Permanency Planning With Youth
When caseworkers face high caseloads and try to help youth overcome their unique challenges, it can be difficult for them to envision positive outcomes. Permanency may seem impossible. But small steps along the way can make all the difference. By taking advantage of every opportunity to engage youth in meaningful ways, they have the potential to open doors that had once seemed impossible. Caseworkers and other professionals have the privilege to make opportunities available to youth. Having an open mind, looking beyond the contents of a file, and focusing on the youth’s strengths are key ingredients in developing successful permanency plans.
The information on this page provides an outline for how to honor and incorporate youth voice into efforts to achieve adoption for teens in foster care. This content was developed in partnership with two youth and their parents.
“Think of all the stuff the youth has been through, what they had to do to survive. It’s not fair to the youth to only be seen for what happened to them. They need one person to believe in them. The caseworker is supposed to guide, comfort, and support the youth.”—Kaylee, youth who was adopted.
"Find the smallest nugget of common ground and grab onto it. This can give you the initial introduction to them.”—Heather, adoptive parent
- Be respectful, authentic, and honest, which is a basic ingredient in The Secret Sauce: A Recipe for Authentic, Honest, and Trusting Relationships With Youth.
- Express care, challenge growth, and provide support, which are the tenets of the Developmental Relationships Framework.
- Look past labels and get to know the youth as a whole person.
- Allow the youth to lead the conversations and give them the space to find their voice.
- Empathize with the young person. Provide support and listen to them.
- Listen and show up for the youth when they need support. Here are three real-life accounts of what this looks like:
- "Kim’s Story" [Video]
- "Navigating Together With Jaquia and Raven" [Podcast]
- Social Workers Stop Taking Notes and Start Showing Up" [Video]
- Learn more about the youth by talking with those who know them best.
- Be a source of calm and safety to help build a connection. Learn more about this and other ways to engage youth in "The Necessity of Authentic Engagement: 5 Ways to Build Connections With Youth Facing Adversity".
“Kids need to know that they have a rest stop, that someone is there for them. Someone to say: what has happened to you in your past doesn’t define you anymore.”—Kaylee, youth who was adopted
- Leave space for the youth’s feelings. Don’t take their emotions personally.
- Stick with the youth even when they may be resistant to your help or developing a relationship. This is key to developing a transformational relationship.
- Circle back with the youth to let them know what you did in response to their feedback or request.
- Understand that communication is an important building block of relationship building. Youth need to know you are open and honest and will inform them along the way.
- View a youth's resistance as a form of protection. Recognize that a young person’s past trauma and difficulties with attachment may be getting in the way of their ability to nurture new relationships.
- Demonstrate continued commitment to engaging youth in planning for their life. These resources offer tips and strategies on how to do this:
- "National Adoption Month 2021 Webinar: Every Conversation Matters" [Webinar]
- Prioritizing Youth Voice: The Importance of Authentic Youth Engagement in Case Planning
- "Stories From the Field: Practical Strategies for Engaging Young People [Webinar]
- Remember that permanency planning is not a one-time conversation. Belonging Matters--Helping Youth Explore Permanency can inform your practice.
- Partner with youth in adoption recruitment efforts. These resources outline strategies:
“Kids look up to their caseworker. They look to them as the one person who will believe in them. Most youth don’t believe in themselves, so how will they be able to if their caseworker doesn’t believe?”—Kaylee, youth who was adopted
“I didn’t think about college, but I wanted to be a nurse since I was 6 years old. So when I realized it was possible, I pursued it.”—AJ, youth who was adopted
- Utilize positive youth development approaches that incorporate racial equity and inclusion.
- Identify ways to empower youth. This resource is a good starting point: "Five Ways Child Welfare Agencies Can Empower Young People".
- Ask youth what they consider important to their well-being and healing and help to identify and build upon their strengths and interests. This is a basic tenet of Healing-Centered Engagement.
- Build a relationship to understand the needs of each youth in order to recruit and develop adoptive families to meet their needs. This webinar provides strategies: From Conversations to Relationships: Engaging Teens in Permanency Planning.
- Identify ways each day that you can partner with and relate to youth. Every conversation matters.
- Let youth make decisions and handle certain tasks. If you do everything for them, you deprive them of the opportunity to build those skills.
- Practice engaging youth regularly, and it will become ingrained.
- Focus on helping youth achieve both relational and legal permanency. This webinar provides specific strategies.
- Empower the youth to have hope and goals.