The Right to Belong
Children and youth have the right to live in a family with adults who love them and who are committed to helping them enter adulthood prepared and aware of their potential. Being born to, or adopted by, parents who are not able to adequately do the things parents are supposed to do, should never mean that a youth loses the basic right to a family. Further, every young person, regardless of the capacity of their parents to parent, has the right to maintain relationships with their siblings and with other special people.
Into Foster Care Through No Fault of Their Own
To secure the right to a safe childhood, every state has a child welfare system that responds when kids are at risk. In extraordinary cases, when challenges exceed the capacity of parents to create a safe home, child protection workers remove children from their parents’ care. In about 15% of cases, parents eventually lose their legal rights as parents to their child. In those cases the child loses their place in the family lineage, they are no longer considered the grandchild of her grandparents, nor are they their siblings’ sibling. While the specifics vary state to state, they can lose all rights that come through family membership, including inheritance and the ability to visit a sick relative in the hospital. Until or unless they are legally adopted by another family, the child will enter adulthood legally related to no one.
A PROMISE MADE
When a child loses their legal status as a member of a family through child protection removal and court-ordered termination of parental rights, the community has made a promise. The promise is that the community will do everything possible to find, prepare and support another family who will provide a place for them to belong for the rest of their life.
The community has promised every child and youth living in our child welfare system that they will be restored as quickly as possible to a stable, safe, loving home. Healing happens in relationship with a committed, attuned adult and each day a youth spends without that critical loving relationship further delays urgent emotional healing, and often makes it worse.
A Promise Largely Unfulfilled
While a permanent family is being sought, the awesome responsibility of parenting goes to the state’s child welfare system. In Minnesota, that means 87 counties and 11 tribes are responsible for doing all the things parents are supposed to do. In the meantime, abused, neglected and traumatized children and youth live in various types of child welfare placements, which are all designed to be temporary. During this time, virtually every decision about the youth is made by a team that includes some combination of social workers, direct care staff or foster parent, guardians ad litem, lawyers, judges, therapists and, when the adults make it possible, the youth themselves.
But the system is swamped. With too few resources and too many children in need of healing, the child welfare system responds to immediate crises first, and is often slow to address the permanency needs of youth long-removed from dangers posed in their original families. Further, not everyone involved in the child welfare system understands, agrees with and/or follows the laws that clearly direct all parties to make reasonable efforts to achieve permanency as efficiently as possible for children and youth.
Despite the promise that we will find a permanent family, 49 youth turned 18 and aged out of care in Minnesota with no legal parent in 2013 (about 10% of all youth who aged out of care in Minnesota that year). Most teens whose parents’ legal rights have been terminated can expect to age out of care without having been adopted. In fact, in 2007, 93 percent of youth who were under state guardianship at age 15 left the child welfare system without a permanent family (Minnesota Department of Human Services, 2007 Child Welfare report).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Fortunately, Ampersand Families and partners like you are working together to change this picture — for individual youth and for the system as a whole. We do not need to accept the idea that there is nothing to be done. When youth age out of foster care legally related to no one, they have not just fallen through the cracks. They have fallen through fingers…lots and lots of fingers belonging to lots and lots of people who intervened in the first place to make their life safer. Entering adulthood disconnected, lonely and unprepared is not an acceptable outcome. Together, Ampersand Families is partnering with young people, caring adults and the community to fulfill the promise of belonging, dignity and hope through family membership for every young person.
Learn more about how you can volunteer, provide financial support and be a voice for change.