Guideposts for Success for Youth in Foster Care

The Guideposts for Success are a framework to assist the multiple organizations that need to be involved to meet the needs and improve the transition outcomes of all youth including youth with disabilities and to create necessary community webs of support.

The Guideposts for Success for Youth in Foster Care highlight specific experiences, supports, and services that are relevant to providing comprehensive transition services to all foster care youth, including those with disabilities, within the framework of the Guideposts for Success. An increased understanding of the challenges facing this population of young people, combined with an enhanced level of coordination among the education, workforce, post-secondary and child welfare systems, will increase the likelihood of personal and systemic success in the transition from adolescence to productive adulthood and citizenship. This coordination is also a necessary precursor for the leveraging (“blending” or “braiding”) of resources among these partners. Finally, the Guidepostscan support an infrastructure for the measurement of outcomes for foster care youth in transition, especially as it relates to their economic self-sufficiency.

Full implementation of the Guideposts for Success for Youth in Foster Care does not yet exist in any known community in its entirety. However, key components are emerging in an array of communities across the country. As more is learned through collaborations among key institutions, and as professionals develop more familiarity and expertise about what different stakeholders can bring to the table, it can be anticipated the full framework will be realized.

The five Guidepost areas of focus are:

School-Based Preparatory Experiences

In addition to the school-based preparatory experiences that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need,youth in foster care have some specific needs.

Because of the transient nature of the foster care system, the lack of traditional family supports, and the variance in residential settings, youth in foster care need stable education and learning environments and access to additional educational supports and services. More specifically, youth in foster care may also need

  • to remain in one educational setting or single school system, to the greatest extent possible;
  • access to safe, quiet and positive learning environments inside and outside of residential facilities, group homes and foster family homes;
  • access to diverse re-enrollment opportunities to complete high school studies;
  • additional assistance to assure they master basic skills such as tutoring, after-school programs, and other education preparation services;
  • exposure to the full range of lifelong learning opportunities;
  • designated staff at the educational setting with primary responsibility for supporting and monitoring their progress toward educational outcomes;
  • access to foster care caseworkers trained to support the educational process; and,
  • educational records stored in a central location and easily retrievable by those who need to access them.

Youth in foster care who have disabilities need

  • to be engaged in creating, modifying and integrating their Individualized Education Program (IEP), Transition Plan (TP), Independent Living Plan (ILP), Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), and/or other individualized planning tools.
  • to be aware that they can bring a non-parental adult, friend, or guardian at litem (court appointed representative) to their IEP and/or other individualized planning meetings (e.g., TP, ILP, IPE).

Career Preparation & Work-Based Learning Experiences

In addition to the Career Preparation and Work-based Learning experiences that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth in foster care have some specific needs.

Because of the significant instability in their lives (e.g., abuse, neglect, abandonment), youth in foster care may not have developed employment expectations, may not have been exposed to employment opportunities, and may have been exposed to a lot of misinformation about employment opportunities. Youth in and preparing to leave foster care need connections to a full range of youth employment programs and services. Youth in and preparing to leave foster care may also need

  • ongoing assessments of career interests, abilities, strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes;
  • focused career exploration, employability skills building and work-based learning experiences, including entrepreneurship opportunities;
  • permanent and meaningful connections to significant adults as mentors and role models in an employment and training context;
  • the development of an understanding of the value of work, a work ethic and how to obtain, retain, and advance in a job, and transition from one job to another;
  • Independent Living Plans that incorporate employment and training programs and services in a way that integrates federal Foster Care Independence Act funds (a.k.a. the Chafee program) to leverage other youth employment opportunities;
  • employment-based programs that have comprehensive and customized services, including structured work-based learning experiences for transitioning youth, which in turn are likely to require a formal relationship between a private or public child welfare agency and the workforce development system.

Youth Development & Leadership

In addition to the Youth Development and Leadership opportunities that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth in foster care have some specific needs.

