COLUMBUS – Learning to drive, playing a sport and going on sleepovers, they’re all part of what many consider a “normal” childhood, but that’s not always the case for the nearly 23,000 Ohio kids in foster care.
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows how child-welfare policies focused on safety and liability do not always allow kids in foster care to “just be kids.”
Kate Lodge is project director with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiatives in Cleveland, which is part of the Casey Foundation.
She says without typical adolescent experiences, a child’s decision-making skills and emotional well-being can suffer.
“Risk-taking and growing is a normal part of development so if you’re missing out on that part of development than it’s a challenge to get those developmental needs met,” says Lodge.
The federal Strengthening Families Act, passed last year, removes some of the barriers to typical adolescent activities. And the report emphasizes the importance of the law’s provisions including engaging young people in their own case-planning starting at age 14 and reducing group placement for children.
Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate with the Casey Foundation, says the act contains a reasonable and prudent parenting standard, which he says allows a caregiver or foster parent to make decisions for the child that were previously in the hands of a caseworker.
“Can I go after school to study with a friend? Or can I engage in this extracurricular activity? Those are some of the real basic things that many young people in foster care are inhibited from doing,” says Lloyd.
Ohio enacted a law with similar provisions last year, and Lodge says kids in foster care had a role in shaping it.
“Youth have been the driving voice and so it’s been interesting because it is a youth value but we’ve all caught on and say ‘Oh yeah, well normalcy is important to so many different areas of functioning,’” Lodge says.
The report recommends that kids in foster care be able to participate in after-school activities and camps, get school pictures, have access to a telephone, and be able to learn to drive a car and travel with other youth and adults.