If you missed donating in December to help support the launch of the AOI National Awards Program for foster caregivers and organizations, that’s OK – you can still donate! If you would like to contribute to help fully launch our new awards program, please send your donation through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. THANK YOU!
TOTAL RAISED TO DATE: $7,005
The statistics for youth aging out of foster care are grim.
Nationally, about 25,000 young people “age out” of the foster care system – most without any family support. Because of the trauma of their youth and a lack of preparation and support as they enter adulthood, the outcomes for these vulnerable youth are poor:
- 25% have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- 50% drop out of high school.
- Less than 3% earn a 4-year college degree.
- 50% struggle with unemployment.
- 70% of the young women are pregnant by the age of 21.
- 50% end up incarcerated.
- 20% end up homeless within 2 years of aging out.
But there is hope!
Although so many struggle when they leave foster care, not all youth who age out end up being statistics. Looking at the outcomes differently, we see that some do find success:
- 50% of these youth DO complete high school.
- About 3% DO earn a 4-year higher education degree.
- 50% ARE able to find steady employment.
- 30% ARE NOT pregnant by age 21.
- 50% DO NOT end up being incarcerated.
- 80% DO find stable housing within 2 years of aging out.
Why are some youth successful when so many others are not?
There has to be a reason that some foster youth age out successfully while others have so much trouble. Of course, we have to give some credit to the youth themselves as the ones who do not become statistics are likely tapping into personal traits such as resilience and tenacity. However, the other critical factor in these young people’s lives is the adults who work with them while they are in foster care and right after they leave. If these adults do a good job of helping them build their character and teaching them the knowledge and skills to prepare them for aging out, and/or if they provide reliable services that support the youth after they leave foster care as they try to finish school, find employment, acquire stable housing, and build a support system of adults, then the youth have a much better chance of transitioning to adulthood successfully.
Will it be possible to increase the number of youth who succeed after aging out?
The answer is yes, and Aging Out Institute will help make this happen by leveraging a social change approach with a strange name: “Positive Deviance.” Positive Deviance is based on the observation that, in any community, there are people who face the same problems that everyone in the community faces, yet are able to find the right mix of resources and strategies to solve those problems. Here’s a story to help explain this approach:
In the 1990’s, a gentleman by the name of Jerry Sternin (who worked with Save the Children) made a significant impact on the health of children throughout Vietnam. At the time, childhood malnutrition was common in the poor villages throughout the country. However, Jerry found a handful of mothers who used innovative methods to make sure their children had the nutrition they needed to thrive. These mothers had come up with new ways to find and prepare nutrient rich foods that ensured that their children remained healthy. These innovative parents explained their creative methods to Jerry, who then shared them with many other poor villages in Vietnam. When the mothers in other villages imitated what the innovative mothers did to feed their children, the percentage of malnourished children in Vietnam plummeted.
The basic premise of Positive Deviance is that the most effective answers to complex social problems cannot be left solely to outside experts or the government. Instead, the best solutions will often be uncovered within the communities in which the problems are occurring, solved by individuals “on the ground” who have discovered the right mix of resources and strategies on their own.
How will Aging Out Institute apply this approach?
AOI will find the adults within the foster care community who have developed effective and innovative strategies that are helping foster youth age out of foster care successfully, and then we will share them with everyone else in the community. By making the most effective and innovative strategies known to the rest of the foster care community and encouraging others to adopt them, we are certain that we will positively impact the overall outcomes of these youth.
Below are the three steps that AOI is going to follow to improve the national outcomes for the youth emancipated from foster care:
Step 1: Find Effective and Innovative Strategies
In 2018, AOI is launching a national awards program that is designed to find the effective and innovative strategies and programs that are positively impacting foster youth in the U.S. There will be awards for both caregivers (foster parents and houseparents/staff of group homes) and organizations that are successfully preparing youth to age out of foster care in the four categories listed below. There will also be awards for organizations that are experiencing success supporting
youth after they have aged out:
In addition, we will give out an award that will recognizes strategies that are particularly innovative, as well as an award that will recognize a program that holistically addresses all four categories.