Because the child welfare system generally no longer has responsibility for foster youth by the time they turn 18, a time when realistically they will not likely be prepared to be independent self-sufficient adults, youth in foster care need special attention to the development of personal, social and emotional skills for dealing with the consequences of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and victimization. Youth in foster care are highly likely to need

  • formal and informal connections to significant adult role models, peer mentors and older youth who have transitioned from foster care to independence, including after they have left the child welfare system;
  • additional emphasis on self-empowerment through training in self-advocacy, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-determination, and self-sufficiency;
  • ongoing assessments of personal development such as through the Ansell-Casey Life Skills Assessment;
  • programs with built-in activities that highlight “rites of passage” or that specially recognize accomplishments;
  • Independent Living Plans that incorporate cross organizational support systems in promotion of youth development and leadership;
  • an understanding of risk-taking behaviors, and their consequences, such as substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases;
  • opportunities to participate in advocacy and civic engagements, such as through volunteer and leadership roles with foster care boards, associations and local youth councils;
  • connections to services through youth-driven independent living planning meetings that include family members and/or foster parents;
  • connections to lifetime networks of support activities, such as foster care alumni associations; and
  • exposure to cultural, ethnic, religious, and gender-specific experiences, as well as culturally competent mentors, peers and program staff.

Connecting Activities

In addition to the Connecting Activities that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth in foster care have some specific needs.

Although typically leaving the child welfare system at age 18 with the expectation that they will be independent self-sufficient adults, youth in and leaving foster care need connections to a host of programs and services, particularly in the critical areas of physical and mental health, additional education, employment, housing and income support programs. Youth in and leaving foster care are likely to also need

  • opportunities to obtain and maintain a valid driver’s license, library card, voter registration card, birth certificates, medical and other treatment records, green cards, and other critical personal documents;
  • access to a knowledgeable adult(s) who can serve as an adult systems “navigator”;
  • both transitional and long term housing;
  • safety education that prepares them to maintain safety in personal relationships and in independent living situations;
  • special accommodations for financial aid for postsecondary education;
  • parenting education and child care;
  • special efforts so they are prepared to be informed health care consumers;
  • connections to municipalities to become responsible, contributing citizens; and
  • state and local foster care caseworkers and managers partnering with community providers and businesses to foster connections within these domains.

Family Involvement & Supports

In addition to the Family Involvement and Supports that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth in foster care have some specific needs.

Family reunification is a difficult challenge that cannot be separated from the young person’s desires to go to work, pursue additional education and live independent lives. Because of the diversity of family experiences and living situations, youth in foster care need systems that recognize an expanded definition of “family,” which includes grandparents, relative caregivers, other relatives (siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) and non-relative, caring adults and that take into consideration unique cultural issues and practices. These systems need to promote permanency, and to identify and help build a support network of family member(s), peers, mentors, and/or significant adult(s) to be included in all aspects of life planning for the young person. Youth in foster care may also need birth parents, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, foster families, group home staff, caseworkers, case managers, and/or significant adults who

  • participate in “family” team planning that provides opportunities for collaborations among the service providers and the youth;
  • understand the changing relationships and the life-long need for belonging to a “family”;
  • have connections to an adult(s) systems “navigator”;
  • can work with the court system (e.g., attorneys, court appointed special advocates (CASAs), and guardians ad litem (GAL)) to be aware of, assess and support each young person’s needs, desires and planning process for education, employment and independent living options; and
  • have knowledge of their own and the young person’s rights and responsibilities under child welfare, transition and youth-related legislation.

Additionally, youth in foster care who have disabilities need birth parents, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, foster families, group home staff, caseworkers, case managers, and/or significant adults who

  • understand and are trained in recognizing, assisting and supporting youth in dealing with the social and emotional consequences of having been abused, neglected and/or abandoned as a direct result of their disability(ies); and
  • know how to access and make connections to and between the child welfare system and various disability programs and services.

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