools. By placing a microscope on educational attainment of foster youth versus reunified youth, we can estimate whether reunification contributes to completion of higher levels of education and improve support systems for families. This research comes at a time when significant budget cuts, proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger, to areas such as mental health and child welfare, threaten to eliminate funding for supportive programs for foster youth, many of which are the very reason foster youth are marginally successful. It is projected these cuts will greatly affect permanency programs and In-Home Supportive Services, as well as increase the number of foster youth in residential and hospital treatment facilities (Scott Graves Ph.D, Senior Policy Analyst for the California Budget Project, 2008).

Secondly, media coverage has highlighted incidents of brutality between students, recently resulting in the fatality of one foster youth. The prevalence of social exclusion is evident in such headlines. The Social Exclusion Unit Report (2003) states that foster youth are more likely to be bullied, 6 out of 10, compared to 1 in 6 out-of-care children (Social Exclusion Unit Report, 2003). The implications of such bullying, is an increase in high school drop out rates amongst foster youth.

Literature Review

Many foster children’s lives are characterized by instability, which involves unplanned school changes causing undeveloped social skills and the ability to develop relationships with peers. Missing key educational material adversely affects their learning and achievement (Zeitlin, 2004). According to the Youth Justice Board Survey, children in care are 10 times more likely to be chronically absent from school (Social Exclusion Unit Report, 2003). Zeitlin (2004) points out that 10 % of the general population receives special education services, whereas 25-52% of foster children are placed in special education due to either a learning disability or serious emotional disturbance.

Leathers and Testa (2006) conducted a study on 416 randomly selected emancipated foster youth through a survey administered to caseworkers in Illinois to identify whether foster youth had achieved independent living following foster care placement. Leathers and Testa (2006) instructed caseworkers to provide information on 17-year-old foster youth that would be followed for two years, as services for youth end at 19 years of age. Leathers and Testa (2006) measured information on the foster youth’s independent living skills, educational attainment, and ability to gain and keep employment as well as emotional, behavioral and special needs. The findings revealed that 42% of foster youth had high school diplomas or equivalency degrees (Leathers & Testa, 2006). Furthermore, 23% were enrolled in a four-year university or community college (Leathers & Testa, 2006). Twenty percent were identified as high school dropouts who were not pursuing a GED or higher education (Leathers & Testa, 2006). The Leathers and Testa (2006) study revealed that despite variances in educational attainment, many of the youth included in the study were able to achieve independent living skills.

Colton and Heath (1994) conducted a longitudinal study on the educational progress and behavior of long-term foster youth compared to children receiving social work support while staying with their biological parents. The sample consists of 49 foster children (26 male, 23 female), ages 8-14 years old, who have been in care for at least 6 months. A child’s behavior was measured by qualitative questionnaires distributed to the students’ teachers and parents. Educational attainment was measured by standardized test scores in comparison to the national average of all students in the 8-14 year old age bracket. In testing whether or not there is a correlation between behavior problems and low educational attainment among separated children, Colton and Heath (1994) found that overall academic attainment scores were below the national average, regardless of noted behavior problems.

Contrary to Colton and Heath’s study, Merdinger, Hines, Lemon, Osterling and Wyatt (2005) present findings on a multimethod and multiphase study of emancipated foster youth attending a four-year university to highlight the resilience foster youth exemplify in the face of adversity. Merdinger (2005) and her colleagues conducted a study entitled “Pathways to College for Former Foster Youth” using a sample of 216 former foster youth attending college on eleven campuses in one large state university system. The Pathways to College for Former Foster Youth study utilized qualitative self-administered surveys which took twenty to thirty minutes to complete and were then mailed back. Merdinger et al., (2005) found that while many researchers focus on the lack of educational attainment within the foster care system, there is very little focus on the success rates of foster youth who have received reunification services.

Kools (1997) discusses identity development in foster youth and explains how negative effects of diminished status, such as social isolation, and stereotypical expectations, such as others’ beliefs that foster youth aren’t motivated or capable, decreases achievement in developmental milestones. Kools (1997) sample included 17 adolescents (9 female, 8 male) between the ages of 15 and 19, who have experienced multiple placement transitions living in long-term (2-11 years) foster care, in both foster family homes and group homes. Data was collected qualitatively by conducting intensive interviews with children in foster care, observation in group-home settings, and an analysis of case records. Kools (1997) methodology included dimensional analysis from the traditional grounded theory method to examine experiences shared from the foster child’s perspective. Kools (1997) found that the negative stereotypes and stigma attached to foster care youth lead to peer scrutiny within schools, devaluing their already low, sense of self, slowing a child’s developmental process and causing low self-esteem and low academic achievement.

