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Striving for Normalcy

Participating in activities with their peers helps foster children succeed. Credit: Lourdeslanote/Wikimedia Commons
Participating in activities with their peers helps foster children succeed. Credit: Lourdeslanote/Wikimedia Commons
December 9, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – 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 many of these restrictions were put in place with younger children in mind.

Bianca Rey, an associate policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, points out that adolescence is a time of practicing for adulthood.

"You want to develop independence and the ability to handle responsibility, so that you are ready to take on all those responsibilities of adulthood, and make safe choices, and be able to carefully assess risk on your own behalf," she explained.

According to Rey, Connecticut has been ahead of most other states in helping youth in foster care accomplish such normal pursuits as getting a driver's license or participating in sports.

Because the state serves as the legal guardian of children in foster care, concerns about safety and liability have often kept young people from participating in some types of activities, such as staying at a friend's house or traveling. But those are very activities that help youth feel like they belong among their peers.

"We really want young people to have these normal adolescent and child experiences," said Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate at the Annie E Casey Foundation. "And much of that – for many of us, really – occurred within the context of family."

To help achieve that, he said, the normalcy standards of the Strengthening Families Act free foster parents to make some of the decisions that once only could be made by caseworkers. Requiring a state agency to give permission for school trips or joining a sports team means foster children could miss many opportunities that other children have.

Rey said often, a social worker isn't the best person to decide what's right for the child.

"A lot of decision-making could be made by the foster parent, who knows the particular developmental and age challenges of the youth in question and can do a day-by-day, moment-by-moment analysis of what's appropriate, the way that parents do," she said.

The Strengthening Families Act became Connecticut state law during the last legislative session. The state is now actively pursuing full implementation of the law's normalcy standards.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT