Moving Beyond Legal Permanency

Child welfare professionals have traditionally focused on identifying and establishing legal permanency on federally established timelines for young people determined to be unable to return to the care of their parents. However, focusing mostly on legal permanency may result in a young person’s other essential connections—such as prior foster caregivers, schoolteachers, and peers—not receiving the same attention as other forms of valuable support. In turn, this may cause young people in care to lose relationships with their biological families and kin as well as other important individuals in their lives.

In recent years, agencies have begun to understand that relational permanency is critical to the well-being of young people (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.-b). Relational permanency encourages children and young people to form long-lasting permanent connections in foster care that include retaining connections with their cultures, communities, and families. By focusing on relational permanency, agencies can encourage children and young people to form strong relationships and social connections with people in their lives that can help them feel loved, accepted, and supported. This may also give young people more options and long-term security when it comes to choosing their permanent connections (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.-a).

Challenges and Benefits of Moving Beyond Legal Permanency

Focusing on relational permanency is not without challenges. One of the challenges young people might face is that while they may be forming committed connections with adults in their lives, they may still lack a sense of belonging, seeing themselves as “just a foster child” (Thompson & Greeson, 2015). Young people may also have trouble forming meaningful relationships with adults in their lives because of trust issues due to entering care or previous experiences with adults, trauma caused by being in the system, lack of positive examples, or a fear of rejection due to past experiences (Thompson & Greeson, 2015). By being aware of these challenges and offering mental health support where needed, agencies can better facilitate relational permanency for young people in foster care.


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