As a result of the challenging experiences foster youth face due to emotional trauma and separation from family members, Merdinger et al., (2005) illustrated that following discharge from the foster care system, 35% of the studies participants identified receiving mental health services. Further, of those, 31%, stated they utilized therapy or counseling, 10.2% received outpatient services and 6.9% obtained in-patient services. However, Leathers and Testa (2006) found that 60% of youth who reported having mental health problems did not report receiving any services within the past 3 months. Further, Leathers and Testa (2006) revealed that youth who had dropped out of high school were less likely to receive services than any other youth.

Academic deficits in foster children have partially contributed to residential instability resulting in the frequent transfer of foster youth from one foster home to the next. Transitions to new foster homes are challenging for the youth as they are sometimes located in different school districts, forcing the children to move and readjust to a new group of classmates and teachers (Cogner & Finkelstein, 2003). Transition can be especially challenging for foster youth as they often experience low self-esteem, devaluation and stigmatization, which can negatively affect their academic attainment (Kools, 1997). Additionally, Cogner and Finkelstein (2003) estimate that approximately, “15-33% of children who experience residential instability show low academic achievement and a decline in academic performance due to high rates of school transfers and residential changes” (p. 98). Due to poor communication between social welfare agencies and the school system, foster children get left behind (Cogner & Finkelstein, 2003).

According to Cogner & Finkelstein (2003) delays in education caused by school transfers and a lack of a consistent placement, are educational barriers within the foster care system. A contributing factor to this issue is the poor communication between the social welfare agencies and the school systems, which allows foster children to get left behind in school (Cogner & Finkelstein, 2003). This study reveals that in one particular case, several students were absent from school for a whole month because the Department of Education failed to complete their registration paperwork (Cogner & Finkelstein, 2003).

Cogner and Finkelstein (2003) uncovered an overall lack of support for foster care students throughout their academic career. They point out the need to raise awareness of foster care students in schools, and educate teachers and guidance counselors who are commonly unfamiliar with the foster care system as well as the experiences of foster children (Cogner and Finkelstein, 2003). Cogner and Finkelstein (2003) identify a shortage of caseworkers advocating for foster youth in the education system. The study reports that due to heavy caseloads, caseworkers tend to prioritize health and safety over education (Cogner and Finkelstein, 2003). There is very little research done on school transfer and the effects on foster youth educational achievement. Limitations of this research analysis include the reliance of information gathered on foster youth statistics from the Administrative Children’s Services and the Department of Education databases.

Dissimilar to Cogner and Finkelstein, Merdinger et al., (2005) found that several external factors contributed to a foster youth’s educational attainment; educational stability in high school joined with a demanding curriculum as well as the expectation that they would attend college. Merdinger et al., (2005) revealed that several students stated they had role models who made a lasting impression on them and in most cases these, “significant adults did something special to keep the youth in school or on the path to college” (p.875). Overall, Merdinger et al., found that the importance of an essential figure at a critical stage in a youth’s development impacted their pursuit of higher education. Overall, the study pointed out that the majority of the sample (75.7%) indicated they had someone to ask for help or advice and 39.4% a family member, 19% a counselor or therapist, and 11% a teacher or school staff. Thus, important relationships that were established in earlier childhood may have prepared students for later transitions in life.

Rarely is the family of origin perceived as a valuable source of support for a child who has been removed from his or her home. Instead, the family is viewed solely as the breeding ground for the abuse and neglect that initiated the child’s placement in the foster care system. Although researchers have explored the foster care population, Emerson (2007) points out, “the absence of sound data and information is preventing advocates, analysts, and policymakers from meeting the educational needs of this vulnerable population” (p. 7). With the shift in the child welfare system towards permanency planning, what is yet to be explored is reunified foster youths’ progress through the higher education system (Emerson 2007). Successful interventions that promote the quality of family attachment, history, and resilience to strengthen the child’s self-esteem, will demonstrate improved educational outcomes (Dishion et al., 2004). Family Reunification programs that provide support teams of social workers, teachers, and administrators, improve the fabric of the child’s entire community. Many of the families serving youth in out-of-home care need to advocate with schools to make sure that this at-risk population receives the educational benefits to which they are entitled.

