Case in point

Well, I promised to follow up my last post with some good news, and I know that at least one of my readers will be disappointed that she won’t get to read about the sense of optimism I feel in the air just yet. Instead, I’m gonna hang out on my soapbox for a little while longer because I’m still working through my irritation.

Last night’s Teens in Foster Care panel was very odd. I think the organizers felt like everyone in the room was on the same page regarding permanency for youth in care 14 and older (roughly 3600 of New York City’s 12,000 children in the system). Funny thing though: I don’t think the panel realized how deeply their message conflicted with one of their guest speaker’s most important points. …And then things got even worse.

Let’s do this good/bad/ugly style.


Cris Beam. CRIS BEAM. I’d seen her give a reading to a group of young writers back in December, so I’d already heard the whole spiel of how a teenaged daughter entered her life with the suddenness of an unplanned pregnancy. Tonight, however, Beam came with a stronger agenda and she prefaced her reading by dropping some data.

Here’s some straight from NYC ACS: Between the ages of 14 and 15 only 17% of young people in foster care wish to exit the system as an independent adult. By the time they reach 17, however, the percentage of youth who wish to age out to independent living rises to 94%. That means that by 17, only 6% of young people in foster care want to be adopted.

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How race/ethnicity impacts children in foster care

I’m still making my way through the e-training portion of the Casey Family Program’s Knowing Who You Are curriculum, which is devoted to training social workers and other adults and professionals in the child welfare system in how to nurture the healthy racial/ethnic identities of children in foster care. The section on institutional racism identifies key points in the child welfare process where the cases of children of color seem to be handled differently than those of their white peers. These include investigation, child placement, service provision, and permanency planning. Continue reading

Surprising(?) correlations between job preparedness, reading ability, employment, and college enrollment for youth in foster care

Young people transitioning out of foster care lag behind their peers nationally on measures of employment and college enrollment.

The National Longitudinal Study of Youth (1997) finds that

  • 41% of 19 year olds are enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges
  • 91% of youth are employed between the ages of 18 and 19

By comparison, a multi-site evaluation of youth transitioning out of foster care finds that

  • 25% of 19 year olds are enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges
  • 75% are employed between the ages of 18 and 19.

In an attempt to establish a relationship between job preparation programs and employment, the Urban Institute recently put out a brief that tackles the question, Do youth in foster care accurately assess their preparation for work? Specifically, Marla McDaniel and Michael Pergamit want to know if the confidence a 17-year old has about her ability to apply, get, and keep a job is a good predictor for whether she will be employed and/or in college by age 19.

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Pathways: the numbers and the recommendations

On October 11, 2012, BNY Mellon convened community and thought leaders, practitioners, funders, and other stakeholders in the child welfare space for the Powering Potential Thought Leadership Summit. The main topic of concern was how to improve the life outcomes of youth aging out of foster care. They lay out the problem using data from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative:

  • More than one in five will become homeless, often on their 18th birthday.
  • Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds).
  • 71 percent of young women are pregnant before age 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance and involvement in the child welfare system.
  • At the age of 24, only half are employed.
  • Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds).
  • One in four will be involved with the criminal justice system within two years of leaving foster care.

According to Fred Wulczyn, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, young people in foster care face variety of physical and emotional challenges that make their transition to adulthood particularly difficult. These include:

  • exposure to trauma
  • juvenile justice involvement
  • lack of adult supports
  • unstable living arrangements
  • pregnancy and early parenting for both young men and women
  • mental health and substance abuse issues.

If they enter the system between the ages of 16 and 17, the likelihood of aging out of foster care (rather than returning to their family of origin or being adopted, etc.) rise to 20-27% from under 15%, if they enter care between 5 and 15 years old.

Summit attendees agreed on the need for early interventions that target youth who are likely to be aging out of care. Other recommendations that arose (and I add my commentary parenthetically):

Communicate clearly to youth that we expect them to be successful. (To paraphrase the great Michael Carrera, if you haven’t found the gift in each young person you work with, keep looking!)

Connect them to resources, especially to potential employers. (They also recommend, as seems to be the trend in vocational training, that educators be brought to the table, in order to align with employers’ needs. I am personally very ambivalent on this latter point.)

Build on what you’ve done. “Don’t assume that what you’ve done has not created the progress you’ve observed.” (This piece of advice confuses me because of all the emphasis lately on investing in programs with measurable outcomes. If you’re observing progress, you better have a good idea that what you’ve built has contributed to that progress. If you’re modest enough to admit that you don’t have the silver bullet in your possession, and wise enough to know that it truly takes a village—especially with youth in foster care—you should be clear about exactly what your role as a villager is. What is your contribution? What would be missing if you didn’t do your part of the work?

Engage with the youth themselves. Be a mentor (even if an informal capacity, as a role model and caring, stable presence).

Mentoring youth in care

According to a study by the EMT Group, the national outcomes of youth leaving foster care are as follows:

  • 75% work below grade level
  • 60% of girls have a child within 4 years
  • 50% do not complete high school
  • 45% are unemployed
  • 33% are arrested
  • 30% are on welfare at ages 18–24
  • 26% spend time in jail or prison
  • 25% are homeless
  • 10% are on probation

If handled properly, a mentoring relationship can boost the outcomes for youth who have been in the foster care system. Though results are uneven, researchers have indicated that youth who have been mentored for at least two years between the ages of 14 and 18 are more likely than their unmentored peers to report overall health, and are at a lower risk for STDs, violence, suicidal thoughts, and other dangers. Statistics for participation in higher education and vocational training also seem to promise a significant monetary ROI for mentoring programs.

