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Feature Articles

Normalcy for Foster
Youth and Foster Parents

Prudent Parent Laws Goes into Effect, Impacting
Foster Parenting and Parenting Decision Making

By Laura Boyd, Ph.D.

Everyone knows that being a teen is hard work — hard on the teen, hard on parents and other family members, hard on teachers — hard. And everyone knows that it does take-a-village especially to manage the teen years — mentors, teachers, uncles and grandparents, friends — “a village.”

What if there were no respites for either teens or their parents during this developmental period? No overnights with friends or extended family, no weeks at camp, no part-time job, no mentor from church or football or band class or science club?

Parents know the teen years are a time of experimentation, the beginning of independence and responsibility, and a foray into the world of personal choices and consequence.

Imagine (or re-live) the natural anxiety in parenting teenagers: hormones, risk-taking, inexperience and inability to sufficiently predict consequences and outcomes. Fortunately, most families traverse those years without major difficulties and without permanent damage to property or family ties.

Now imagine this developmentally unavoidable passage of “teenage years” for a foster family, kinship family or adoptive family. These children face the same natural milestones and their caring and devoted families face the same anxieties and hopes.

However, in addition to managing “normal” teenage emotions and challenges, foster parents and relative caregivers making decisions on their behalf most often are required to get the permission and approval of someone outside the family such as a state child welfare worker for even the most typical decisions of parental authority and responsibility: permission to participate in school sports or school clubs and activities, permission to spend the night with friends, permission to receive a particular type of hair cut, or permission to work three hours per week at a fast food franchise are only a few examples.

Without such permission, which is rarely received timely, the youth is denied participation in “normal” childhood events . . . and foster parents are denied a level of authority that should match the expectations of responsibility that are laid upon them. Both youth and caregiver are treated as something less than “normal.”

Fortunately, such stigmatization of foster youth and their caregivers is about to change.

On September 29, federal legislation took effect, which requires states to implement a “reasonable and prudent parent standard” for decisions made by a foster parent (or an otherwise designated person in a childcare institution). This standard allows caregivers to make parental decisions that maintain the health, safety and best interests of the child, including decisions about the child’s participation in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities. States must revise licensing rules to incorporate the standard and also provide training to foster parents on the new standard. Private child placing agencies under contract with public child welfare entities must also assure such training for those foster parents.

The single overarching goal of the new standard is to provide “normalcy” for children in foster care by permitting foster parents and other caregivers to make parenting decisions on behalf of their youth that are developmentally appropriate, just as society expects any parent to make on behalf of their biological or adopted child. All parents know that participation in extracurricular and social activities is important in preparing youth — biological, foster, kinship or adopted — for a successful transition to adulthood and independence. Allowing caregivers to have more decision-making authority can also ultimately translate into youth in their care being able to gradually take on increasing levels of responsibility and leadership of their own lives — a process vital to the development of skills and capacities that lead to successful adulthood.

As of September 29, state child welfare authorities have begun to verify and/or provide appropriate information and training to foster parents and caregivers. Once that has occurred, foster parents and caregivers are authorized to make normal decisions, based upon the age and development of their youth, concerning the youth’s participation in typical extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities. If the foster parent or caretaker believes it is in the best and safe interest of their child, they may authorize sleep-overs, club and sports participation, obtaining of a driver’s license, part-time employment, and any of a myriad of “normal” and developmentally appropriate requests. Tattoos and any elective surgeries are not included in “normal.” Any caregiver with a question about a specific decision should contact the child welfare worker for input. Any caregiver who has not received formal notification of implementation of the new standard should contact their social worker or the state child welfare agency.  

Some key questions for states and caregivers as the new standard is implemented include:

Does the reasonable and prudent parent standard apply only to teenagers?
No. The standard applies to caregiver decision making for youth of any age.

These examples focus on teens, when many more types of decisions are required regularly and frequently due to this developmental stage.

What steps should be taken to ensure that all parties are aware of what the reasonable and prudent parent standard means?
Once the state child welfare agency has verified that state licensed/certified foster homes and private agencies providing out-of-home services to dependent children have policies consistent with the training required by this statute and that those caregivers can promote and protect the ability of dependent children to participate in age-appropriate extracurricular, enrichment and social activities, the public agency may offer advice to support the caregiver as a reasonable prudent parent; however, they may not make the decisions for caregivers. Foster parents and private agencies should be protected from harassment, intimidation or any other form of obstruction, either real or perceived, by the state child welfare agency concerning decisions made under the “reasonable and prudent parent” standard.

Does the application of the reasonable and prudent parent standard transfer liability to foster parents for actions they take about the children in their care or action that children take while in their care?
No. Once foster parents and private agencies have been certified that the appropriate training has been provided concerning developmental stages and the prudent parent standard, foster parents and caregivers have no more liability for the actions of these youth than they would for their own biological children. The state must also ensure that “reasonable and prudent parent” standard allows these caregivers to make decisions without fear of reprisal from the child’s social worker, the licensing or approval agency or the juvenile court. “Gross neglect” for either biological or foster youth is no defense, obviously.

