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New Standards Redefining Life in Foster Care

Being in foster care can make even simple rites of passage for teens, like getting a driverís license, more difficult. Credit: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons
Being in foster care can make even simple rites of passage for teens, like getting a driverís license, more difficult. Credit: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons
December 9, 2015

PITTSBURGH – The federal Strengthening Families Act is helping children in foster care have some of the formative experiences that children in intact families may take for granted.

What Young People Need to Thrive, a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says foster children have often lived with restrictions that force them to the margins of normal school activities, community involvement, even friendships.

But to be successful, they need to find ways to be more like other children. Jacki Hoover, assistant deputy director of Allegheny County Children Youth and Families, says that's what the normalcy standards of the Act can help them do.

"To not only feel connected to their family and their community, but also provide them with some coping skills, as well as prepare them to be a successful adult," says Hoover.

The Act frees foster parents to make some of the decisions that had once been made only by caseworkers.

Because the state serves as the legal guardian of children in foster care, concerns about safety and liability often kept young people from participating in sports, traveling or getting a driver's license.

According to Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, those are activities that help youth feel like they belong among their peers.

"We really want young people to have these normal adolescent and child experiences," says Lloyd, "and much of that – for many of us, really – occurred within the context of family."

One obstacle has been what the state is willing to pay for. Hoover points to the Allegheny County Music Festival Fund, which raises money outside the government funding stream, as a way her organization has been able to pay for some of the things that help make a child achieve that sense of normalcy.

"Things like violin lessons, gymnastics, hip hop dance – anything that a youth desires while they're in care that we feel will make them more successful," she explains.

The normalcy standards also emphasize fostering relationships that become permanent, giving foster children the opportunity to develop connections that will last a lifetime.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA