Foster Care Awareness Month and the Importance of Relational Permanency

The month of May is most often associated with mental health month, but did you know that this month is also dedicated to foster care awareness? The month shines a light on the struggles foster care youth encounter while in the system, while also recognizing the need for a supportive system of care for children who are abused and neglected. The month also celebrates the tireless work of advocates, professionals, and foster parents, who dedicate their time and efforts to building brighter futures for these incredible youth. 

2024’s National Foster Care Month (NFCM) focuses on the importance of the best practices to support youth transitioning into adulthood.  Upon aging out of the system, former foster youth may find navigating the world as an independent adult daunting and overwhelming.  Almost 18,500 youth transition out of foster care each year. Aging out of a regulated, structured system may result in newfound, desired independence, but it may also result in encountering a new set of challenges, such as acquiring further access to education or healthcare. Many young adults who age out of the system are at risk of homelessness or unemployment. For many of these youth, they are completely on their own for the first time in their lives. 

Recognizing the issues that have plagued youth aging out of the system for years, NFCM’s 2024 theme is “Engaging Youth. Building Supports. Strengthening Opportunities.” The theme focuses on establishing and utilizing authentic and meaningful relationships as a support system. Many foster care children begin their time in the system with no peer or familial support. By helping them cultivate supportive relationships, they can form a network that they can rely on for help and advice into adulthood.

By serving as a CASA, many of our volunteers become an integral part of this network in which we are helping youth reach relational permanency—a form of consistent and dependable connection that lasts beyond the child’s time in foster care. Although the primary goal within child welfare is to reach legal permanency (such as reunification or adoption), relational permanency is crucial in helping youth overcome the challenge of aging out of the system.

Within the last four years, the narrative for many at-risk youth has changed. Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) tells us that the number of children in foster care has decreased for the fourth year in a row. The number of children aging out of foster care has also decreased. Each year, AFCARS releases data on the number of children in foster care, their reasons for entering care, and the manner of which they exited foster care. This data helps federal and state policymakers to create strategies to combat the negative effects of aging out of foster care. Although foster care youth continue to face challenges, the decrease in the number of children in foster care, and corresponding young adults aging out of foster care, indicates positive trends.  To continue to make impactful changes in foster care, we must support meaningful connections and aid in systemic change that can help foster youth lead successful and meaningful lives beyond the foster care system, well into adulthood.