YH A N D B O O K F O R. o u t h I N F O S T E R C A R E

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1 YH A N D B O O K F O R o u t h I N F O S T E R C A R E September 2010

2 about this handbook This handbook is for youth placed in foster care through local departments of social services (DSS) (not the juvenile justice system). The handbook was written for youth entering foster care for the first time as well as youth already in foster care. We hope that whether you are about to be placed or have been in foster care for a while, you will find the information helpful. The handbook describes your rights and responsibilities while you are in foster care. It also describes what happens when you are older and leave foster care. It represents minimum New York State requirements, but your county or agency may have some additional rules. The handbook covers lots of topics, but it is important to know where you can get more help if you need it. Be sure to talk to an adult you trust if you have other questions or need more information. When you see big quotation marks... you will know that those are the words of a youth in foster care just like you. HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

3 acknowledgments The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) wishes to thank the people who contributed to this handbook: Youth In Progress (YIP), New York State s Foster Care Youth Leadership Advisory Team. This handbook would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the members of YIP. For more information, see page ii. Joanne Trinkle, Professional Development Program, Rockefeller College, University at Albany Paula Hennessy, Bureau of Training, Office of Children and Family Services Diana Fenton, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development, Office of Children and Family Services The handbook was developed by Welfare Research, Inc. (WRI) under contract with OCFS using Child Welfare Training and Technical Assistance funds. The handbook was written by Rebecca McBride, Ph.D., Senior Writer/Editor, and designed by Stephanie Richardson, Production Manager. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

4 Youth in Progress Mission The mission of Youth In Progress is to enhance and advance the lives of today s and tomorrow s youth by supporting their sense of self and responsibility. To do this, we pledge to educate everyone involved in the various systems Youth In Progress members represent to the realities of this experience. Priorities The priorities of YIP are to Dispel the negative stereotypes of youth in foster care. Improve policies and practices regarding family and sibling contacts. Increase youth involvement in selecting, assessing, and retaining service providers. Improve available services for youth while in foster care and when leaving foster care, including trial discharge services. Improve practices to meet the clothing needs of youth in foster care, and increase youth opportunities to make decisions about clothing. ii HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

5 contents About This Handbook Acknowledgments Youth In Progress 1. Being in Foster Care What, How, Where What Is Foster Care?...1 How Adults Get To Be Caregivers...3 You & Your Caseworker...4 The First Few Days in Care...7 Seeing Your Family Legal Issues Family Court...13 Department of Social Services...14 Service Plan Reviews...15 Permanency & Your Future...17 Getting Arrested...18 If You Are an Immigrant Everyday Life First Things First...21 Daily Stuff...23 Wheels...26 Money...27 Working...28 Chores...29 Problems in the Foster Care Setting...29 Running Away...30 Staying or Moving Again Big Questions Health...33 Sexuality...38 School...45 Religion & Culture...47 CONTENTS iii

6 5. Leaving Foster Care Planning for Your Future Life Skills Services Leaving Foster Care/Preparing for Self-Sufficiency Going to College Joining the Military Glossary Important Contacts... Inside Back Cover iv HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

7 being in foster care What, How, Where What Is Foster Care? Foster care is a place to live while you and your family can get the services and support you need. Foster care is meant to take care of children and youth when their parents can t, and to provide a safe home. Foster care is a place you go to be safe and protected, a place where you can work out family problems. Why Are You in Foster Care? Young people come into foster care for different reasons. Sometimes parents abuse or neglect their children. Other parents know they can t care for their children and ask for help. Some youth enter care because they need help with behaviors that are getting them into trouble. You have the right to know why you re in foster care. Ask your caseworker if you don t know. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE

8 Different Kinds of Foster Care There are different kinds of foster care because families and children have different needs. You may be placed in Foster Home with Relatives the home of relatives who will be your foster parents. This is called kinship foster care. Foster Home with Foster Parents a family setting, where there may be other youth in foster care. The foster parents may have their own children living there too. Group Home (7 12 youth, for youth ages 5 21) or Group Residence (13 25 youth, for youth ages 10 21) or Child Care Institution (13+ youth, for youth ages 12 21) a place to live for youth who need more services or supervision than a foster home could provide. A pregnant teen may be placed in a special group home or residence. Therapeutic Foster Boarding Home a foster home that gives special care to youth with behavioral, emotional, and/ or medical needs. The foster parents get special training and support. Agency-Operated Boarding Home a family-type home (often for sibling groups, independent living, or mother/child), for up to 6 residents. Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP) usually an apartment that is shared with at least one other youth. This is a supervised program for youth who are learning to make the transition from foster care to living as self-sufficient adults. The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) also operates residential juvenile justice programs. The services and rules in these programs are different from the settings listed above. HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

