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Advocacy Tip: Advocating for Youth & Children with Special Needs in Foster Care

Advocating for Youth and Children with Special Needs in Foster Care

Most of the children who enter foster care have a higher likelihood of chronic medical problems, lifelong psychiatric and behavioral issues, as well as permanent physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities than children in the general population. Whether they experience maltreatment that results in disabilities, or are victims of maltreatment because of their disabilities, children who enter foster care with special needs have, on average, experienced more than 14 different environmental, social, biological and psychological risk factors before coming into care. Additionally, when compared to children and youth without disabilities, those with disabilities experience poorer foster care outcomes and:

  • are less safe, and more likely to be maltreated
  • more likely to be on psychotropic medications or institutionalized
  • have poorer educational experiences and outcomes
  • experience more placement instability and have longer lengths of stay
  • have lower rates of achieving permanency, reunification with their birth families, or guardianship with relatives or adoption
  • have higher rates of re-entry into care

What can you do as a CASA?

Advocates can help ensure timely and comprehensive evaluations for medical, dental, vision, hearing, and other medical specialists as needed. Advocates can also ensure that any request for physical, speech, and occupational assessments through Early Childhood Intervention services occur in a timely manner. By maintaining contact with caseworkers and caregivers advocates can also make sure thorough behavioral and mental health evaluations and assessments are being completed.

Advocates can have a positive impact on the child’s education by identifying and talking to the child’s educational professionals including teachers, counselors, diagnosticians, therapists, and education surrogates. Advocates should be informed of the child’s educational rights and attend ARD meetings to ensure appropriate goals and safety plans are in place for them. Advocates can also request testing for 504 services, tutoring, and/or special accommodations if needed.

Advocates can also review and ensure integrated support and service systems for transitioning youth that reflect the specific needs and experiences of youth with disabilities. Advocates can assist youth in locating programs that may help them in finding jobs and dependable mentors. Advocates can also assist youth in identifying and locating assistance in finding housing, arranging for their health and mental health care or establishing themselves in their communities.

  1. True or False. Children who enter foster care with special needs are just as likely to be reunified with their families as children without disabilities.
  2. In what ways might an advocate be able to help a child with developmental disabilities?
  3. Explain why it would be important for an advocate to attend a child’s ARD meeting.

To receive 1 hour worth of training credit, read the above article and submit answers to the accompanying training questions to Leticia Hernandez at

Advocacy Tip: Advocating for Youth & Children with Special Needs in Foster Care