Methods

Research Design

In order to determine if reunified foster youth will have higher rates of educational attainment versus non-reunified foster youth, the study will make use of an exploratory-descriptive design employing quantitative research methods. There will be two phases of the sample selection process: 1) the first phase will consist of randomly selecting 5000 former foster youth from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services 2) from the first sample, a subgroup will be assembled based on a telephone interview that will be used to determine the length of time spent in foster care as well as reunification status. Following the first phase and replicating the Pathways to College study (2005), the Reunification study will collect data in the form of a self-administered questionnaire which will be mailed to former foster care youth residing in Los Angeles County. The questionnaire was developed using information from the Pathways to College study (2005) in addition to specific reunification questions devised by graduate students at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. Non-probability, purposive sampling methods will be employed to recruit former foster care youth. Non-probability sampling selection will rely on available subjects found throughout the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services records of foster youth. The sampling frame will rely on the telephone interview responses from the initial 5000 former foster care youth residing in Los Angeles County. It is predicted that at least 1000 subjects will be assembled from the initial 5000 former foster care youth sample. The target population is former foster care youth aged 22-30 years of age (born between the years of 1978-1985). Further, subjects will be given an incentive of $15, which will be mailed to respondents who return the completed survey. Adequate compensation of $15 is determined based on the idea that respondents may be enrolled in college or recently graduated. The use of a cross-sectional study will measure the experiences of reunified foster youth capturing their educational attainment at one point in their life. The rationale for the overall design is that it will promote an expansive search of the foster care system locating a population which is generally unrecognized.

Sample

Two phases of sampling will be employed to select the sample of non-reunified foster care youth as well as reunified foster youth. Both phases will consist of non-probability, purposive sampling methods that will be used to recruit former foster care youth living throughout Los Angeles County. Participants were accessed through records obtained by way of the Department of Children and Family Services Foster Care System. Participants are verified through official documentation provided by DCFS Foster Care System of their status as wards of the court as well as telephone interview for confirmation of information. Non-probability sampling is used based on the reliance of available subjects in the foster care system. Though non-probability sampling is deemed less reliable, this method will provide researchers with information on a specifically selected group of foster youth that are not traditionally studied. This method is purposive as subjects will be hand selected based on requirements outlined in the Procedures section. The researchers are interested in comparing reunified foster care youth to the non-reunified foster care youth population. Non-probability sampling will also be less expensive and more representative of the reunified subgroup of the former foster care youth population. In order to obtain the primary sample, researchers will exhaust Los Angeles County DCFS records to randomly select 5000 foster youth that will be screened for qualification. After the first 5000 subjects are screened for qualification purposes, the next subgroup will be contacted with a letter explaining the purpose of the study and requesting their participation. The target population is comprised of former foster care youth aged 22 to 30 years of age (birth year from 1978-1985). Due to the nature of the topic being researched, subjects will have the opportunity to anonymously enroll in the study. Anonymous enrollment can enable participants to feel secure in providing details regarding their past experiences as foster youth (Rubin and Babbie, 2008).

Measurement

The study will use age and reunification to nominally measure the variables, which will subsequently be assigned coded numbers to quantitatively analyze the data collected. Cross-sectional exploratory research is ideal for examining the expansive population of former foster youth in Los Angeles County, which will be measured by surveying methods. Cross-sectional research evaluates the variables identifies in this study and validities the plausibility of the idea that academic achievement is related to foster youth family reunification (Rubin & Babbie, 2008). Past research shows that cross-sectional research designs are used in the majority of studies on foster families (Orme & Buehler, 2001). Pilot studies were not conducted to measure this population as all initial information was collected through the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS).

Defined Variables

The following variables and domains will enhance or hinder academic attainment in former foster youth.

Independent Variable: Foster Care System

Dependent Variable: Academic Achievement

Outcome: Academic Achievement

Domains: Relationships with teachers/mentors, peer relations, and educational views

Extraneous Variables: Controlling for reunified foster youth in study population

Moderating Variables: Factors that impede on academic success. For a child in foster care this includes family connectedness and/or reunification with family of origin.

Mediating Variables: Foster care system experience and the affects on academic achievement. An example of this includes the constant transplanting and transferring of foster children between foster homes, causing a disruption in the child’s fiscal school calendar by causing them to miss school.

Operational Definitions

The following information defines the operational definitions used to identify the concepts and individuals measured in this study.

