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
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Permanency for Children in Foster Care
July/August 2015May/June 2015
Reunification/Birth Family Connection
National Foster Care Month
Working with Agencies
The Foster Parent Calling
Attachment & Trauma
May/June 2014March/April 2014
Celebrating National Foster Care Month
Working within the System
The Dynamics of Working with Birth Parents and Kinship Caregivers
Navigating Behavioral Issues with Children
Back to School Parenting Guide
Traditional Versus Therapeutic Foster Care
National Foster Care Month
Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Abuse
Working with Birth Families
Foster Care Month:
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Promoting Better Communication Among the Foster Care Team
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The Importance of Keeping Siblings Connected in Foster Care
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Emancipation or Family - Uncovering what's best for teens
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The Importance of Continuing Education for Foster Parents
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Tips for Parenting Children into the Teen Years
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Looking Ahead at the Future of Foster Car
Living the Daily Realities of Foster Care
Recognizing the Importance of Birth Parent Connection
Celebrate National Foster Care Month in May
Encouraging Foster Parents to Take Care of Themselves
Tips to Help Parents Tackle the Teenage Years
Becoming the Best Parent for Children in Your Care
Helping Children and Families Cope with Special Needs Issues
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The Power of Family
March / April 2007
Fostering Understanding 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
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!