Foster Care: Striving for Typical Life

A new report says states can improve foster care by increasing foster parents’ flexibility to help the kids in their care. (cherylholt/morguefile)

Suzanne Potter / California News Service

SAN DIEGO – Children in foster care need to have the same kinds of life experiences as other kids to increase their sense of success and belonging.

That’s one conclusion of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Its new report is designed to help state agencies implement a 2014 federal law to strengthen families, in part by moving toward what’s known as a “prudent parenting” model for foster care.

It gives foster parents the flexibility to make decisions about after-school activities, sleepovers and family vacations. Susanna Kniffen, child welfare policy director with the nonprofit group “Children Now,” says in the past fears about safety and liability got in the way.

“What we realized is safety isn’t enough,” says Kniffen. “We also need to help kids have a sense of well-being. And so, we’re focused a little bit more now on how do we make sure they’re in a family-like environment with people who really love them and will be there for them long-term.”

As of July 2015, California had almost 55,000 children in foster care.

Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate with the Casey Foundation, says the additional freedom allows kids to experience life just like any other child unlike in the past.

“Some settings could be very restrictive and have policies that don’t allow after-school activities or don’t allow transportation, or even certain rites of passage for adolescents,” says Lloyd. “Learning to drive a car or being able to go to the prom.”

The report also encourages states to reduce the use of group placements, be more rigorous in selecting and training foster parents, and give children over age 14 greater input in their own case planning.