Upcoming Events & Education

02.07.13Equipping Youth to Navigate Finances in Their Everyday Lives: A Fresh Approach to Financial Literacy (Webinar)

02.08.13-02.09.13The Refresh Conference for Foster and Adoptive Families (Washington)

03.21.13:   Preparing Transition Aged Youth for Housing & Independence (Webinar)

05.03.13REFCA Re-Envisioning Foster Care Conference (Massachusetts)

05.29.13-05.31.13Daniel Foundation 20th Annual National Foster Care Conference (Florida)

06.05.13-06.08.13:  National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) – National Education Conference (California)

Are Improvements Needed in the Aging Out Process?

Please take two seconds to answer the question below.  Thank you!

Life Skills Curriculum Should Move with the Child

I was thinking about life skills and how foster children learn them, and it occurred to me that one of the big problems with ensuring that foster youth turn 18 with the life skills they need to be successful is the inconsistency of life skills instruction, especially if the foster child must move to different homes.

To start, foster homes may or may not be required to implement a life skills curriculum. If foster parents in one home do start a life skills program on their own, they might start it in middle school, or they might wait until high school (which is too long to wait). The skills they teach may be based on a curriculum that they have found or based on their own experiences. They may or may not track the child’s progress and record the experiences the child has had and/or the achievements and progress he/she has made as they teach the skills.

Then, if the child must move to a different home, the new foster parents may or may not teach life skills through any curriculum, much less likely the same one the prior home used.  If the new foster parents teach life skills based on their own experience, the foster child might get contradictory information from what his/her prior foster parent(s) shared. Now, add one one or two (or more) foster homes, it is no wonder that ensuring solid life skills by age 18 is so difficult!

My potential solution is to have a standard life skills curriculum that foster children can “take with them” as they move from home to home. It would probably have to be Internet based, as any new foster home would then be able to access that child’s life skills curriculum, see what he/she has accomplished, and then use that same curriculum to keep track of continued progress. It would also have to be adopted by the majority of foster programs in each state to maximize the consistency of the life skills curriculum as the foster child moves from home to home.

I can picture the Aging Out Institute as one day being able to offer a section on the website that would enable a mobile and customizable life skills curriculum for foster children based on research data and best practices discovered throughout the country. There could be sections for individual success stories, Q&A about the curriculum, best practices in applying the curriculum, and so on. Better yet, it could potentially cross state borders. (As a foster youth myself, I started in North Carolina, lived in Maryland for a while, and then ended up in Pennsylvania. A cross-state curriculum would have been a great support as I moved.)

Do you think this is a good idea? Have you seen anything like this out in the foster system? Please let me know!

Where are the Aging Out Positive Deviants?

Jerry Sternin

To explain the concept of Positive Deviance, let me tell you a story. In the 1990’s, a man named Jerry went to Vietnam as part of the Save the Children group in order to solve the problem of malnutrition in the country’s small and very poor villages. The Vietnamese government gave the group just six months to get results. Facing such an intimidating time frame, Jerry and his team got started by talking with the mothers in four different villages. They asked the women in each village if there were any children under age three who came from poor families, but were well nourished. In each village, the answer was yes.

After talking with the mothers of the healthier children, they discovered that these mothers went against custom and mixed tiny crabs, shrimp and sweet potato greens into their children’s food, supplementing the traditional fare with extra vitamins and protein. In addition, they found these mothers fed their children when they got diarrhea, which was in opposition to the conventional wisdom that children with diarrhea should not be fed. Finally, these busy mothers made the time to ensure that their children were given several small meals throughout the day, which most of the other busy mothers did not do. Upon discovering these differences, the mothers of the malnourished children soon began imitating the behavior of the mothers of the healthier children – the “positive deviants.”

Eventually the work was expanded to 14 villages, and Jerry found that there were positive deviants in every village who had come up with unique solutions that varied with the resources at hand. These mothers were all willing to share their practices with the other mothers and within two years of initiating this Positive Deviance process, the malnutrition level of children dropped by up to 85% throughout the 14 villages that were involved in their initial six-month project.

