Normalcy promotes well-being and healthy development among children and teenagers involved in the child welfare system when they are able to participate in everyday, age-appropriate activities that facilitate their transition to adulthood, including after-school jobs, sports, sleepovers, etc.
There is general agreement that child welfare agencies and caregivers must facilitate the age-appropriate experiences all youth need to successfully mature into adults. On September 29, 2014, the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) was signed into law. The act includes a section devoted to “supporting normalcy for children in foster care,” which requires child welfare agencies and caregivers to affirmatively promote youths’ access to age-appropriate activities and empowers caregivers to give youth permission to participate in activities based on the “reasonable and prudent parenting” standard.
Normalcy is truly achieved when children and youth learn skills, take advantage of opportunities and develop relationships while growing up in a stable, loving family and a supportive community. Requiring agencies and caregivers to provide normalcy is one step toward a larger goal of creating a child welfare system that is more developmentally appropriate; such a system is trauma-informed and responsive to the needs and voices of youth and emerging adults.
The Costs of Not Providing Normalcy
Kinship youth report feeling different from their peers and socially excluded when they cannot take part in “typical” youth activities. Lengthy approval processes stigmatize kinship youth and often prevent them from doing the everyday things non-kinship youth can do. Child welfare agencies that facilitate normalcy avoid inflicting further social and emotional harm on kinship youth during their formative years.
The value of normalcy also goes beyond improving kinship youth’s daily quality of life. It affects their long-term life chances. Normalcy allows kinship youth to build supportive relationships and learn valuable skills, thus giving them a meaningful chance to achieve well-being and permanency. Youth who cannot participate in age-appropriate activities and are placed in overly restrictive environments do not develop the skills they need to navigate the adult world. These critical skills include how to identify and maintain healthy relationships and avoid those that are unhealthy or dangerous, as well as how to find and maintain a job.