According to report, research indicates that no group in the United States is more predictably headed for undesirable outcomes than young people who spend their adolescence in foster care. As young people leave foster care, all the available evidence suggests that they experience a set of problems that makes finding a niche in adult society an enormous challenge.
Our Strategies for City leaders:
City leaders can take steps — in partnership with state and county agencies and local service providers — to ensure that adequate guidance, support and positive opportunities are made available to older foster youth approaching the age of emancipation and continue for several years after youth have exited the foster care system.
Key strategies for cities to consider include:
• Become knowledgeable about local foster youth transitions and use this information to set goals and track progress over time.A clearunderstanding of the needs of foster youth and current gaps in the system will allow a municipal leader to utilize existingservices more effectively, build public will and engage in collaborativeplanning with state, county and community-based agencies. Further, city officials can use this information to setgoals and track progress related to transitioning foster youth, either independently or within a broader city plan for children, youth and families.
• Connect transitioning foster youth to existing programs and services.
Cities can make the most of current investments by giving priority to transitioning foster youth in transitional or supportive housing programs, employment and training initiatives or city jobs and internships. Municipal officials can also recruit these youth to participate in local programs that support their educational and personal development.
• Make the case for supporting foster youth transitions to adulthood.
City officials are well-positioned to help others understand how poorly-supported transitions to adulthood can imperil the well-being of foster youth and undermine the community’s quality of life. By providing a vision of how the community can promote successful transitions, mayors and other city leaders can build public will, engage new partners and solicit the funding and in-kind support necessary to sustain future progress.
•Take a cross-system approach to service planning and delivery.Because the needs of transitioning foster youth are too broad to be addressed by a single program, agency or level of government — and because city governments rarely play lead roles in administering the foster care system — it is important to take a cross-system approach to planning and implementing services, and to consider a one-stop approach to service delivery.
Action Steps for our City leaders:
Become knowledgeable about local foster youth transitions and use this information to set goals and track progress over time.
As day-to-day administration of foster care is generally the responsibility of the state or county, an early step for city leaders may be simply to become more knowledgeable about transitioning foster youth in the community. Mayors or other city leaders can request a briefing — or just ask for city or county-level data — from the public agency that provides child welfare services and operates the Independent Living program. Other governmental entities, such as school districts, housing authorities and workforce boards, may also be sources of valuable information. To get a more complete picture, city leaders can also convene focus groups to obtain input directly from older foster youth and young adults who have recently left the child welfare system. To learn more, municipal officials can start with basic factual questions, such as:
• How many foster youth transition to independence each year? Of these transitioning youth, what proportion has lived in foster family settings and what proportion has come out of group homes?
• What is known about the living arrangements of former foster youth?
• Once they have left the child welfare system, how many youth are employed or in school? How many are engaged in mentoring or youth programs?
• How many transitioning youth utilize a local Independent Living Program to coordinate access to services?
• Which local agencies, other than child welfare, are already providing services or engaged in outreach to transitioning foster youth?
• What committees or task forces, if any, are focused on transitioning foster youth, and what role are city leaders or city agencies playing in those groups? Armed with an appreciation of the facts, city leaders can move on to questions that require analysis or interpretation, such as:
• What are the major issues transitioning foster youth face in this community?
• What are the areas where outcomes could be improved?
• What efforts are under way to close gaps in services?
• Has there been any evaluation of existing efforts? What has been done to expand successful models or improve ineffective efforts?
• What role could city leaders or municipal agencies play in advancing solutions? With a better understanding of the needs of transitioning foster youth, city leaders can set measurable goals — on their own or through cross-system planning efforts with other partners — and can promote accountability by monitoring progress toward these goals.
Our City Leadership Opportunities
• Become informed about local foster youth and their needs in areas such as housing, jobs, training, education and connections to caring adults.
• Learn about relevant state and county-run supports for transitioning foster youth.
• Identify what changes are needed in the system and set concrete goals for action, either specifically for city government or in collaboration with state, county or nonprofit agencies.
• Track outcomes and encourage ongoing youth feedback to measure impact and improve efforts over time.
Connect transitioning foster youth to existing programs and services.
Cities may already provide a wide array of services that can help support foster youth transitions. A key task in this regard is to establish successful transitions for foster youth as a priority in municipal programs and operations, and to think creatively about the use of existing city resources. Cities can look at ways to help support transition planning for older foster youth who often move among foster homes and group homes and can offer “try-out” work experiences, adult mentors and positive youth development programming in the years prior to emancipation. As foster youth reach the age of emancipation and for several years thereafter, cities can play an important role in helping youth secure housing, jobs, adult mentors, access to health and mental health services and continuing education and training. Employment is another priority for newly independent foster youth. City representatives often sit on local workforce development agency boards and can explore opportunities to make specific investments in job training for youth transitioning from foster care. Cities can also offer internships or jobs for youth within municipal government, either before or after emancipation.