Former Foster Care Youth: Describes any individual who has had a long-term placement in the foster care system.

Long-term Placement: Describes any individual who has spent 1+ year in the foster care system.

Emancipated Foster Youth: Describes any individual who exited the foster care system at 18 years of age.

Educational Attainment: Describes a student’s drive to succeed in school; as well as, the actual level of academia achieved.

Non-Reunified Youth: Identifies foster care children who were not reunited with their biological family after entering the system

Reunified Youth: Identifies foster care children who have been taken out of the home and placed in a temporary foster home, but were inevitably united with their biological family (family of origin).

Family Reunification: Describes the process of a family coming together, to live in the same home, after a child is placed back into their family home by the state and is no longer part of the foster care system.

Wards of the Court: Identifies all children who have been removed from their home and processed by California Foster Care System and the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services.

Reliability and Validity of Instruments/Measures

Examining available records will be less costly and less time consuming, but systemic error and random error is a barrier in collecting adequate research from the Department of Child and Family Services. Systemic error may occur in the situation that the profile/documents of a former foster youth was altered due to falsified information written by the caseworker and/or inaccurate information communicated by the past foster parents or school system. Random errors may also occur due to inadequate follow-up and poor documentation of child’s placement status. These barriers, along with many other plausible factors, create errors in research and affect the reliability of the information gathered, as well as the validity of the overall study (Rubin & Babbie, 2008). This alternative form of measurement is feasible for this study as the only information that will be acquired from the existing DCFS files is identifying information, which will include name of former foster youth, date of birth, phone number and address. The reliability of this measure will then be validated with informal telephone interviews insuring that individual reached via telephone is a former foster youth born between 1978-1985.

Although cultural competency is vital in the creation on the cross-sectional survey design, there is no measurement equivalence of psychometric properties relevant to and/or affecting the measurement of the study at this time, the information shared on the questionnaire will be coded and evaluated regardless of any cultural factors (Orme & Buehler, 2001).

Written self-report questionnaires will be the primary measure used for the sample population. This form of measurement will be beneficial to the one-time cross-sectional research as it assembles general background individual on an individual but it will also give perspective on the individual’s attitude and behavior (Rubin & Babbie, 2008). This information will give researches insight into the individuals’ mental and physical capacities and provides researchers with reliable research that expands causalities between foster care and education.

Appropriate face validity is essential for the selection of research indicators and variables. Establishing face validity establishes the life of the study and research measures chosen. Face validity is a pre-requisite before starting this research study, in that before research is conducted, researchers must determine the reality of reunification of foster youth with original family affects foster youth academic achievement; the accessibility of a sample population of former foster youth between a defined age group. The process of face validity will establish that the measurements chosen seem to measure what was expected in the study (Rubin & Babbie, 2008). This encapsulates the external validity prevalent in this study, meaning that past research has generalized findings regarding the foster care experience and the educational experiences of foster care children looking for roots of causality. We presume that internal validity will remain high as the researchers are confident in their ability to effectively analyze the intended study. Adequate variance of the research study provides operationalized choices to ensure a range of variation and the degree of attributes that have a causal relationship.

Procedures

Using cross-sectional exploratory research the study will begin by examining existing research, which will be provided by Los Angeles DCFS. After collecting information on foster youth who emancipated out of the system and who are currently between the ages of 22 and 30, conversational telephone calls were made to each individual name taken from DCFS files to confirm the resident was still a former foster youth. These telephone calls will also determine if the subject had reunified with family of origin. Each subject will have been screened for study eligibility. After confirming the residencies of former foster youth, self-report questionnaires with open-ended and closed-ended questions will be mailed out, which will offer the sample population a financial incentive of $15 to return their completed evaluation. The written self-report questionnaire will include qualitative questioning; circling/marking a question, and contingency questioning, which will enable researchers to narrow a broad demographic. This will allow for a feasible measurement of the large former foster youth population, and the findings will be more generalizable, which will enable researchers to determine the actual representativeness and order of a predicted causal relationship between foster youth home placement (foster home or united with original kin) and educational attainment levels (Rubin & Babbie, 2008).

Conceptual and Methodological Limitations

Cross-sectional studies are influential in the development of new knowledge, but a limitation of this research design entails the inability to deduct conclusive evidence in attempt to establish causal order of variable and attributes of the sample. When using self-reporting as a form of data measurement it is imperative to consider artificiality of the self-reports, and the possible lack of validity, as the statistics provided for the research were founded on trust and confidentiality. Although written self-reporting is commonly used in social work research, it may be difficult to create a well-received survey that is worded correctly and avoids any cultural biases, and is not overwhelming in length and difficulty (Rubin & Babbie, 2008).

