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By Monica E. Oss

Last week, my colleague Athena Mandros wrote an article about the 24,000 youth that age out of the foster care system – and the poor outcomes of these individuals (see How Do States Differ In What Services Are Available For Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care?). This article drew some great responses from readers, including a look at the problem from the provider organization perspective from Paul Neitman, OPEN MINDS Senior Associate and former chief operating officer of Holy Cross Children’s Services in Michigan. Paul writes:

Despite the additional resources and, at one point, national attention given to these youth, the problems still remain. The problem in my mind is not just resources. There are three other critical factors.

1. Over time, the system is dealing with increasing levels of severely disturbed children and youth, which is exacerbated by increased placement changes and disruptions. It’s well documented that these youth have much higher levels of emotional distress, with increased behavioral health issues. These issues are beyond what they were in the past.

2. Many of these youth are unable to take advantage of some of the traditional transition services because of these emotional issues, including independent living services. There are resources for transitioning out of foster homes but because of the behavioral health issues, many of these youths can’t handle the environment. They require much more supervision and structure than the traditional independent living services have provided.

3. For all youth, the issue is lack of guidance and support in the transition into adulthood – and, most importantly, guidance and direction for continuing education and employment preparation. Much has been written about the significant access former foster youth have to higher education dollars, yet few access these dollars, and even fewer graduate with a post-secondary degree. There are college dollars out there, but only about 5% ever graduate from the post-secondary or college experience. There is just no one there to get them through a process that’s hard for traditional families to navigate.

My last few years at my last organization, I worked internally and with the State to address some of these issues, including:

1. Working to bring the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths tool (CANS) to Michigan to offer a more comprehensive and system-unifying assessment to Michigan’s system children. This included embedding the assessment information in the new Michigan SACWIS (Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System).

2. Working with the state to develop an “Assessment Center,” which was intended to replace emergency shelters and/or prevent foster care placement disruptions. The goal was increased placement stability and improved service planning for these difficult-to-serve. In this initiative, the CANS was used as the assessment tool for the process.

3. Developing a “College Preparatory Boarding School” for youth aging out of foster care. The goal was to offer the academic, emotional, and social support necessary to increase the likelihood that these youth would complete high school and college or other career-oriented, post-secondary employment training and placement. This program continued the support services through the successful completion of post-secondary school plan and recruited “host families” for additional support for youth with no family connections.

The key to me is not more resources – it’s system navigators or mentors (or whatever they are called) to help support accessing and successfully utilizing the resources available. It’s simply someone checking in on, or being available, when they call with temporary road blocks. Related are issues tied to integrated health care and foster youth as “superutilizers” – requiring the type of service coordination required by other specialized groups.

For some examples of the programs that are emerging to address the needs of these complex young adults, check out:

  1. Health Homes and Children
  2. Transition to Managed Care for New York State Foster Care Agencies
  3. Youth Villages Program For Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care Improved Participants’ Economic & Mental Well-Being
  4. Camellia Network Merges With Youth Villages To Expand Network Serving Former Foster Children
  5. California’s EMQ FamiliesFirst Adopts Interagency Youth Resiliency Team (IYRT) Program To Mentor Foster Youth

And for more, check out these two OPEN MINDS resources – What Benefits Do States Provide To Foster Care Youth Over Age 18? An OPEN MINDS Market Intelligence Report and Making Foster Care & Managed Care Work.

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