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Nurturing the Potential of Transition Age Foster Youth: Learnings from our Foster Youth Partner Convening

By Eric Robinson, LMFT, July 14, 2017

On Friday, June 30, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation gathered partners for our annual Foster Youth Strategic Initiative Convening at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, CA.

Yolanda Elam, program director from A Sense of Home (ASH), introduced staff and artists Mike Jelks and Loren Elam as they opened up the day with a passionate song entitled “Let’s Go Home.” ASH coordinates volunteers to furnish and decorate the first home of a youth aging out of foster care so that their first permanent living space feels like home. The song is usually performed the first day the youth moves in to mark and celebrate the next phase in their lives.

Following the performance, Jeannine Balfour, senior program officer for the Hilton Foundation’s Foster Youth Strategic Initiative shared reflections on the first five years of the Initiative, including where we have been, what we have learned and our vision for the next phase of work. Balfour spoke of the Foundation’s commitment to helping young people transition into adulthood in the same way we help our own children become independent and successful adults:

  • by taking the time to understand and address their unique needs at every age and phase of life, including all the implications of critical adolescent brain development.
  • by sticking with, and continuing to support them even after they become legal adults but still face developmental and life challenges.
  • and by making sure that systems and policies that guide their care reflect and act on these values.

The convening was an opportunity to engage with partners and reaffirm our commitment to shifting from not just focusing on the safety, survival and subsistence of transition age foster youth, but recognizing and nurturing potential, providing real opportunity to meet these challenges and enabling all foster youth to thrive.

L to R: Eric Robinson, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Peter Laugharn, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Jeannine Balfour, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Arnold Chandler, Forward Change; Tia Elena Martinez, Forward Change; and Bill Pitkin, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Unlike our previous convenings where we invited other stakeholders such as funders and public agency partners, we reserved the entire day solely for grantees of the Initiative to engage in a workshop presented by Forward Change. A mission-driven consulting firm that helps foundations, community-based organizations and government agencies improve the lives of children, young adults and families living in disadvantaged communities, Forward Change develops and implements effective strategies, informed by rigorous research and analysis. Arnold Chandler and Tia Elena Martinez, co-founders of Forward Change, presented workshops in two segments designed to help our partners think through complex systems, “The Life Course Framework for Improving the Lives of Disadvantaged Populations” and “Mapping the School to Prison Pipeline.” The workshops provided a holistic, analytic framework and a strategic canvas for improving the life outcomes of disadvantaged young people. Through a survey of research charting economic, criminal justice, family and socio-ecological changes in the U.S. over the past 40 years, the framework articulates how race, gender and place intersect in ways that impact human development and drive disparate life outcomes for disadvantaged children and young adults.

Later in the day, Westat, the Initiative’s Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation partner presented on the progress of Phase I of the Initiative, including successes and areas to deepen our work, in creating opportunities in employment and education for transition age foster youth, improving supports for caregivers, as well as policy wins and improved coordination between systems supporting youth. Looking at the challenges that lay ahead—such as mental health needs, school placement stability, and shortages in housing and foster home placements—made the workshops held earlier in the day that much more relevant. As the Foster Youth Strategic Initiative enters its second phase of work, it is important to look at how race and child welfare intersect, and how when promoting equity we are not simply talking about inclusion, but as Chandler puts it, “changing how categorical differences between us stratify opportunity in our society.”

Special thank you to Mary Bissell of ChildFocus Partners for giving attendees an overview of federal policies with updates regarding legislation impacting foster youth, as well as Alece Birnbach of Graphic Footprints who visually captured the day, tracking and mapping the conversation in real-time. The graphic notes of the day’s events can be found here.

Eric Robinson, LMFT

Program Associate, Domestic Programs

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