Thrive@25 sup­ports youth ag­ing out of fos­ter care

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CENTREVILLE — Youth who age out of fos­ter care are at an in­creased risk of be­com­ing home­less, ac­cord­ing to re­search from The Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land School of So­cial Work’s In­sti­tute for In­no­va­tion & Im­ple­men­ta­tion (The In­sti­tute).

In an eval­u­a­tion sur­vey of 254 for­mer fos­ter youth in Mary­land, con­ducted by Thrive@25, youth re­ported hav­ing se­cure hous­ing for the first three months af­ter leav­ing fos­ter care, but most be­came un­able to man­age rent and ex­pe­ri­enced hous­ing in­sta­bil­ity shortly there­after. Of those, 99 per­cent had stayed in a shel­ter or with a friend since leav­ing care; 100 per­cent had or were cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hous­ing in­sta­bil­ity; and 92 per­cent were cur­rently look­ing for em­ploy­ment.

Thrive@25 was started un­der an ini­tial two-year Chil­dren’s Bureau plan­ning grant awarded to the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land School of So­cial Work’s In­sti­tute for In­no­va­tion & Im­ple­men­ta­tion in 2013 to de­velop an in­ter­ven­tion to re­duce home­less­ness among youth with child wel­fare in­volve­ment. The project is led by The In­sti­tute in part­ner­ship with the Mary­land Depart­ment of Hu­man Re­sources, the Tal­bot County Depart­ment of So­cial Ser vices on be­half of the five lo­cal de­part­ments of so­cial ser­vices on the ru­ral Mid-Shore (Caro­line, Dorch­ester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Tal­bot coun­ties), and the Na­tional Cen­ter for Hous­ing and Child Wel­fare.

“Thrive@25 specif­i­cally ad­dresses the is­sue of ru­ral home­less­ness — an is­sue for which we have lit­tle un­der­stand­ing na­tion­ally — and aims to build the ca­pac­ity of Mar yland’s child wel­fare sys­tem to pre­vent home­less­ness among the most at-risk youth with child wel­fare in­volve­ment,” said spokesper­son Amanda Miller, MSW, pro­gram spe­cial­ist, Mary­land Cen­ter for The In­sti­tute.

Thrive@25 fo­cuses specif­i­cally on youth in the five Mid-Shore coun­ties who are ei­ther en­ter­ing fos­ter care be­tween ages 14-17, in fos­ter care be­tween ages 18-21, or home­less youth and young adults un­der 21 with child wel­fare his­to­ries, Miller said. She noted that sur­veys of these youth dur­ing the plan­ning grant showed 22 per­cent of youth ages 14-17 and 38 per­cent of youth ages 18-21 on the MidShore had, at some point in their lives, al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced a lack of sta­ble hous­ing.

Thrive@25 is a three-year, $2 mil­lion im­ple­men­ta­tion grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, Chil­dren’s Bureau to end and pre­vent home­less­ness among youth and young adults with cur­rent or prior child wel­fare in­volve­ment, says The In­sti­tute.

Based on find­ings in the ini­tial eval­u­a­tion and plan­ning, Thrive@25 is now im­ple­ment­ing an in­ter ven­tion model de­signed to im­prove four core out­comes: sta­ble hous­ing, per­ma­nent con­nec­tions, ed­u­ca­tion/em­ploy­ment, and so­cial-emo­tional well-be­ing. As part of this model, youth and young adults’ risk for ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness will be as­sessed through the pi­lot­ing of a new risk screen de­vel­oped dur­ing the ini­tial plan­ning grant.

Youth who demon­strate a higher risk of home­less­ness via the risk screen­ing will re­ceive tran­si­tional plan­ning from a fa­cil­i­ta­tor who also co­or­di­nates fam­ily in­volve­ment meet­ings for these youth, work­ing with the youth and their fos­ter care worker to pre­pare for meet­ings, iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple in the youth’s life who could be sup­ports, ac­cess­ing re­sources, and fol­low­ing up on needs iden­ti­fied in the meet­ings to help pre­pare the youth for adult­hood.

Miller said an­other part of the Thrive@25 im­ple­men­ta­tion grant aims to bring ed­u­ca­tional and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to youth in fos­ter care, re­source and adop­tive par­ents, and fos­ter care work­ers and staff in or­der to pre­vent youth home­less­ness. The sec­ond of four an­nual train­ings, the an­nual Eastern Shore Older Youth Sum­mit, was held on Aug. 27 at Camp Pe­cometh in Centreville.

This youth-driven event in­cluded a day for youth who live on the Eastern Shore, cover­ing topics im­por­tant to the tran­si­tion to adult­hood. This year’s event in­cluded a key­note speech from Sen­sei Dave Arm­strong, a U.S Air Force mem­ber and mar­tial artist who was or­phaned at age 13 and spent five years in fos­ter care, group homes and ju­ve­nile hall be­fore turn­ing his life around with the help of his Court Ap­pointed Spe­cial Ad­vo­cate and first mar­tial arts teacher.

Re­cently, I was try­ing to make sense of con­tentious con­ver­sa­tions about race be­ing played out through­out our coun­try. How can these con­ver­sa­tions be so hard in an Amer­i­can cul­ture built on a melt­ing pot of peo­ples shar­ing a com­mon lan­guage?

As a teacher, I am of­ten re­minded of the im­por­tance and value of a com­mon lan­guage that is shared among all stake­hold­ers. We be­lieve that when ev­ery­one shares an un­der­stand­ing of the lan­guage we are speak­ing, we can achieve amaz­ing goals that ben­e­fit the greater good for our com­mu­nity.

