Saint Francis Advocacy helps secure new permanency legislation

Saint Francis Ministries’ Advocacy Team helped make history last month with the passage of the SOUL Family Option, making Kansas the first state in nation to adopt the permanency option that gives teens 16 or older in foster care the opportunity to obtain legal permanency and transition into adulthood via a custodian of their choice.

Late last year, a delegation from the Annie E. Casey Foundation visited Salina to meet with Saint Francis staff to talk about SOUL Family, an innovative idea that could revolutionize the way providers do permanency in the child welfare system. The idea was so new that Kansas was the only state currently participating – and if Kansas is involved, so is Saint Francis Ministries.

SOUL grew from ideas advocated by young people aging out of the foster care system. Nationally, more than 20,000 teens in foster care age out without a loving, lifelong family each year. Yet they still need support to successfully navigate the transition into successful, responsible adulthood.

The SOUL Family permanency option would fashion a circle of caring adults to provide Support, Opportunity, Unity, and Legal relationships for young people ages 16 years and older as they move from foster care to adulthood. For youth in foster care, reunification, guardianship, and adoption offer the only legal permanency options. SOUL would provide a fourth option by establishing a legal connection between a young person and at least one caring adult.

“We’ve been part of this since May 2022,” said Holly Osborne, vice president of Kansas permanency. “We’ve been meeting regularly with DCF (Department for Children and Families), grantees, community members, and young adults with lived experience.”

Saint Francis staff have also been meeting with legislators.

“From an advocacy standpoint, SFM utilized multiple strategies to advance this legislation,” said Vice President of Advocacy Matt Stephens. “Our own Holly Osborne and Jennifer Walters served on the task force established to support the effort. We also engaged in informal conversations with lawmakers to highlight the potential positive impact of the proposed legislation and provided written testimony to advocate for the bill.”

Governor Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2536 into law on May 14, making Kansas the first state to implement the model, which emphasizes maintaining important relationships and avoiding unnecessary separations from familiar environments, such as schools and communities.

“It is truly exciting to see legislation passed that directly benefits the teenagers we serve,” said Stephens. “The passage of this bill is a clear signal that the Kansas Legislature is not only willing to hear from experts in the field but to also actively listen to constituents with lived experiences. This positive step forward should inspire continued collaboration and advocacy, encouraging even more innovative and impactful legislation in the future.”

Picture of Shane Schneider
Shane Schneider

Shane is the Editorial Content Manager for the Marketing and Communications Department at Saint Francis Ministries.

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