Jerry Sternin went on to create an entire movement based upon Positive Deviance. To quote from his website, http://www.positivedeviance.org, “Positive Deviance (PD) is a development approach that is based on the premise that solutions to community problems already exist within the community.”

So…is the challenge of aging out of foster care a community problem?  I think yes. If I am right, it begs the question…where are the aging out positive deviants? Is it possible to find the people and programs that are consistently promoting aging out success, and then then share their secrets with everyone else in the foster care community? Again, I think yes. In fact, that finding and sharing the aging out best practices around the country is one of the things I hope to accomplish with the Aging Out Institute.

Do you know of any pockets of aging out success that might be considered a result of positive deviance? If so, please reply here and share what they (or you) are doing that is ensuring aging out success with the students in your home or program.

Thank you!

How do we define aging out success?

This is the first blog post of the Aging Out Institute. My name is Lynn Lehman, and I am a former foster youth, myself. The adults who were in my life during my time of crisis were a positive support to me when I needed them most. These people included the houseparent couples and relief houseparent couples at both the group home and youth shelter where I was placed for several months in North Carolina, my grandmother (with whom I stayed for a few months in MD), as well as the foster parents who ultimately took me and my sister in as teenagers (in PA) and supported us through our own transition into adulthood. As these foster parents also happened to be relatives through marriage, we had their support beyond the age of 18. I know we were extremely fortunate, as the vast majority of foster children who age out of the system must do so on their own.

I’ve known for quite a long time that I want to do something to give back in some form of fashion around the challenge of aging out. With an education in psychology and training & development, and career experience in adult education, online learning, and research, it seemed like a natural move to apply my knowledge and skills to some form of online assistance for those who are deeply entrenched in the aging out process.  So, I am in the process of developing an institute – the Aging Out Institute (AOI) – that will grow over time to provide three major things for those involved in foster care:

  1. A repository of links to resources and research that is out on the Internet regarding aging out;
  2. A community of individuals who care about improving aging out in the United States; and
  3. A unique research agenda that focuses on determining aging out best practices – at the program level.

My plan is to build up the repository of links over the next few months, building interest and visits to the site in the process.  Once the site is getting a fair number of visits every week, I will consider opening up the community.  The research will begin right away, but only through short polls and online discussions through blog comments.  More formal research will have to wait until AOI has a significant number of connections with foster programs throughout the U.S

When I look through the research available on the Internet, I see a lot of statistics regarding homelessness, drug addiction, college attendance, etc., but I don’t see much in regards to a link between specific aging out program elements and aging out success. This is what I want to focus on. I want to build a model of program criteria that have been proven to lead to success, so that foster parents and child welfare workers can use the model to design and improve their own programs.  This will require gathering information about programs across the country, filtering through the program elements and determining which work the best. This will most likely be a multi-year process, but one that will be well worth it.

To start, I want to think about what success looks like for foster youth who have aged out of the system. How do we know if they are successful if we haven’t defined it?  The challenge is that success is extremely personal. I felt successful when I finished college and was able to get a job and my first apartment. Someone else might feel successful by getting a job right out of high school. Someone else might feel successful by getting married and starting a family.

What I am looking for is success as defined by society, and I do believe that there must be one, two or three basic achievements that indicate success in the eyes of our culture.  My first stab at this is that success is self-sufficiency through positive societal contributions.

Self-Sufficiency: One goal of most Americans is to be self-sufficient.  This typically requires the ability to acquire a job, a place to live, and food.

Positive Societal Contributions: It is possible to be self-sufficient as a result of criminal activity, so a caveat must be made that the self-sufficiency must involve a positive contribution to our society.

So, my question to you is…what do you think?  Do these two concepts capture the bare essence of aging out success?  Please comment and let me know what you think!