To address educational needs, city leaders can build on existing partnerships with local school systems to help young people stay in school and avoid disruptions caused by multiple foster care placements in the years leading up to emancipation. In collaboration with the child welfare system, local community college and workforce board, cities can also encourage foster youth to pursue postsecondary education and training, including by actively promoting utilization of the federally funded Education and Training Vouchers for foster youth and other financial assistance to cover higher education expenses.
• Set aside slots for foster youth in housing, employment and other relevant city programs, or create a preference system to increase their likelihood of receiving needed services.
• Target transitioning foster youth in local outreach efforts to help ensure that low-income residents receive the federal EITC, nutrition assistance, free or low-cost health insurance, matched savings accounts and other benefits for which they are eligible.
• Instruct city agencies to identify and pursue strategies for connecting transitioning foster youth — before and after the age of emancipation — to youth programs currently operating in the community.
• Recruit city employees as mentors and allow for flexible work schedules to support mentoring activities.
Make the case for supporting foster youth transitions to adulthood.
When city leaders serve as champions, they can build public will, engage new partners and lay the groundwork for soliciting new resources. Mayors and other city officials can use their influence to generate a broad base of support for efforts to address the challenges that youth aging out of foster care face. They can emphasize that these efforts help vulnerable young people develop the competencies and social attributes needed to fully assume their roles as workers, citizens, parents and taxpayers in the modern global economy. At the same time, municipal officials can clearly communicate the cost of inaction for individuals and the entire community. Nearly one-third of the nation’s homeless adults report a foster care history, and one national survey of foster youth who had been out of the child welfare system for between two-and-a-half and four years showed that one-quarter of respondents reported being homeless for at least one night. In the same survey, only about half of former foster youth had completed high school and just over one-third had maintained employment for a full year, while 60 percent of young women had children shortly after leaving foster care.
The case for increasing support for foster youth in transition becomes even stronger when a mayor or city councilmember not only describes the challenge, but also sets forth a vision of how to improve outcomes for these young people. A city may choose to focus on solutions specifically for foster youth in transition, look at the needs of a wider array of youth who are disconnected from school and work or address the needs of transitioning foster youth within a broader community plan to support and strengthen all children, youth and families. The critical element is providing a set of goals and a framework for action around which potential partners and funders can coalesce. Local elected officials can use these messages to bring new partners to the table and encourage corporate and philanthropic leaders to help fill gaps in the system of support for youth transitioning out of foster care. In addition, the city can help generate support from the community through any coordinated city efforts to help citizens connect to local volunteer opportunities.
City officials seeking to play a leadership role to ensure positive outcomes for transitioning foster youth will need to be prepared to collaborate with county and state governments. The following are some national organizations that have developed successful models or published relevant guides that city leaders may find useful in meeting the needs of foster youth in transition:
Casey Family Programs has developed assessment tools and promising models for both system-wide reform and individual transition planning. One such tool is the Ansell-Casey Life Skills Assessment, which is available for free online and focuses on the strengths needed to design and carry out an independent living plan.
Foster Care Alumni of America is a national network of foster care alumni aimed at transforming policy and practice, ensuring opportunity for people in and from the foster care system. City leaders may find it beneficial to launch a local chapter or engage with an existing one for the purpose of increasing adult mentors, adoptions and permanent employment options for youth in transition. www.fostercarealumni.org
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative has engaged 12 communities in developing promising models for transition, which are available online to promote peer learning and replication. One element of the Jim Casey approach is The Opportunity Passport.™ This tool helps participants learn financial management, obtain experience with the banking system, manage an Individual Development Account (IDA), and gain access to educational, training, and vocational opportunities. www.jimcaseyyouth.org
National Child Welfare Resource Center for Youth Development
provides training and technical assistance to publicly administered and supported child welfare agencies through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, and maintains an expansive clearinghouse of policy and practice briefs for those interested in foster care transitions. www.nrcys.ou.edu/yd
National Foster Care Coalition provides technical assistance, trainings, and information on a variety of issues, including permanence, transition, education and child welfare financing.
Youth Transition Funders Group’s Foster Care Work Group consists of philanthropies using their grantmaking capacity to explore new ways to help foster youth complete an education that leads to lifelong careers and develop financial management skills and assets. Through its signature “Connected by 25” initiative, the work group has invested in and learned from successes in seven communities nationwide. www.financeproject.org/special/practice/fcwg.cfm
Youth Transitions Resource Center, managed by The Finance Project, offers a wide array of publications on topics such as education, workforce, financial literacy, savings and asset building, entrepreneurship and permanency, as well as links to other organizations working on this topic. www.financeproject.org
For more information please contact Ms. Regeanna Mwansa at firstname.lastname@example.org