Advocating for Older Youth in Foster Care through the Collaborative Family Engagement Lens


In 2022, there were 5,600 youth aged 14-17 in foster care in Texas, facing difficult questions about their transition to adulthood. Of those youth, 1,087 aged out of care with no network available, leaving them vulnerable to homelessness, trafficking, and poor life prospects. Feedback from CASA programs indicate that while they desire to engage family for these children and youth, there are many barriers that may prevent the actual Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) work from occurring. Those barriers include, but are not limited to, the difficulty of finding family members who are willing to engage with CASA or the child’s caseworker, challenges in knowing how to work with youth who have experienced severe trauma, and general challenges because the system is difficult to navigate. The challenges are further compounded when youth are in unlicensed placements.

This portal site will re-introduce the resources Texas CASA already has, to help support local CASA programs to focus on a trauma-informed, effective way to build connections for youth in PMC. While this site is broken into resources and tasks by age groups, the information can be used at any time and for any older youth in foster care, particularly those in PMC.

Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) Strategies for Older Youth in Foster Care

Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) is a collaboration between CPS/SSCC and CASA, who work together to utilize The 4Cs of CFE (Collaborate, Cultivate, Convene and Connect) to identify and engage a network of support for the youth. This network can consist of family of origin members or other identified relationships that the youth discloses. The key concept for working with youth in foster care is the importance of engaging the youth and supporting them to identify who they feel is a connection and who they want to engage with. It must be a youth-led approach for it to be successful!

Below are some key action points that CASA can take to encourage the CFE approach is used when working with older youth.

A. Ask the court to be appointed to any cases of 14-year-olds in foster care. This will ensure that the team-based approach is utilized and the CFE work can begin.

B. Begin the CFE work as outlined below:

  • Initial team meetings should be held with professionals (CPS/SSCC/CASA/AAL) to review connections known, status of case, permanency plan, upcoming Circle of Support meetings.
  • Utilize the Team Meeting Document to develop a strategy to connect youth prior to turning 18.
  • Discuss the importance of networks with the youth and share how CFE can be utilized to help build those networks:
  • CASA should meet with youth and complete tools to identify connections.
  • File mining-review the Investigation Report and CVS case file to identify possible connections.
  • Review of diligent search if completed/start family searching work to identify possible connections.
  • Optional use of Internet searching tools to find family connections:
    • Seneca Search
    • Connect our Kids
    • White Pages
    • Social Media
  • CFE tools completed again with youth and any family members engaged utilizing the pocket guide as well as the mobility map.
  • Support youth in developing their Biggest Unmet Needs Statement.
  • Determine if one more family meetings should be held with extended family/fictive kin/connections.
  • Ensure CFE process is youth-driven, with youth determining which connections they want to build.

Refer to the CFE information page on the Texas CASA website for additional information.

C. Create a calendar of connections for youth in partnership with the caseworker/AAL and youth.

The use of calendars is a concrete way to move the lifetime network formed in the family meeting process to action, and holds them accountable to the youth and the plan that is being made. Feel free to make a calendar in Word, or use any other calendar you have. Activities on the calendar should be scheduled in six-week increments, and be updated as needed.

The calendar should be created with the youth’s wishes and plans at the forefront, and the network commits to make these things happen. Alternately, the calendar can be created by the network and shared with the youth for their input and feedback. It is also recommended that network members identify back-up people on the calendar, so that someone will show up for the youth if plans change.

View Sample Calendar

D. Mentorship Opportunities for youth:

  • Youth who are currently experiencing foster care, as well as those who have transitioned out of care, may benefit from mentorship from committed adults. Mentoring provides a valuable experience for any child, but for youth experiencing foster care, it can be especially beneficial and is key to achieving normalcy.
  • Review community resources for mentors for youth.
  • Work with placement to see how youth can be involved in school organizations with teachers who can act as mentors.

Impact for youth on Aging out of the Foster Care System

Aging out of the foster care system without a support system is one of the worst outcomes that could occur for a youth. Below you will hear from youth with lived experiences of aging out of the system.

Timeline of Resources Available by Age Group for Older Youth in Foster Care

There are many resources that are available to youth in foster care, depending on their age. As a CASA volunteer, it is important to work with the caseworker to ensure that these benefits are provided to youth.

Permanency Planning Meetings Information and Best Practices

For youth 14 and older, young people in foster care may attend permanency planning meetings (PPMs) to develop or enhance the youth’s plans for transitioning to successful adulthood. This transition includes exploring permanency options and expanding and strengthening the youth’s support network. Learn more about partnering with youth for permanency planning.

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) or a Single Source Continuum Contractor (SSCC) conducts the permanency planning meetings annually. DFPS supports the youth to invite at least two appropriate adults (other than the DFPS caseworker or foster parent) of the youth’s choosing to each permanency planning meeting at least annually. However, DFPS may prohibit a person from participating if DFPS thinks the person would not act in the youth’s best interest.

For youth age 14 or older in conservatorship, DFPS documents, reviews, and updates plans for transitioning to successful adulthood in the Child’s Plan of Service (CPOS). This occurs at the following times:

  • At each review of the CPOS.
  • Within the time frames described in the table below.

