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SOUL Family Set to Redefine Foster Care and Permanency for Kansas Teens

SOUL Family

Everybody needs those people in their lives to turn to when they’re experiencing life’s ups and downs. Yet many teens in foster care who haven’t found permanency through reunification or adoption, enter the adult world without resources, support or family to lean on. But now, that’s changing in Kansas, with a new approach to permanency called SOUL Family. SOUL stands for sup­port, oppor­tu­ni­ty, uni­ty, and legal rela­tion­ships. This program will transform the lives of young peo­ple ages 16 and old­er as they enter adult­hood.

Kansas is leading the way with this life-changing new permanency option, becoming the first state in the nation to pass legislation recognizing SOUL Family as a legal permanency option.

On April 15th, 2024, Governor Laura Kelly signed the historic bill into law. Soon, child welfare professionals at KVC will partner with teens in foster care to establish their SOUL Families. All while helping them develop the skills to create and sustain meaningful connections. Let’s explore SOUL Family Legal Permanency in the state of Kansas.

Teens in your community need you. Become a foster parent and help teens in foster care find their SOUL Family!

What is SOUL Family Legal Permanency? 

SOUL Family has been several years in the making. With the collaboration between the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a group of dedicated young adults with previous experience in the foster care system, a new approach to permanency is emerging.

Danielle Bartelli, Vice President of KVC Kansas

Danielle Bartelli, LPC

“At KVC, about 30% of children in foster care are 14 or older, and too often these children age out of the foster care system before they have found the right connections to care for them,” explains Danielle Bartelli, Vice President of Operations with KVC Kansas.

As any adult can attest, an 18th birthday doesn’t magically make an adult. Nurturing, support and intentional love are imperative throughout adulthood. Without that support system, the consequences can be dire. SOUL is designed to provide long-lasting support to teenage children in foster care into and through adulthood.

Dr. Linda Bass, KVC Kansas President

Dr. Linda Bass, LCMFT

As Dr. Linda Bass, President of KVC Kansas, says, “This group of young people felt that the current permanency choices did not fit the needs of every youth, and with the help of Annie E. Casey, they brainstormed other options and developed SOUL.”

This option will allow teenage youth to maintain the benefits of foster care resources and support even as they reach the legal age of 18, leading to overall better outcomes into adulthood.

How SOUL Family Can Change the Lives of Youth in Foster Care

SOUL Family

Positive change is on the horizon for the child welfare system and our communities at large, because SOUL Family gives older youth in foster care a voice. It opens the conversation and asks the question: Who is important to YOU? SOUL empowers young people to then build their own support system to carry them into adulthood.

Why is this such a big step? The statistics tell a heartbreaking story. Research shows that about 20% of youth who age out of foster care become homeless the day they turn 18. These young adults are far less likely to graduate high school or go to college. Additionally, their mental, emotional and physical health suffers overall. There’s a missing link in the system. And SOUL Family aims to drastically improve the outcomes of adults previously in foster care.

Three permanency options are currently available within the child welfare system, including adoption, permanent custodianship and reunification with legal caregivers. While these options work well for younger children, it can be less straightforward for older teens, who have developed a variety of relationships over the course of their time in foster care.

In many cases, children feel like everything is out of their control and decisions are often made for them without an opportunity for their input. But with the SOUL Family Permanency option, these choices center around the youth’s voice.

The Value of SOUL Family’s Long-Term Support

SOUL Family KansasA supportive network of family and friends is necessary for our health and wellbeing. Each one of us needs to know that someone loves us, and the same is true for children moving through the foster care system and growing into adults.

“This need is not unique,” Bass explains. “It’s a basic human need, but this path is bringing back those resources that every young adult and adult needs to continue to be successful.”

The SOUL Family option is unique from the current foster care system model because it’s relationship-driven and avoids unnecessary separations. For example, when a child is removed from their home and placed into foster care, they may also be removed from their school, activity groups or community. By assisting youth in the creation of their SOUL family, many of these relationships can stay intact.

Who is a Part of a SOUL Family? 

SOUL Family KansasA SOUL Family is made up of people who have formed bonds, connections and relationships with a youth or young adult. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.” And the SOUL option allows young people in foster care to develop their own village of caregivers and supportive adults. 

“Youth are now a huge part of this decision, and they help us decide who will be a part of their SOUL Family and future,” Bartelli says. A SOUL Family might be composed of:

  • Extended biological family members, like adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles or cousins
  • Family friends
  • Foster parents from previous placements
  • Teachers, coaches or other school leaders
  • Youth leaders or other mentors from a place of worship
  • Community members and neighbors

Another unique feature of the SOUL Family option is the consideration of biological family inclusion. For some young people in foster care, maintaining a relationship with someone in their biological family can be ideal. This option allows them to incorporate one or more biological family members as part of their network for their future.

How KVC Helps Youth Find Their SOUL Family

family support workerAt KVC Kansas, we know we all need connection — and it’s a top priority to help children find resources, connections and support that help children find their SOUL Family. “We don’t want any of the children in our care to age out of the system without support,” Bartelli explains.

However, even with dedicated professional support, many children in Kansas and all across the nation who are growing up in the foster care system age out when they turn 18 without supportive resources and relationships.

SOUL Family Legal Permanency Option can change that. Bass says, “KVC is always on the lookout for innovation and improvement, and SOUL Family is bringing about some much-needed changes within the child welfare system.” Discover more about SOUL Family and its impact.

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