Through an application process, our panel of eight judges who are all experts, researchers, and/or practitioners in the field of foster care will select the caregivers and organizations that have the most effective and creative approaches after reviewing detailed descriptions of each applicant’s strategies.
The award program application asks many questions, including (but not limited to):
- What organizations or agencies do you partner with?
- What specific resources do you need (people, time, money) to run your program?
- What are the requirements for youth to be able to participate in your program?
- What training do you and your staff need to be able to deliver your program?
- What is the process (procedure or steps) for delivering your program?
- What opportunities do the youth have to practice the skills you teach?
- How do you help youth build personal characteristics (e.g., leadership, patience, etc.)?
- How do you measure your program’s success?
As you can imagine, the information provided would be very helpful to other foster care professionals to improve their own programs, or to start new ones.
Step 2: Write up the Award Winning Strategies
After the winners are selected and announced, AOI will hire a freelance writer to review the applications, interview the winners, and then write a paper for each winner that describes their strategies. These will be written in great detail so that child welfare professionals from anywhere in the country can easily replicate or adapt the strategies in their own foster homes, group homes, agencies, or organizations.
Step 3: Share the Award Winning Strategies
Once all the papers are written, they will all be posted on the AOI website and made available to child welfare professionals through a membership model with a low membership fee. (This membership model is the structure that AOI has selected that will fund the awards program and the writing of the strategy papers in future years.) Although our primary focus is to improve the outcomes in the United States, we will not limit access to the strategy papers to only U.S. foster care professionals – anyone from around the world will be able to join AOI and learn from the award winners’ papers and webinars.
Ultimately, we want other foster care professionals to try out the award winning strategies in their own homes, group homes, or organizations. To encourage the application of these strategies, we will also provide a forum for AOI members to describe which strategies they have tried and how they are working. Other members will be able to provide feedback and share ideas so we can continue learning and uncovering the best strategies and improving upon others.
Will this approach really work?
Don’t take our word for it. Here are reflections from three of the 2018 judges:
“I think this is key to what is so wonderful about this whole awards program: information sharing leads to stealing in a good sense, and this theft of “the great idea” will lead to the implementation of effective practices. It will give people the opportunity to test certain ideas and see if they work…that’s how ideas grow and spread.”
-Steve Walsh, Director of the Educational Opportunity Program for Foster Youth at California State University in Bakersfield
“The more knowledge we share with others, the stronger the foster care system becomes. We can get closer to being perfect when we learn from others – it’s a great opportunity. We all know that the foster care system is really in a crisis stage right now. More youth are aging out of the foster care system without support. We can all come together through this opportunity to help these children.”
-Dr. John DeGarmo, Foster parent, founder of the Foster Care Institute, founder of Never Too Late (a home for foster boys in Georgia), and an international speaker on foster care issues
“I think it’s great. We live in a world of transparency. These papers are going to spell out what each group does and what their contributions are to foster care. It’s a great thing to give more insight into their day-to-day operations and what their specific focus is. I see no down side to that.”
-Chris Chmielewski, Former foster youth and Founder/Owner/Editor of Foster Focus Magazine.
Please help us help these youth!
Finding effective and innovative strategies to help youth age out of foster care will be a hollow victory if we are not able to share them with foster care professionals everywhere. For us to be able to write up and share the award winning strategies, we are requesting that everyone who cares about the future of our youth get behind our efforts!
By supporting this campaign, you will be a part of a national effort to improve the outcomes of youth aging out of foster care by improving the strategies being used to prepare them and support them as they strive to emerge from a traumatic childhood to build a healthy adult life of their own.
You can support our campaign by donating at one of the giving levels outlined to the right. If you believe that the existence of a national library of effective and innovative award winning strategies for working with youth aging out of the system has value, please donate today to help us make it a reality. Thank you so much for helping us make a difference!
Use Of Funds
We will put any donations through PayPal toward the full execution of the awards program in 2018, as well as the upgrades necessary to make AOI a membership organization.
Thank you so much for your help!