Let children be children: Improving foster care in Indiana 

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By Mary Kuhlman

Milestones of youth - playing a sport or learning to drive - are out of reach for many children in foster care in Indiana.

But child welfare groups are using a new law to make the lives of children in care a bit more normal.

The federal Strengthening Families Act, passed last year, provides guidelines for states to improve child welfare policies that in the past focused primarily on safety and liability, which, at times, hindered a young person's opportunities.

Sam Criss, president and CEO of the foster care support group Indiana Connected by 25, says for example, approval was often needed for some typical adolescent experiences.

"I can remember as a case manager working with foster kids, who literally couldn't even go to a friend's house to stay all night without the friend's parents having background checks and having their home inspected," he relates.

A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report shows how the new law allows Indiana and other states to implement policies that promote family connections, social relationships and permanency.

One measure will allow a caregiver or foster parent to make decisions for the child that were previously in the hands of a caseworker.

The new law also calls for young people in the child welfare system to be engaged in his or her case planning, starting at age 14.

And Criss says efforts are under way in Indiana to give these children a voice.

"It's very important that the young person not only be at the table and have conversations about it, but actually lead some of those conversations and kind of direct their team as to what they think is going to be a good path," he stresses.

The Casey report also notes that money for activities, from going to a prom to playing an instrument, is often not available for young people in foster care.

Criss explains that agencies in the state, as well as the Department of Child and Families Services, are working with private and public partnerships to access this funding, so children in care can have the same experiences as any other child.

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