TYPS Pilot Study Findings: March 2018
If parental rights are terminated, the child welfare system has a monumental task of finding permanency for that child. Permanency in the child welfare field is often spoken of in terms of a “forever family.” The assumption is that legal permanence (adoption or guardianship) will provide all the components that a child needs to have lifelong permanent connections. However, emerging research and anecdotal evidence suggest that many youth enter adulthood with severed ties regardless of whether they age out of foster care, were adopted from foster care or were placed with relatives.
The Texas Youth Permanency Study is building evidence to better understand the realities of former foster youth entering young adulthood by examining the outcomes of youth who age out of foster care, are adopted, are reunified or are placed with relatives. In doing so, we seek to find new ways of understanding permanency that will create foundations for youth to thrive in young adulthood regardless of how they leave foster care. This pilot study is our first step in understanding the complexities of permanency.
We interviewed 30 youth who had been in foster care. The majority of study participants (n=24) reported aging out of foster care at 18 years old without a permanent legal guardian. Of these, five participants reported failed reunifications with their birth family that had allowed them to exit foster care temporarily. Another five participants experienced disrupted adoptions resulting in three of these participants returning to foster care. Two participants reported adoption discontinuity after age 18. With both participants, the state assumed that the adoption would provide a forever family, but the youth entered young adulthood with no support.
The idea that youth are leaving adoptive homes in the same way they leave foster care -without support, security and relationships-is noteworthy considering the remedy to aging out of care is often adoption. Thus, our three main findings are that:
- Authentic relationships matter most;
- Every child needs to feel normal; and
- Authentic relationships and feeling normal foster wellbeing in young adulthood.
We used these three findings to create a conceptual model that presents a new way of thinking about permanency. Normalcy is the core of our model. Normalcy is the feeling of being ‘like everyone else.’ This feeling of being normal allows a youth to create relationships that, in many cases, transcend legal permanency in young adulthood, and is essential for achieving wellbeing conceptualized by five key markers: safety, education, health, life skills, and vocation for youth.
Our plan is to continue to test this conceptual model by following a cohort of foster youth into young adulthood. We plan to follow a cohort of youth ages 14 and older to see what happens with their permanency outcomes over five years. Thus, the Texas Youth Permanency Study will continue to build evidence to inform policies and practices that improve outcomes for all foster youth, regardless of their permanency outcomes.
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