Help for those in foster care

Many young men and women in foster care have no support after their 18th birthdays. A new program in Kansas, SOUL Family Legal Permanency, hopes to address that by connecting those in foster care to individual and families for a life-long bond. (AI generated image)

State approves SOUL program to connect young men and women in foster care to forge a life-long connection to an individual or family

When the 18th candle is placed on the cake of a young man or woman in foster care, the state cuts all legal ties.

As a result, many of them develop a substance abuse dependence, are less likely to finish high school, are susceptible to sex traffickers, and face many other challenges young men and women who are part of a family don’t face.

A program being piloted in Kansas hopes to change that.

SOUL Family Legal Permanency is designed to connect teens in foster care to caring adults who would provide support, opportunities, unity, and legal relationships (SOUL) for teenagers, 16 and older, as they move from foster care to adulthood.

Many 18-year-olds in limbo

Linda Bass, president of KVC Kansas, said a few hundred young adults in Kansas leave the foster care system annually without any legal permanency, reunification, adoption, or custodianship.

“Nationwide it’s tens of thousands of young adults,” she said from her Olathe office. “We know from the data that the outcomes around mental health, employment, relationships, stability – those are all very poor for young adults who exit foster care without the connection and the stability of a family like we want for everyone.”

SOUL Family Legal Permanency should reduce the number of young adults who “age out” of the foster care system without any type of permanency, she said.

“This particular permanency option was developed with young adult involvement, family involvement, and real partnership between those who have experienced foster care firsthand as the recipient of the service and those who are professionals working in the field, to develop a permanency option that is really youth- and family-driven,” Bass said.

Youth helped develop the program

As a result, the end product is much better, she said, because those who could have experienced it or will experience it have been a part of developing it.

That person may be a teacher, a coach, a family friend, she said, “And that legal relationship then would carry forward, a connection, ideally a life-long connection, they would have with this family.”

One example is if the young adult is at a college, they would be able to spend time with their SOUL family during holidays or whenever the need might arise.

“These would be the individuals who they love and are connected to and are connected with them and serve us that safety net that support system that we would want for all young adults,” Bass said.

Youth without that legal connection to someone often struggle and have fewer people to turn to, she said. “We would never want anyone young or old to have to navigate a difficult situation or be alone on a holiday or any other day of the year.”

The SOUL program was designed in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Kansas is the first state to take action to establish such a permanency option for those in foster care. Many other states are now pursuing similar avenues.