9 How Adults Get To Be Caregivers The job of an adult caregiver is to take care of you, keep you safe, and help you develop until you can be with your family, be adopted, or live independently with permanency resources. Caregivers = foster parents, group home staff, and child care staff. In this handbook, we use the term caregivers to include single parents, couples, and staff. All foster parents must be Fingerprinted to see if they have committed any crimes. Checked by the Child Abuse Hotline (SCR) to see if they abused or neglected a child. Trained to be caregivers for children and youth in foster care. Adults who want to be foster parents have to show that their home meets the regulatory requirements and is safe. Even after they become foster parents, they must have their home inspected each year. They go to classes to learn more about being a foster parent, or to better help youth with special needs. They should have a copy of the New York State Foster Parent Manual, which explains the rights and responsibilities of foster parents. Get to know your foster parents. It s going to help you down the road. Don t hold everything in. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE

10 Other caregivers must Meet agency requirements. Be checked by the Child Abuse Hotline to see if they abused or neglected a child. Be trained to provide care in an agency setting. There must be enough caregivers or staff to care for the number of children in the facility. There are regulations that guide how many staff are needed to care for a particular number of children in a facility. Your caregivers will also know what you and your family need to work on so that you can return home safely, be adopted, or live independently once you are discharged from foster care. All caregivers are required to respect your privacy and maintain confidentiality about what you and your family are experiencing. You & Your Caseworker When you enter foster care, you will have a caseworker. The caseworker is assigned by the local Department of Social Services (DSS) in your county. You may also have a caseworker assigned by your foster care agency. These caseworkers must work together to help you. Your caseworker s role is to Know you and your family. Protect your safety. Protect your rights. Answer your questions and give you information you need. Make arrangements for services you need. HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

11 Make a visiting plan for you and your family. Visit you, your family, and your caregivers regularly. Explain to you and your caregivers why you are in care. Help you and your family work out issues and make changes. Help you make plans for your future. Your caseworker is required to visit you at least twice during the first month you are in foster care. The purpose of the visits is to work with you on a plan to resolve the problems that led to you being placed in foster care, and to help you adjust to your placement. You have the right to know how often your caseworker is required to meet with you. After the first month, your caseworker is required to visit you At least once a month. At least 2 of the monthly visits every 90 days must take place at your foster care setting. Talk to your caseworker about how you are doing. It is the caseworker s job to find out if you are feeling alright, going to a health care provider, doing OK in school, and getting services you need. The caseworker must make sure you are safe in foster care. The caseworker must also visit your caregivers on a regular basis at least once during the first month you are in foster care and at least once a month after that. At least 1 of the monthly visits every 90 days must take place at your foster care setting. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE

12 Be honest with your foster parents and your caseworker. You will be working together in the future to make your life better. Don t hide. It won t help you. If you have problems where you live, call your caseworker. Make sure you have your caseworker s full name and telephone number. If you don t get the help you need from your caseworker, don t give up. Ask to speak to the caseworker s supervisor. You can also call your law guardian. Help your caseworker get to know you. Having a good relationship with your caseworker will help build trust. It s OK for you to tell your caseworker, Don t make promises you can t keep. Let placement help you, but you need to help yourself more. HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

13 The First Few Days in Care When you come to a new place You should be introduced to your caregivers and all the other people who live there. You should find out about the rules. Make sure you know the name, address, and telephone number of where you live and who to contact in an emergency. Find out how to get information when you need it. If something is bothering you, tell your caregiver or caseworker. Read this handbook and know your rights while you are in foster care. don t The first few days it s hard because you re in a new setting, you have to get to know new people, and you have to build trust again. You know anyone so you re a little scared. On your first day someone should show you around and tell you the rules. You will find out where your room is and where you will eat and where you will shower. At first, you may feel scared, nervous, and upset. You may feel like you can t trust anyone. That s normal. To help yourself, ask questions. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE

