A Northern California county has developed a potentially promising model for helping older foster youth learn skills critical to making a successful transition to adulthood and avoiding homelessness, according to a new assessment by a leading child-welfare research organization.
Although the project assessment released this month by the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall found that the participants in Alameda County’s Youth Transitions Partnership program showed improvement in only three of 10 measures tracked, the youth scored significantly better on measures of skills related to employment, financial literacy and permanent connections with others.
Chapin Hall, a major player in child welfare research, said its findings suggest that combining intensive case management with dialectical behavior therapy “is a promising approach for supporting youth in foster care as they transition to adulthood.”
The assessment also found that, while it’s too soon to draw firm conclusions about the benefits of Alameda County’s program: “Child welfare systems in other jurisdictions should consider developing and testing similar innovations to improve youth outcomes.” Additional programs could “help to build the evidence base on what works to prevent homelessness among youth who have been involved in the child welfare system,” according to a synopsis by Chapin Hall.
Alameda County’s Youth Transitions Partnership serves 14- to 20-year-olds in foster care who are identified as having multiple risk factors for becoming homeless. Participants join regular group sessions to learn coping skills, and have 24/7 phone access to guidance and mentorship from coaches.
Chapin Hall monitored the county program from its inception, focusing on 98 youth participants through April 2019. Chapin Hall experts helped keep coaches and the young participants on track and measured performance over time.
The training was a modified form of dialectical behavioral therapy. Typically, that form of therapy includes individual counseling, but Alameda County left that component out and focused only on the skills training groups, telephone coaching, and a therapist consultation team.
A majority of the youth said they felt good about their therapy, citing skills such as breathing exercises, meditation and a stronger ability to control their emotions.
Their coaches, too, said they learned useful skills and felt satisfaction from helping the young people, the researchers reported this month.
The program was funded by a federal Youth At-Risk of Homelessness grant, and it may expand to other Bay Area counties and beyond.
Chronicle of Social Change staff reports.