Overall, there is minimal research on foster youth experiences, with in-home or out-of-home foster care placement, correlated to educational attainment. Most conceptual research on foster care children holds no valid evidence of normative statistical data, and relies on measuring a population sample without any known psychometric properties. This limits the researcher’s ability to examine and rely on past research to further replicated and/or advanced research across various cultures on the topic of interest.

Instrumentation

After examining available records and collecting general information/data on Foster youth from the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services, unstructured, conversational telephone interviews will be conducted solely to verify residence of foster youth in order to confirm the individual was a foster youth and is currently between the ages of 22 and 30. In the case that the past foster youth has moved, the survey will not be sent to that person or the new resident is able to provide the surveyor with new contact information. Once addresses are verified, it is predicted that approximately 1,000 self-administered questionnaires will be mailed to each identified former foster care youth between the ages of 22 and 30. In lieu of the former foster youth’s participation and returned questionnaire, a $15 incentive will be mailed to the participants. The greater the response of completed surveys attained, the larger the study sample size, which will decrease chance of sampling error and increase the validity and reliability of the statistical evidence collected (Rubin & Babbie, 2008). Once returned back, the questionnaires will undergo a qualifying quantitative analysis in order to convert the written data into numerical form (Rubin and Babbie, 2008).

Data Analysis

Quantitative data resulting from the surveys will be examined using a computer based statistical analysis system such as SPSS. Descriptive statistics will be employed to acquire information regarding participant demographics, educational attainment, employment/economic status, foster care experience including social support, and skills training. The data provided from the self-administered surveys will be transformed in to coded values which the researchers will use to appropriately categorize each participant experience. The coded values will then be converted in to statistics which will then be used to compare reunified foster youth versus non-reunified foster youth educational attainment. The statistics will provide evidence to whether or not the hypothesis is statistically significant. If the hypothesis is at the .05 level of significance we can conclude that the null hypothesis has only a .05 probability of being true and thus reject it.

Implications

We hypothesize that reunified foster youth will have completed higher levels of education, than those who spent at least one year (long-term placement) in the foster care system. This is due to the prevalence of stability in reunified youth through decreased school mobility, increased resources, higher self-esteem, and resilience.

The significance of this finding is that it supports the necessity of stability for completion of higher education which may decrease the prevalence of delinquency, substance abuse, and homelessness as outcomes of foster youth determined by previous research studies (Bates et al., 1997; Emerson, 2007). The implication is that, permanency, by creating stability and the social status of membership, is an important resource for non-reunified youth, which may increase positive outcomes for completion in higher education. For youth in state care to become successful and emotionally healthy in adulthood, they must leave the foster care system in a planned manner that connects them to a lifelong family (Louisell, 2003; Pecora et al., 2003; Wulczyn, 2004; Zeitlin, 2004). Family permanence ultimately can reduce the number of youth who enter care as well as those who “age out” of foster care without a family (Louisell, 2003).

More than 25,000 foster youth “age out” of state care or run away every year before authorities can reunite them with their parents, place them permanently with relatives, or secure an adoptive family (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2007). Those vulnerable youth lack any ongoing connection to family members or caring adults. Federal, state, and local authorities must recognize the critical importance of permanent family connections for youth in foster care if substantial progress is to be made in improving outcomes for these disconnected youth. Policies and funding must bolster these critical connections. Child welfare systems can bring children the permanence they need by providing support to families so that children can remain safely with their own parents and family members (i.e. avoid foster care placement) or return safely to their parents and family members. At risk children may be placed with relatives who are able to care for them, or, when these options are not available, creating alternative planned living arrangements while nurturing continued family connections are viable plans of action for professionals (Louisell, 2003).

Permanence is both a value and goal of practice. Change will require new practices, adequate and flexible funding, improved incentives for systems and individual families, and redefined goals and measures of accountability for policy makers and practitioners. Specific elements of family permanence that are important for youth include: involvement of the youth as a participant in treatment planning; a permanent connection with at least one adult who provides love, unconditional commitment, lifelong support, a stable and secure parenting relationship, and possibly a legal relationship; and the opportunity to maintain contact with personally important people, including birth siblings (Louisell, 2003; Pecora, et al., 2003).

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