August 01, 2016

APPLA is Not Permanent: Learning from Pennsylvania

Sally Inada

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

CLP talked with Anne Marie Lancour, the ABA Center on Children and the Law’s Associate Director and Director of Pennsylvania’s Permanency Project, about the appropriate use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) for children and youth in foster care. The use of APPLA is being evaluated by states as there is a growing recognition that older youth need permanency and that APPLA is a legal goal, not a placement goal.

You’ve been participating with a Pennsylvania Workgroup on APPLA. Give some background on the workgroup and what you hope to accomplish.

The APPLA Workgroup came out of PA Act 94 of 2015, which called on the PA Department of Human Services to make recommendations about using APPLAs for children 16 years and older. It also dovetails with the work we have been doing in Pennsylvania around the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (PL 113-183). 

There is a hierarchy of permanency goals for a reason. Before we get to APPLA as a permanency goal, the other goals of reunification, adoption, permanent legal custodianship and placement with a fit and willing relative must be ruled out. The reason is that children need to have permanency in their lives; they need to have a forever home as soon as possible. APPLA is a legal finding but does not provide this permanency unless the court ensures that permanent connections are present for that child. 

There is momentum behind the idea that APPLA should not even be used as a permanency goal. To successfully accomplish this, we’ll need to put adequate resources and tools in place so we don’t end up just calling children, who would have had APPLA as a permanency goal, something else—but are still not achieving permanency. 

I would like to be a little radical here. For over 25 years I have seen the effect of a lack of permanency on children in foster care. Children who spend long periods in foster care do not fare well. Children understand the lack of permanency of foster care. They know what it is like to have a caseworker come and move them from one placement to another. They feel the trauma that being in foster care can have on a young person. The sooner children can be safely placed in a permanent home, the better it is for a child. 

APPLA is a legal category but too often youth who have APPLA as a permanency goal age out of foster care without appropriate and permanent legal connections. If we can reduce and eventually eliminate APPLA, my hope is those young people will have more permanent connections as they leave foster care. Those connections might come through one of the other permanency goals or through individuals who will be there for the youth as they enter adulthood. 

The change in law that no longer allows APPLA to be ordered for children under 16 is a step in the right direction. It focuses on the need to move children to permanency safely and more quickly. 

How do you envision implementing these revisions in PA? County by county? Training and technical assistance? 

Some changes will take place at the state level to help guide implementation. Much of the work to implement the revisions will take place at the county level. I see the changes happening through a combination of statewide, regional and county-based trainings combined with targeted technical assistance. Some counties may want to involve advisory boards they already have in place and some will want to form new workgroups to tackle the issues. 

Any groups or organizations that will be good collaborators and partners? What roles do agency attorneys, child attorneys and parent attorneys play? How are the courts involved?

  • Child welfare agencies will need to reach out to other partners so the community is clear that the change in the law now does not allow children under 16 to have an APPLA goal. The other partners include: courts, attorneys, mental health providers, substance abuse providers, probation, schools, CASAs, private providers and other community members. The other partners will need to be included in discussions around permanency for older youth and that APPLA should not be used unless other permanency options have been ruled out. The child welfare agency will need to stress the importance for older youth to have permanent connections so once they leave foster care, they will have resources to help them succeed as adults.

  • Courts will have an important role as they review permanency goals requested by the agency. The court will need to be sure the agency is providing appropriate services to the youth to help them successfully transition to adulthood. The court also should be involved in discussions about reducing APPLAs and eventually moving to eliminate it. This will take commitments from all parties that the other permanency goals will be ordered and that services to help achieve those goals will be available.

  • Agency, child, and parent attorneys have important roles in helping reduce and eliminate the use of APPLA. Agency attorneys will need to work with their agency to make sure appropriate services are available and that caseworkers are working with families to help make meaningful connections for the youth. It will not be enough to just call what would have been an APPLA case by a different name. The agency attorney will have to help the agency develop new procedures and guidelines to work with the youth and families in these cases.

  • Children’s’ attorneys should be encouraging their client to come to court so that the judge can hear their requests. This will mean making sure their client is prepared for what can happen in court. Children’s’ attorneys should work with the child welfare agencies to make sure their client’s needs are being met while they are in care. Children’s attorneys should object to the goal of APPLA when it will not benefit their client and encourage a more permanent goal be ordered. For more information on working with older youth, see the Center’s work on the Youth Engagement Project.  

  • Parent’s attorneys should make sure their clients understand what needs to happen for their child to come home. Parent attorneys should encourage their client to identify other family members who may be good placement resources. Parent attorneys should also encourage their clients to have frequent contact with their child so they can help their child build important skills as they grow in foster care and hopefully be able to return to the parent’s home or another more permanent home quickly.

What do you see as opportunities, challenges, the role of the project? 

I am looking forward to continuing the discussion of reducing and then eliminating use of APPLA. Reducing APPLA as a goal will mean better permanency outcomes for foster children. This change will help bring child welfare professionals together to address how best to serve older foster children.

There will be challenges. Change is often hard. It will be important to bring the right people together to work on this topic. Often people view older foster children as difficult to work with and are less willing to look at ways to help older foster youth achieve permanency quickly. Professionals in the field will need to include people outside child welfare, such as probation and school staff to make sure services are in place for these foster youth.

The Permanency Project will have an important role helping older youth achieve permanency. The Project can use the data we collect on cases to help inform and set an action plan for all children, despite their age, to achieve permanency. The Project will also be able to use our model of bringing professionals together to work on the common goal of helping older youth achieve true permanency. 

This is an exciting time for the child welfare field. Reducing and eliminating the use of APPLA will lead to better ways to help older youth achieve permanency.

 

Sally Small Inada, MA, is marketing and communications director at the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Washington, DC. Sally conducted the interview by email and Anne Marie Lancour provided written responses.