14 Avoid negativity, go in with an open mind, watch how things go down, and formulate your own opinions. At first everything is really hard, but as you adapt, it can be a good experience. It s not about the big things that people do for you that matter the most it s the small things. Seeing Your Family Visiting Plan The visiting plan includes How often visits will be. How long each visit must last. Where visits will take place. Whether the visits are supervised by someone from the local DSS or foster care agency. Who will be present during the visits. Your visiting plan may stay the same for a long time. It may change often. How often the plan changes will depend on things like how your family is doing, your safety during visits, and your behavior. Visiting plans cannot be changed without permission from the caseworker. Caregivers cannot allow visits that the caseworker has not approved. HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

15 Your Rights You have the right to Visit at least every other week with your family or the person you will be discharged to when you leave foster care, unless prohibited by the judge or for other reasons. Visit more often if you are going home soon. Visit in private (unless the judge and/or the local DSS says that visits must be supervised, usually for your safety). Not be punished by being kept from seeing your family. When you go into foster care, your caseworker must set up a plan for visiting with your family (unless there is a court order not to have visits). Your caseworker is required to Talk to you, your family, and your caregivers about visits. Include you, your family, and your caregivers in making a plan for visits. Write down the plan. Give a copy of the written plan to you, your family, and your caregivers. The agency must give your family money or transportation to get to and from visits, if they need it. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE

16 If you are in a foster home, your caseworker may try to set up visits so that your foster parents and parents get to know each other. If you can t make a visit for any reason, call your caseworker to plan a different time. Don t just not show up. You wouldn t want your parent to do that. If you don t feel comfortable visiting your family, tell your caseworker. Exceptions Youth who are at least 13 years old and placed by the court as a PINS (person in need of supervision) or JD (juvenile delinquent) in an institution have the right to have visits with their families at least every 3 months (if visitation with the family every other week is impossible). If the institution is more than 100 miles away from the youth s home, there is no legal requirement for the amount of family visits. But if you are in this situation, talk to your caseworker about how you can visit your family. If the plan is not for you to return home after foster care, the number of visits and who you visit may be different. If your plan is another planned living arrangement with a permanency resource (see Glossary) or adoption, you and your caseworker will work out an individual plan for visits. 10 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

17 sisters & brothers Your caseworker is required to try hard to place you and your sisters and/or brothers (siblings) together if they need to be in foster care too. If there are no safety or other issues about being together, your caseworker should try to keep you together. If you and your siblings are placed separately, ask your caseworker why. Your caseworker is required to arrange for visits with your siblings at least every 2 weeks. only My brother is older and lives on his own. He had a son when I was in placement. It is important that I be able to see them because my nephew is 1 now and I have met him once. CHAPTER 1: BEING IN FOSTER CARE WHAT, HOW, WHERE 11

18 Notes 12 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

19 LEGAL ISSUES Family Court Family Court deals with issues of families, children, and youth. Every child who is placed in foster care has a case that goes to Family Court. After a child is placed, there will be court hearings to determine whether placement in foster care should continue. At the hearing, the Family Court judge hears from the agency that has custody usually the local Department of Social Services (DSS) and your law guardian to review your situation to see if you should remain in foster care and to decide whether to approve the placement decision. When Will You Go To Family Court? Immediately before or soon after you enter foster care. If you have been in foster care for more than a month and have not gone to court, call your caseworker. At least every 6 months if you are placed as an abused, neglected, voluntarily placed child or freed for adoption, or at least every 12 months if you are a non-freed PINS or juvenile delinquent. The judge will review the information about you and your family s CHAPTER 2: LEGAL ISSUES 13

20 progress to decide if you need to stay in foster care. Foster parents or other caregivers can come to the courthouse with you. The judge will decide if they can go into the courtroom. Attorney for the Child An attorney will represent you in court. This person is your attorney, not anyone else s. (Your family may have their own attorney, and so will DSS.) The Attorney for the Child s role is to Protect your rights. Discuss your options and provide you with counsel regarding which option is best for you. Tell the court what you want. You have the right to call or write your attorney when you need to. Remember, everything you talk about to your attorney is confidential. This means that your attorney cannot tell other people what you have said without your permission. If you don t know who your attorney is, ask your caseworker. Department of Social Services Every county in New York State has a local Department of Social Services (DSS) that runs the county s foster care and adoption program. In New York City, this agency is the Administration for Children s Services (ACS). When youth are placed in foster care, the Family Court gives the local DSS commissioner temporary custody of them. Temporary custody means that while you are in foster care, DSS is responsible for Keeping you safe while you are in foster care. Seeing that your needs are met. Planning for your future. 14 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