Youth’s Situation

Earliest Acceptable Date

Latest Acceptable Date

Turning 18 (whether leaving DFPS care or not)

90 days before the youth’s 18th birthday

The day before the youth’s 18th birthday

Leaving extended foster care

90 days before the day the youth leaves extended foster care

The day before the youth leaves extended foster care

Topics to Discuss with the Youth

During the development of the youth’s CPOS, the caseworker discusses the following with the youth:

  • The youth’s hopes, dreams, worries, and strengths.
  • The youth’s plans for the following:
    • Support network
    • Education
    • Health (including medication management, if applicable)
    • Permanency (see 6212 Permanency Planning for more information)
    • Housing
    • Money management
    • Transportation
    • Employment
  • Local housing costs
  • Housing resources
  • Available housing assistance

Learn more about the importance of involving youth in permanency planning

Circle of Support Information and Best Practices

A Circle of Support (COS) meeting is optional, but it is the preferred type of meeting for a youth age 14 or older. The idea of a circle of support was developed in Canada and spread quickly through North America in the mid-1980s. A circle of support, sometimes called a circle of friends, is a group of people who meet together on a regular basis to help somebody accomplish their personal goals in life. The circle acts as a community around that person (the 'focus person') who, for one reason or another, is unable to achieve what they want in life on their own and decides to ask others for help. The focus person is in charge, both in deciding who to invite to be in the circle, and in the direction that the circle's energy is employed, although a facilitator is normally chosen from within the circle to take care of the work required to keep it running.

The members of the circle, who may include family, friends and other community members, are usually not paid to be there. They are involved because they care enough about the focus person to give their time and energy to helping that person to overcome obstacles and increase the options which are open to them. Although the focus person's goals are the primary focus of everything the circle does, the relationship is not just one way. The members will all have diverse perspectives and interests, and the circle might bring forward new ideas, which the focus person had not considered before. Because of this, an important function of the circle is to regularly re-visit the plans that are being discussed while maintaining the focus’s person’s wishes at the center of the conversation.

The circle is not a service or tool to be applied to a certain group of people. Circles are about seeing people as individuals who feel they need support in order to take more control over their own lives. A circle properly facilitated is empowering to all of the individuals involved and, unlike many service systems, does not reinforce dependence. (

Utilizing CFE tools to help the youth identify possible supportive adults to attend the meetings is important. The CASA volunteer can start talking to youth as early as possible to ensure we know who is important to the youth and should be at those meetings. A COS meeting referral is made after a youth in the conservatorship of the state turns 14. The COS is directed by the youth and focuses on the youth.

Although a COS may be used for various purposes, the primary purpose is to:

  • Develop plans for a youth’s transition to successful adulthood.
  • Identify, build, and strengthen new and existing connections to supportive and caring adults who will help the youth now and throughout the youth’s life.

If the youth chooses not to participate in a Circle of Support, the Department of Family and Protective Services will still have a permanency planning meeting for the youth.

Learn more about the importance of authentic youth engagement in our two-part webinar series:

Resources Available for Older Youth

Transitional Living Services programs and benefits help youth and young adults have a smooth transition to adulthood and can help them create and achieve long-term education, career and life goals. Transitional Living Services programming begins at age 14 and may continue until age 21 if the young adult chooses to remain in extended foster care.

PAL (Preparation for Adult Living)

The Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program was implemented in 1986 to ensure that older youth in substitute care are prepared for their inevitable departure from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ care. At any given time, there are about 3,500 youth 16 years of age and older in substitute care. With funding availability, regions may serve any youth 14 or older on whom Child Protective Services has an open case. PAL program staff strive to provide each of these youth with skills and resources they will need to be healthy, productive adults. Preparing youth for adulthood is much more than teaching youth how to balance a checkbook and sign a lease. PAL services include involvement in programs aimed at improving youths' self-esteem and improving their ability to make responsible decisions. PAL helps youth face the challenges of adulthood and independence.

There is no typical case for which PAL services are provided. Many of the youth have endured emotional and psychological trauma, and most have few options for living arrangements once they are discharged from care. PAL, in collaboration with public and private organizations, assists youth in identifying and developing support systems and housing for when they leave care. The PAL program gives these youth skills and training, but most of all, it helps them realize that there are options.

Transitional Living Services

Educational Support

Health and Disabilities Advocacy

As of January 1, 2014, the Former Foster Care Children program provides healthcare coverage through age 25 to young adults who age out of Texas foster care and who were receiving Medicaid when they aged out of care. This population receives services in two separate programs based on age:

  • Young adults aged 18 through 20 will be enrolled in STAR Health but can switch to STAR; and
  • Young adults aged 21 through 25 will receive Medicaid through the STAR plan of their choice through the month of their 26th birthday. 

SSI Resources

Youth with disabilities face numerous challenges when they transition to adulthood. Those who are aging out of foster care face the additional challenge of losing their foster care benefits, although some will be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments after foster care ceases. However, the time needed to process SSI applications exposes those youths to a potential gap in the receipt of benefits as they move between foster care and SSI. 

Other Resources For Youth

Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) –Vocational Rehabilitation for Youth and Students

Texas Workforce Solutions Vocational Rehabilitation Services serves youth who experienced foster care and students with disabilities to help prepare for post-secondary education and employment opportunities. Services are eligibility and need-based.

Texas Foster Youth Justice Project

Texas Foster Youth Justice Project helps current and former foster youth in Texas. They help foster youth understand their legal rights. They provide legal advice, assistance, guidance and representation in enforcing foster youth rights. They also educate the general public about the legal needs and concerns of foster youth.

Keeping the Urgency for Permanency: A Resource Guide for Serving Youth in PMC Care

A resource guide to help guide the work of volunteers with youth in PMC care. Available on the Texas CASA program portal.

Normalcy Matters: A Guide to Supporting Children & Youth in Texas Foster Care

This guidebook and companion video were developed by Texas CASA and funded by the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission, with the goal of moving the conversation about normalcy beyond simply supporting activities and to really changing the culture of foster care in Texas so that young people are empowered by a fuller range of options in their daily experience of life.

DFPS Foster Care Bill of Rights

College Ready, Career Prepared: A Guide to Life After High School (available for purchase)

Dollars & Sense (available for purchase)