Here is the caveat you knew to expect: program managers should tread carefully, for a mentoring relationship can cause significant harm if set up improperly. Continue reading

On Your Own without a Net

Prof. Mark Courtney, director of the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, a policy research center focused on children, families, and their communities, focuses his work on the adult outcomes of youth involved in foster care. In a 2005 report written for The MacArthur Network on Transitions to Adulthood, Courtney notes a severe limitation of the Chafee Act of 1999, which guarantees $140 million annually to support services targeting youth in foster care through the age of 21. He estimates that around 20,000 youth age out of foster care a year (and, incidentally, about 1,000 of them come from New York City alone), but the funds must stretch out to cover significantly more. According to his calculus, this translates to about $1,400 per eligible youth.

The problem, he says, stems from the narrow focus on youth “aging out” of care, which misses the much larger population of older youth in care, which he defines as 16-18. Since the outcomes of this segment are particularly poorer than those of children who enter (and leave) care at younger ages. Courtney points out that it isn’t simply because these older teens are likely to be living in group homes or other institutions, but that even when they are discharged to parents or other family members, these relationships are often strained, and rarely provide them with the support they need.

You can read more in his chapter of On Your Own without a Net.

How to present statistics in a compelling way

I’ve attended enough career workshops and business panels to know that in order to sell an idea, you have to craft a compelling story—not just about your project, but about yourself. Why do what you’re doing? And why you and not someone else? Yet I’ve also been reminded by people in the nonprofit world that in order to secure funding I’ll have to be able to present data not only to illustrate the problem that I’m trying to address, but which also demonstrates the impact of my program.

Matthew Scharpnick offers some great ideas on how some nonprofit organizations have been able to present statistical data in a compelling manner. He suggests that infographics can visually present a lot of information in ways that are economic and complementary to the emotionally-compelling aspects of the pitch (stories, pictures, videos, etc.).


If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you know that I have an interest in community centers that cater to the educational and developmental needs of the city’s youth. Yesterday I learned about yet another one. The New York Times recently had an article on how the children of Mexican immigrants in New York City have significantly lower educational outcomes than the general student population. Problems of lagging grades and test scores and high drop-out rates begin in primary and secondary school but persist in college.

Mexicans currently represent the highest percentage of 16- to 19-year-old youth not graduated and not in school in the City: 47%, as compared to 22% for Puerto Ricans, 18% for African-Americans, and 7% for whites. Furthermore, students frequently drop out after enrolling in high school: while 95% are in school at age 14, just 25% are still in school at ages 18 to 19. That’s a drop of 70%.

Those figures are provided by MASA-MexED, an organization set up to serve the educational needs of students of Mexican descent in New York. They provide educational support at all levels: offering a range of services from an early childhood playgroup to tutoring, mentoring, test prep, and college counseling. In addition to special classes in art and science, they also run peripheral programs such as ESL classes for students and parents alike, and an outreach effort for the 2010 census.

Community college and other options

Darla M. Cooper’s report on how California’s community colleges serve former foster youth repeats a lot of the findings and recommendations that I’ve reviewed in some of my previous posts. But one of the points it brings up that is worth elaborating is the unique role that community colleges play in educating foster youth, for whom four year colleges are often out of reach for a whole host of reasons. Comparatively, community colleges are more easily accessible—especially in terms of affordability—and their focus on technical training and career placement is attractive to students seeking to establish financial stability sooner rather than later.

In the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the the type of advice we should be dispensing to young people regarding their post high school plans. Continue reading

Multiple Pathways to Graduation

One of New York City’s more innovative educational programs benefiting youth in and emerging from foster care is Multiple Pathways to Graduation, an initiative designed to expand the options and resources available to youth between 16 and 21 (this informational packet says 15 to 21) who have already demonstrated difficulty in completing high school. These are the students whom the Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation (OMPG) designates as “overage and undercredited”—those who are at least two years off-track relative to their age and credit accumulation toward a high school diploma. This population includes not only truants, but also students with learning disabilities, English language learners, teen mothers, and of course, foster youth. (The CEO has other programs designed specifically for youth who have fallen into the juvenile justice system.)

Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), whose mission it is to reduce poverty in the city (and which also implemented CUNY ASAP), established Multiple Pathways in close partnership with the DOE (then helmed by Joel Klein). The OMPG has discovered that a staggering 48% of incoming freshmen become overage and undercredited during high school. This is alarming, given that even students who come into high school well-prepared, but who run into problems and fall behind, graduate at lower rates. The following statistics are from 2007: “Only 19% of over-age and under-credited students ultimately receive a high school diploma or GED if they stay in high school; 6% of these graduates receive a Regents diploma, while 20% receive a GED.” The OMPG further estimates that there are “nearly 138,000 young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 in New York City who have dropped out of school or are significantly off-track for graduation. […] Of the 138,000 youth that are over-age and under-credited, 70,000 of them are in school, and 68,000 have already dropped out.” (Appendix B, 116)

As the name suggests, Multiple Pathways offers students, in addition to the option of re-enrolling in their high school of origin, a variety of alternative paths toward either a high school diploma or a GED, along with a career preparation component. The path the student ultimately takes depends on his/her age, credits already accumulated, schedule flexibility, and career goals. The options (especially for the GED programs) are a bit confusing, and they also seem to vary depending where you look for information, but I will summarize what I’ve gleaned so far below: Continue reading