21 The DSS commissioner has temporary custody whether you are in a foster home or a group home, or if you are placed with a foster care agency. You will always have a county caseworker assigned to you by the local DSS. Foster Care Agencies Often DSS works with private foster care agencies to arrange placement in foster care and other services. If you are placed with a foster care agency, you will have an agency caseworker assigned to work closely with you. This agency caseworker communicates with your DSS caseworker about your needs. You have the right to call your DSS caseworker if you are upset about a decision made by an agency or your agency caseworker. If you are upset about a decision made by your DSS caseworker, you can contact the DSS supervisor. Service Plan Reviews Service Plan Reviews (SPR) are meetings to help plan for your future. Everyone at the meeting goes over the case plan. You, the caseworker, supervisor, your parents or other relatives, and your foster parents are invited to the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to Discuss the need for you to be in care. Set goals for your stay in care. Figure out how to meet those goals and what services should be arranged. CHAPTER 2: LEGAL ISSUES 15

22 Decide who will help you meet your goals the roles of everyone around you. Agree what you and your family need to work on. Discuss your progress and plan for the future selecting a permanency planning goal. Permanency Planning Goal (PPG) Your PPG or permanency goal states what the current plan is for your future. Every child in foster care has a permanency goal. Depending on what your goal is, you and your family may need to take certain steps and receive certain services that will help you achieve your goal. You have the right to participate in determining your permanency goal. When are Service Plan Reviews held? After you are in care for 3 months. Every 6 months after that. Who is invited to the Service Plan Review? You. Your parents. Your caregivers. You play a part in your own planning. People who are helping you or your family while you are in foster care. Staff in the agency caring for you. Other people important to you. 16 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

23 Permanency & Your Future A big part of planning is to help you achieve permanency. Your permanency goal will be one of the following Return home to your family. Live with a relative or friend. Be adopted. Live in another planned living arrangement with a permanency resource (formerly independent living) (see Glossary). Live in an adult residence, group home, or residential treatment center or facility. For an abused, neglected, or voluntarily placed foster child and all foster children freed for adoption, the court will hold a permanency hearing every 6 months to determine whether the permanency goal is appropriate. For a foster child who is a PINS or juvenile delinquent, such a permanency hearing will be held at least every 12 months. If you are 14 or older, you will receive services that help you plan and prepare for the transition to a successful adulthood. This will be discussed at the Service Plan Review. You are required to actively participate in designing program activities that will help you do this. If you are 14 or older, and are unable to return to your family, your caseworker will ask if you want to be adopted. You can choose not to be adopted, but because having a family is so important, and your feelings may change, your caseworker will talk with you about having a permanent family at every Service Plan Review. CHAPTER 2: LEGAL ISSUES 17

24 You have the right to know your permanency goal. Ask your caseworker if you do not know what it is. Your goal may change depending on your family s actions and circumstances. You can have input into your permanency goal. At Service Plan Reviews, you have the right to speak about your goal, whether you think it is the right one for you, and what you think will help you reach your goal. Foster care is intended to be temporary. If you stay in care for at least one year or for 15 out of 22 months and cannot return home safely, the local DSS and Family Court may take action to find you another permanent home. Your parents rights may be terminated, so you can be free for adoption. There are exceptions to this requirement if special circumstances exist (for example, if you are placed in care with a relative). Getting Arrested Any young person who commits a crime may be arrested. Here s usually what happens Youth over the age of 7 and under 16 who commit crimes will have to go to Family Court. Based on the crime, the judge may determine that the youth is a juvenile delinquent (JD) who may have to live in a juvenile facility or other foster care setting. If you are 16 or older, you are considered an adult in the courts and your case will go to Criminal Court. If you are arrested, talk to your law guardian. 18 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

25 If You Are an Immigrant If you are an immigrant when you enter foster care, you can become a permanent resident of the U.S. and obtain a green card by applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This special status allows an approved applicant to Live permanently in the U.S. Work legally in the U.S. Get financial aid for college. Get some public benefits like Public Assistance, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. To be eligible for this status, you must be an immigrant who is Unmarried and under 21 years old. Placed in foster care before your 18th birthday due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, as determined by a Family Court judge. In foster care when the application is filed and until you receive the special status. A youth who commits a crime may not be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Also, a Family Court judge must decide that it is not in your best interest to return to your country of origin. CHAPTER 2: LEGAL ISSUES 19

26 How to apply... An immigration lawyer will file the application to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), which used to be the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status can take a long time. If you are an immigrant when you enter foster care, it is very important that you speak to your caseworker about starting the application process. Your caseworker should be able to help you arrange a meeting with an immigration lawyer. Notes 20 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

