Extended Mentoring as Motivation: WAY Program at Children's Village is a reward to youth who work for it.
Youth in care are surrounded by supportive adults and have the chance to forge relationships with residential care staff, foster parents, caseworkers, and others as a way to learn and heal. But too often, a youth's discharge means a disconnection of these personal ties. The Children's Village (CV), a CWLA member in Dobbs Ferry, New York, harnesses the positive power one caring adult can have in shaping a child's life. A nationally recognized, community-based, paid mentorship program begun 25 years ago provides that caring adult to the youth CV serves.
CV operates two aftercare programs: a one-year program offered to all youth and a specialized program, the Work Appreciation for Youth (WAY) scholarship program. Staff at CV believe the term "aftercare" can be misleading. It implies "care" is already over, and now some quick, standard work is needed. As budget pressure leads to shorter stays for youth in residential treatment programs, and many of those entering the system are older youth who only stay for a short time before aging out, follow-up community-based programs become even more critical. For the child welfare system to do right by these young adults, "aftercare" needs to be recast as "community care."
"Being successful in an institutional setting is meaningless if the gains aren't translated into life at home," says Richard Larson MSW, Director of Aftercare at CV. "Counselors who work in the home, in the neighborhood at off hours, are the key relationships that make success possible for young people and their families."
WAY scholars Lorenzo H. and Shariff G. enjoy a game of Taboo at a game night sponsored by a foundation that funds the WAY Program. The WAY Program fosters social interaction with new people to help youth develop self-confidence and learn from people outside the foster care system.
Youth in the one-year program work with a CV aftercare specialist, who acts as a counselor. To take full advantage of the progress made during that relationship, the same counselor continues to work with youth who become WAY Scholars, but his or her role loses some of its formality, looking more like mentorship than counseling. This key element of the CV approach--retaining their paid professional specialists as mentors--is a departure from traditional mentorship, which pairs youth with members of the community who do not necessarily have child welfare training.
WAY Scholars come from both CV's residential school and foster care programs. Each year about 25 youth join the longer-term WAY Program, and about 100 scholars are enrolled each year. The competitive process, which includes an application and interviews, is part of the motivation the program creates; it is part of the design to inspire teens to embrace changes they need to make in their lives. There are basic qualifications all scholars meet: youth must be at least 16, passing in school, have some work experience, and have a positive relationship with at least one adult. They must also show they've successfully taken on more responsibilities during their time in residential care, as well as once returning to their home communities.
CV had to make strong commitments to the program to make it work. Students who become WAY Scholars can receive services for up to five years, and funding for the program is entirely private. This means the CV Board has to be supportive and agree to active fundraising. There are also personnel at CV whose sole focus is the aftercare program.
A high school support coordinator manages the transition for youth returning to their home school, and 11 specialists, who each have at least a bachelor's degree, work a maximum of 14 caseloads.
Specialist Clara Martinez-Bello has seen the change in youth first-hand: She was working with two brothers who were very combative when she first met them. "After some time, they became much more outspoken about how they really felt," she says. "This was something I couldn't get from them in the beginning, when they came across as extremely withdrawn and angry." The relationship with staff, including Martinez-Bello, has helped both brothers mature; they are now living at home, doing well in community schools, and working at summer jobs.
Success like this is not taken for granted, but it is the norm in CV's programs. The agency keeps track of the progress their students make during and after their time as WAY Scholars. "We find that more than 90% of our youth stay in school or have jobs. This lets us know that they are on their way to self-sufficiency," said Regis McDonald MSW, Vice President at CV.
As the WAY program moves forward, CV is looking to overcome some of the challenges it faces. Finding funding is difficult, especially during downturns in the economy, but through its success, CV hopes to prove to policymakers that aftercare is a crucial piece of the puzzle--and one that deserves more financial support. CV has spent the last 25 years reshaping the way aftercare is approached and practiced. As these and more problems surface, the agency continues crafting innovative solutions and better ways to help the youth it serves.
Water, Water Everywhere
The lack of clean and accessible drinking water is the second-largest worldwide killer of children under age 5, according to the Tap Project. Last March, the Tap Project asked 2,350 restaurants to invite their customers to donate $1 for the glasses of tap water they would normally receive for free. The money helped the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) provide safe, clean drinking water to children around the world. For every dollar raised, a child will have water for 40 days. The Tap Project will take place again this March; visit www.tapproject.org to learn more and get involved.
Care Through College
Of 25,000 teens who age out of foster care each year, 70% report they want to go to college, but only 13% do, and half of those students drop out in the first year, according to an article in Market Watch from the Wall Street Journal. To ease the burdens on college-bound foster care alumni, North Carolina has started NC Reach, a program that funds the full cost of education at state-affiliated universities or community colleges for resident youth who aged out of the system at 18 or who were adopted after the age of 12. Visit www.ncreach.org .
Snack Time Redefined
The federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program helps schools provide alternatives to chips and candy for their students. Piloted in 2002 with 25 schools in 5 states, the 2008 farm bill expanded the program to all 50 states, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that nearly $49 million would be spent on the program this school year, $50-75 per student. Money goes to states, which distribute it to schools or districts to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Participating schools must have at least 50% of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/FDD/programs/dod/default.htm for more.
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