Extracurricular activities are not only a key aspect of normalcy for foster youth, they are also a critical intervention that ensures healthy development, supports positive behavior, and builds positive relationships for young people in care. Despite this, our systems often fail to support young people to participate in extracurriculars—and sometimes even create barriers to participation. Here are five ways that lawyers can help their clients access these important opportunities.
- Ask your clients what activities and interests are important to them. Make sure you know what activities exist in your community and the resources that may be available to support your clients’ participation—and consider working with local partners to develop new low-cost alternatives to support your clients in pursuing their interests. Support your clients by advocating with the court for their extracurricular participation, including by sharing research demonstrating the benefits of extracurricular participation with the bench and with agency staff.
- Request that extracurricular activities be included in your clients’ case plans to hold case managers, courts, and caregivers accountable for ensuring your clients’ participation in the activities that are important to them. The case plan should include action steps and responsible parties and ensure that any barriers are addressed. Consider recommending that extracurriculars be creatively incorporated with other necessary activities. For example, sterile, awkward visitation at an agency visitation center can be replaced with “parenting time” where birth and resource families go together to cheer a youth on during his or her basketball game and go out for ice cream or dinner afterwards.
- The law empowers caregivers to make reasonable and prudent parenting decisions regarding extracurricular participation by children and youth. If your jurisdiction requires agency or court approval before your client can participate in age-appropriate extracurriculars, be prepared to challenge this practice. If necessary, request that the court intervene to protect your client’s right to participate in age- and developmentally-appropriate activities by supporting caregivers in making decisions in line with the reasonable and prudent parent standard and eliminating any barriers. If your client is placed in a group care setting, identify the individual who is tasked with making parenting decisions and determine whether that person is permitting and encouraging your client’s extracurricular participation.
- Ensure that your clients can invite supportive adults, such as coaches or instructors, to their child and family team meetings. Often, the adults that young people meet through their extracurricular activities can provide a new, strengths-focused perspective to these meetings or can offer needed supports to young people and caregivers.
- Use extracurricular activities as an intervention to keep young people out of group care facilities. The structure, staffing, and transportation resources of group care facilities are often not set up to accommodate youth participation in extracurriculars. Facilities often prioritize youth participation in activities inside the program, limiting youth’s opportunity to access community resources and to interact with young people and adults outside of the system. When a group care placement is being considered for your client, be prepared to demonstrate how the placement would interfere with your client’s extracurricular activities and to suggest how additional supports could help your client remain in a family-based placement.
If you want to learn more, check out:
- Youth Law Center’s recently released policy brief, Closing the Extracurriculars Gap: Prioritizing Extracurricular Activities as a Key Intervention for Children and Youth in Foster Care and Juvenile Justice.
- The Quality Parenting Initiative’s best practices on normalcy.
- QPI Florida’s Normalcy Just-In-Time Training.