The Permanency Roundtable Program seeks to achieve permanency for youth in foster care by replacing the inevitability of “aging out” and experiencing the associated bad outcomes with the probability of permanency and a chance for a successful life. In the short-term, the Roundtables address youth’s immediate, critical need for permanency as they approach 18. Over the long-term, the Roundtables creatively solve the system’s inadequate attention to permanency for older youth by changing mindsets and introducing new practices.
Sadly, it is well-established that foster youth are more likely to later be unemployed or receive poverty-level incomes, have no health insurance, experience post-traumatic stress and serious untreated health conditions, and be victims of crime or become engaged in criminal activity. More than 50% of foster youth drop out of high school; only 1.8% attain a college degree. More than 50% of former foster youth are unemployed for an extended period of time once they leave care. If they are able to secure employment, the average earnings of former foster youth are a little over half those of the general population of the same age. Foster youth are also more likely to experience teenage and/or unplanned pregnancy, which further diminishes their educational and wage-earning prospects.
The longer children remain in the foster care system without being either reunified or adopted, the greater the likelihood that they will face poor outcomes. Twelve to 22% of youth who “age out” are immediately homeless. In Florida, an incredible 28% of 1,821 young adults (18 to 22 years old) who aged out of the system reported experiencing homelessness.
Achieving permanency through reunification, adoption, guardianship, or another lifelong, supportive relationship is one way to mitigate the bad outcomes that are probable for youth who would otherwise “age out” without permanent families or positive prospects. By offering a structured, targeted approach, the Roundtables can restore hope for these youth and increase the probability of their achieving permanency, even under difficult circumstances.
Through the Permanency Roundtable Program, Florida Foster Care Review coordinates and facilitates in-depth, highly structured professional case consultations focused exclusively on securing permanent families and/or adult connections from which youth can expect lifelong support. Permanency Roundtables are based on the idea that permanency can be created for all children, regardless of age or time in care.
At each two-hour Roundtable, key professionals involved in the child’s case come together with community experts to examine the individual youth’s situation, identify challenges and available resources, and brainstorm pathways to permanency. An extra hour is added to the session for each additional child in the family (e.g., a sibling) who is in care. By the end of the session, an individualized, strategic, permanency-focused action plan is developed, with each team member assigned tasks. After the initial Permanency Roundtable, the youth’s case will be reviewed one-hour per month until the youth either achieves permanency or ages out of foster care. Thus, the number of months each youth’s case will be part of the Roundtable process will be unique to each youth.
The Permanency Roundtable process is at once simple and demanding. The meeting is based on four core values:
- Urgency (a “no excuses” relentless insistence on permanency),
- Teaming (a solution-focused, non-blaming approach in which the team supports the caseworker with concrete assistance in the form of tasks that are part of an actionable plan),
- Outcomes (a belief that learning and accountability will lead to positive developments), and
- Optimism (an understanding that increased hope and energy result when creative strategies are developed in a demanding yet supportive environment).
At all points, the Permanency Roundtable process seeks not to avoid discussions of obstacles, but rather to uncover challenges and formulate ways to overcome them. The written action plan that results must be actionable in the short term. The team operates with the understanding that progress may be incremental, but must be concrete. Strategies may include family engagement, as well as working with youth and familial/non-familial adult connections to move beyond any reluctance to permanency. A status chart is used to rate and record the youth’s progress toward permanency.
In addition to facilitating the Roundtable and follow-up meetings, FFCR staff track permanency outcomes and the length of time to permanency for all youth in the program and document the reasons why some youth do not achieve permanency before age 18. FFCR will similarly evaluate and document the trajectory of youth who did reach permanency through the Roundtable process and work to replicate in other cases the elements and conditions that are shown to produce successful permanency outcomes.