Thrive@25 supports youth aging out of foster care
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.
Members of the Thrive@25 Team.
DR. MARY WILSON LEVENTHAL