27 EVERYDAY LIFE First Things First Privacy Everyone has a right to privacy. You have the right to be given space that is private and to store personal things safely and securely. Other people have a right to their privacy too. You do not have the right to get into their things without permission. If your caregivers have reasonable cause to believe you have something dangerous, illegal, or stolen, they are required to call your caseworker or someone else at the agency. Your property may be searched only when there is reasonable cause to suspect that you have something dangerous, illegal, or stolen. Reasonable cause is based on specific information, not just a hunch or feeling. Your body, wallet/purse, and clothes may be searched by your caseworker and caregivers only if they have reason to believe there is a risk of serious harm to you or others from your use or distribution of something dangerous, illegal, or stolen. CHAPTER 3: EVERYDAY LIFE 21

28 When To Get Permission You must ask your caregivers for permission for things like Going to school games, dances, and club meetings. Having friends over. Spending the night at a friend s house. Going somewhere with a friend s family. Playing sports. Going to the movies. Placements should If you live in a facility, check the rules of the facility. Your caregiver may sign your report card. You may need to ask your caseworker for permission for things like have sports and extracurricular activities for us. Driving. Playing certain sports that are considered to be dangerous, like horseback riding and downhill skiing. Operating power tools. Spending an overnight outside the county where you live. If your caseworker says no to a certain activity, ask why and try to understand the reason. If you still don t agree with the reason or understand it, you have the right to contact the caseworker s supervisor. Being in placement is sometimes hard because there are so many people to get permission from to do anything. 22 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

29 Daily Stuff Where You Sleep In foster homes, there must be Separate bedrooms for children of the opposite sex over 7 years old. No more than 3 people per bedroom. No child above the age of 3 sleeping in the same room with an adult of the opposite sex. A separate bed for each child. Bunk beds may be used. No bed located in any unfinished attic or basement. In group homes, there must be Separate bedrooms for children of the opposite sex over 5 years old, except for mothers and their children. No more than 3 children per bedroom. Separate bedrooms for caregivers. A separate bed for each child spaced at least 2 feet apart from other beds. Good natural light and ventilation, with at least one window opening to the outside. No bed located in any unfinished attic or basement. CHAPTER 3: EVERYDAY LIFE 23

30 Clothes You have the right to help shop for your own clothes. Your caregivers must buy you clothing, or you may get a clothing allowance directly from your caseworker. You will have a limited budget. Ask your caseworker about your local DSS s policy on clothing allowance. You have the right to have clothes that are Appropriate for school, weekends, and dressing up. Appropriate for the season, like a winter coat. Kept clean and in good condition. Ask how to do laundry so you can take care of your own clothes. Hygiene Keeping clean is part of staying healthy. You have the right to take a shower or bath every day and to be given soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste specific to your needs. Be sure to ask for supplies and products based on your own needs if you don t have them. Although you may not always get the brand you prefer, you should be provided with these supplies. Talk to your caseworker if you are not receiving them. Hair Styling, Length, Color Your caregivers and caseworker do not have the right to change the style, length, or color of your hair. Piercing & Tattooing If you are thinking about piercing or tattooing any part of your body, you must talk to your caseworker first. Since you are in foster care, you may have to get consent from your parents or the agency. 24 HANDBOOK FOR YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

31 Going Places & Seeing Friends You may want to go places with friends and visit them at their homes. Caregivers are required to know where you are and what you are doing. It is their job to help keep you safe. They may want to meet your friends and talk to their parents. If they have concerns about your safety, they may restrict your activities. If you want to visit with an old friend from home, your caseworker must give permission. Caregivers may give permission when your friend is new and lives in the same area where you live. We need to be with our friends, have jobs, and play sports in our own communities. We need home visits to do this. Using the Telephone & Computer Ask your caregiver if there are rules about using the telephone and computer where you live. Some places have set hours for you to get calls. There may be rules about the amount of time you can talk on the phone or use the computer. You have the right to privacy during phone calls. You have the right to call your caseworker, lawyer, or counselor whenever you need to. Your caseworker will determine when you may call your parents, brothers and sisters, and friends from home. If you want to make a long distance call, ask about the rules where you live. If you want your own , try to work out the best way to do that. There are free accounts you can use if your foster home is already hooked up to the Internet. CHAPTER 3: EVERYDAY LIFE 25

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