Just as I was ru­mi­nat­ing over how these as­pects af­fect the role we as in­di­vid­u­als play in the cir­cum­stance of racial dis­par­ity, a school psy­chol­o­gist’s email mes­sage popped up on my com­puter. Its ti­tle: “Class­room Sup­ports for Chil­dren with Trauma.” It was ad­dressed to me as one of many on staff in three public schools.

While it was ap­par­ent that the con­tents of the email were not aimed at rais­ing teacher aware­ness of sys­temic racism, they ad­dressed the need for teach­ers to be alert to chil­dren in our class­rooms who are in need of spe­cial sup­port at a time of stress in their lives. The email mes­sage re­ferred teach­ers to a tool­kit that item­ized events and sit­u­a­tions that can cause trauma in chil­dren.

This email trig­gered deeper think­ing in me about what re­searchers call “im­plicit bias” and how that might con­trib­ute to on­go­ing trauma for the African Amer­i­can chil­dren I teach. As U.S. cit­i­zens, we speak the same English lan­guage and share an Amer­i­can cul­ture, yet all of us have im­plicit bi­ases. We act, be­have, and re­spond to sit­u­a­tions with lit­tle aware­ness of our own at­ti­tudes. We gen­er­ally do not spend time think­ing about stereo­types we hold from the en­vi­ron­ment in which we live.

As teach­ers of chil­dren, we owe it to chil­dren to get our lan­guage right. Our pre­ser­vice stud­ies and train­ing have called upon us to use cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive teach­ing prac­tices. This means we can­not be “col­or­blind.”

Once held as a de­sir­able value, be­ing col­or­blind ac­tu­ally in­di­cates that we do not rec­og­nize how lived ex­pe­ri­ences and our so­cial en­vi­ron­ment im­pact peo­ple and the thoughts they have about them­selves. To many of us, be­ing col­or­blind sig­nals that we are all alike no mat­ter what hap­pens. That sim­ply is not true.

Un­der­stand­ing this fact about opt­ing to be col­or­blind with our in­ter­ac­tions of all peo­ple can help clar­ify the di­ver­gent think­ing about the mean­ing of “Black Lives Mat­ter.” As a Caucasian, I can­not presume to un­der­stand how the cir­cum­stance of liv­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly White cul­ture as an African Amer­i­can af­fects the psy­che. I only know that my own ex­pe­ri­ences are very dif­fer­ent from the lived ex­pe­ri­ences of African Amer­i­cans in the United States since the early days of slav­ery, through the 1960s civil rights move­ment, and the cur­rent un­fold­ing of data-driven in­ci­dents of racial prej­u­dice.

Most U.S. teach­ers share a White, mono­lin­gual, mid­dle­class, fe­male teach­ing cul­ture that is a mis­match with the in­creas­ingly mul­ti­cul­tural stu­dent pop­u­la­tion. This mis­match can im­pede teach­ing prac­tices aimed at strength­en­ing stu­dent achieve­ment re­gard­less of so­cio­cul­tural back­grounds.

With this knowl­edge in mind, teach­ers can fa­cil­i­tate per­son­al­ized learn­ing. Teach­ers can en­sure that stu­dents of all racial back­grounds suc­ceed in their learn­ing. This is what cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive teach­ing is all about — con­nect­ing with kids to un­der­stand their mo­ti­va­tions and as­pi­ra­tions. When we teach­ers get our lan­guage right, we spend a lot of time lis­ten­ing so we can min­i­mize neg­a­tive in­flu­ences on the learn­ing process through cul­tural mis­cues. In our con­ver­sa­tions with our stu­dents and their fam­i­lies, we take re­spon­si­bil­ity for build­ing a brighter fu­ture for all of the chil­dren in our county.

Af­ter the key­note, youth in at­ten­dance spent half the day ei­ther on the camp’s ropes course or in a cook­ing class. Af­ter lunch and net­work­ing time the youth, par­ents and staff at­tended work­shops on healthy re­la­tion­ships pro­vided by Planned Par­ent­hood.

The im­por­tance of mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships and con­nect­ed­ness to oth­ers dur­ing ado­les­cence is well es­tab­lished and es­sen­tial to emo­tional de­vel­op­ment, in­di­cates a lon­gi­tu­di­nal study of pro­tec­tive and vul­ner­a­bil­ity fac­tors, Miller said. The Child Ado­les­cent So­cial Work Jour­nal, re­veals, fo­cus on per­ma­nent con­nec­tions bol­sters ef­forts to pre­vent home­less­ness for youth ag­ing out of care.

Miller’s team be­lieves Thrive@25 sup­ports the men­tor­ing/per­ma­nent con­nec­tion by us­ing an in­di­vid­u­al­ized ap­proach to se­cur­ing men­tors for youth based on their needs and in­ter­ests. Thrive@25, with the Ready by 21 men­tor­ing com­mit­tee of the Mid-Shore, has de­vel­oped a “ways to help” ini­tia­tive that en­cour­ages those who may not be ready or will­ing to take on the role of fos­ter par­ent but would be will­ing to help in smaller and very sig­nif­i­cant ways. Some ex­am­ples of ways to help in­clude: teach­ing a skill (oil changes, me­chan­ics, wood­work­ing, etc.), help­ing with home­work/school­work, rent­ing out a base­ment or garage apart­ment, and ba­sic skills prac­tice like laundry or cook­ing.

Any­one in­ter­ested in mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the life of a child in fos­ter care in Mary­land may con­tact Laly Mur­phy, spe­cial projects co­or­di­na­tor at Tal­bot County Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices, at 410-820-5571.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Mem­bers of the Thrive@25 Team.

DR. MARY WIL­SON LEVENTHAL

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