Does this law apply to unsupervised time at home?  
No, the federal law specifically addresses extracurricular, enrichment, social and cultural activities. It does not include unsupervised time at home such as children being left at home alone after school.            
Does the “reasonable and prudent parent” standard only apply to individuals who become foster parents on or after the effective date of this provision (after September 29, 2015)?
No, this provision applies to all foster parents, including those who are currently caring for children in foster care.

In my career as a marriage and family therapist, frequent clients were the parents of youth ages 14-17, and the youth also. These were some of my favorite families, I was able to quickly calm most parents by applauding (outside of the hearing of the child with problematic behavior) the fact that their youth was at least “rebelling” under their roof where the cost of these behaviors was likely to be much more affordable than if they were taking on such risks and “bad choices” as an adult in college, in the workplace, or even with a spouse and child of their own to experience the consequences. Indeed most times, with some renewed efforts at family communications skills, mutual limit setting and the passage of time, my reassurances proved correct. Youth residing in foster, kinship, adoptive and residential settings have the same developmental needs and should have access to the same opportunities to learn, fail, learn more and succeed.

The reasonable and prudent parent standard goes a long way to providing the opportunities for normalcy that benefit other youth. It is time to confront this stigma in foster care by training and supporting caregivers to be fully “normal” parents with decision-making authority.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura W. Boyd, Ph.D., is the owner and CEO of Policy and Performance consultants, Inc. She has spent her entire life at the cross-section of human services, education, business and society. Boyd has 16 years of teaching experience in positions ranging from lecturer to assistant professor, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. She has a doctorate in psychology and a master’s degree in humanist education/counseling. These degrees are augmented by 24 years of private counseling experience. Boyd serves as public policy director for the Foster Family-based Treatment Association, the only national association of providers of treatment or therapeutic foster care.

Feature Article Archive

November/December 2015
Advocating for Kids in Foster Care

September/October 2015
Permanency for Children in Foster Care

July/August 2015
Reunification/Birth Family Connection

May/June 2015
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2015
Working with Agencies

January/February 2015
Mental Health

November/December 2014
The Foster Parent Calling

September/October 2014
Attachment & Trauma

July/August 2014
Parenting Teens

May/June 2014
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

March/April 2014
Working within the System

January/February 2014
The Dynamics of Working with Birth Parents and Kinship Caregivers

November/December 2013
Navigating Behavioral Issues with Children

September/October 2013
Back to School Parenting Guide

July/August 2013
Traditional Versus Therapeutic Foster Care

May/June 2013
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2013

January/February 2013
Kinship Care

November/December 2012
Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Abuse

September/October 2012
Nurturing Identity

July/August 2012
Working with Birth Families 

May/June 2012
Celebrating National
Foster Care Month:
Finding Support 

March/April 2012
Parenting Teens 

January/February 2012
Grief, Loss & Anger in Foster Care

November/December 2011
Promoting Better Communication Among the Foster Care Team 

July/August 2011
Discipline Techniques for Foster Parenting

May/June 2011
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

September/October 2011

March/April 2011
The Impact of Social Networking on Foster Care

January/February 2011
My Personal Foster Care Experience and What I've Learned

November/December 2010
Support Organizations Provide Assistance to Foster Families, Children

September/October 2010
The Importance of Keeping Siblings Connected in Foster Care

July/August 2010
Foster Care Health Care: Finding alternative therapies for healing 

May / June 2010
Celebrate National Foster Care Month and Foster Families Nationwide

March/April 2010
Kinship Care - The best interest for children or a foster care alternative?

January/February 2010
Emancipation or Family - Uncovering what's best for teens  

November/December 2009
Discovering What Foster Parents Really Need to Parent

July/August 2009
The Importance of Continuing Education for Foster Parents

May/June 2009
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

March/April 2009
Tips for Parenting Children into the Teen Years 

January/February 2009
Finding the Money Connection in Foster Care

November/December 2008
Looking Ahead at the Future of Foster Car

September/October 2008
Living the Daily Realities of Foster Care 

July/August 2008
Recognizing the Importance of Birth Parent Connection  

May/June 2008
Celebrate National Foster Care Month in May 

March/April 2008
Encouraging Foster Parents to Take Care of Themselves  

January/February 2008
Tips to Help Parents Tackle the Teenage Years

November/December 2007
Becoming the Best Parent for Children in Your Care

July/August 2007
Helping Children and Families Cope with Special Needs Issues

May / June 2007
The Power of Family

March / April 2007
Fostering Un
derstanding in Our Schools

January / February 2007
Finding Inner Peace in Parenting

November / December 2006
Are You My Family?

September / October 2006
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

July / August 2006
Traditionally Speaking

May / June 2006
From Ward of the State to Defender of the Country

March / April 2006
Becoming Foster Parents

January / February 2006
Thank You, Foster Parents!

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