Supporting Young People Transitioning Out of Foster Care
Jessica Grimm received the 2018 Child Welfare League of America Champion for Excellence Award for her work with Bravehearts, the organization she founded with four other young adults who had been in foster care. They wanted to use their lived experience to help government and nonprofits throughout New York understand what kids in foster care need, and to advocate for change. Children’s Village embraced Bravehearts and their mission, and Bravehearts became part of Children’s Village in 2015.
Currently 150 members strong, Bravehearts are young men and women who have been in foster care, experienced homelessness, or were incarcerated. They hold weekly support meetings and offer one-one-one mentoring for kids focusing on changing the conversation from “victim” to “victor.”
Photo courtesy of Children’s Village.
Challenge and Context: Providing Support, Stability, and Skills for Young People In and Aging Out of Foster Care
Everyone, regardless of where they start, should have the opportunity to succeed. The transition to adulthood is challenging for anyone, and for older youth in foster care, that transition is made more difficult because they often don’t have a support network or the resources they need to reach their full potential.
For transition-age foster youth (TAY), young people between the ages of 14-26 who are in or transitioning out of the foster care system and into adulthood, this can be especially true. Vital support mechanisms and programs often don’t exist because TAY don’t have the same family connections as other youth. More comprehensive supports can ensure transition-age foster youth receive the things that all young people need to thrive, such as:
- Better coordinated child welfare policies and systems that are easy to access, work for young people and reinforce the healthy biological, psychological, and emotional development needs that accompany young people transitioning from foster care.
- Educational and job training programs that target the specific needs of young people who have spent time in the foster care system.
- Continued support after a housing or job placement to help TAY sustain and maximize the opportunities they have.
- Government and social service systems that connect with each other and are built for ease of use to make accessing services and benefits easier for young people and providers.
- Addressing racial bias which improves outcomes. A disproportionate number of children and youth in foster care in Los Angeles (84%) and New York City (88%) are young people of color, and bias in treatment and disparities in outcomes occur throughout the system, compounding injustices and trauma facing TAY.
There is an opportunity to change the way young people experience foster care and ensure that they transition out of it successfully.
What We Do: Build a Better Bridge into Adulthood
We partner with organizations that engage young people in the foster care system and put them at the center of our work, hearing their experiences and working alongside them to help build a better bridge into adulthood.
We work to ensure all transition-age foster youth can lead healthy, meaningful, and self-sufficient lives by providing them with the connections, support, stability, and skills to pursue their chosen educational and career opportunities. Core to that is our emphasis on supporting the dismantling of racial and social inequities, including discrimination and economic inequality, reflected in our foster care system.
When we support transition-age foster youth, we are also supporting our communities. Our communities are stronger when we make sure that everyone, including transition-age foster youth, is connected to one another.
With the right support, a stable home, and the right skills, young people are able and ready to fulfill their educational, career, and lifelong well-being goals. The ultimate aim of this work is to erase any disparities in education, employment and well-being that affect transition-age foster youth. We focus on investing in direct services for foster youth and their caregivers, in systems change efforts, in building the field, and in research and evaluation.
Part of our approach includes close collaboration with our Opportunity Youth work, helping set up adolescents for success and well-being into adulthood by actively involving young people and employers in industries with meaningful career pathways.
Our Current Focus
- Amplify transition-age youth (ages 14-26) experience, voice, and input
- Advance an equity focus on expectant and parenting foster youth, foster youth who have been commercially and sexually exploited, and LGBTQ+ TAY
- Recruit, retain, and equip caregivers to succeed
- Advance national momentum through partnership, collaboration, and data-sharing
By supporting the healthy physical, psychological, and emotional development of transition-age foster youth, we help them become successful adults. Programs that offer financial assistance, life skills, access to mental health services and ongoing supportive relationships improve transition-age foster youth’s overall well-being in the long-term.
We have focused our efforts on supporting transition-age foster youth in Los Angeles and New York. In 2021, we will expand to a third U.S. city, and we will apply a racial equity lens to our selection criteria.
The following vital elements reinforce our work:
- Ensure transition-age youth in foster care have the agency and power to participate in and contribute to the decisions that directly impact their lives
- Address the systemic inequality and marginalization of youth and families of color in the child welfare system
- Focus on healthy emotional and psychological development
- Support tailored educational programs for transition-age youth in foster care
- Increase stable placement and housing with a strong preference for kin as caretakers
- Engage federal, state, and city-specific policymakers with quality TAY-focused data to inform funding decisions
- Work to link systems across agencies and locations
- Provide robust training and services in reproductive health and parenting using a two-generation approach to address the needs of parents and their children simultaneously
- Support young people of color, young people who have been commercially exploited (80-90% of CSECY have interacted with the child welfare system and they are disproportionately African American, Native American, and LGBTQ), and young women who are pregnant (pregnant and parenting youth: 33% of girls transitioning out of foster care become pregnant by age 17 and 50% by age 19).
The Impact of the Work: Transition-Age Youth Exit Foster Care Successfully
As transition-age youth move from teenagers to adults, their needs are the same as other young adult needs: opportunities to stay plugged into the resources and relationships for ongoing success. When we effectively meet their needs, TAY can lead the kind of healthy, meaningful, and thriving lives they most desire, and that can make communities whole.