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Where are the Aging Out Positive Deviants?

Jerry Sternin

09.14.17 by Lynn Tonini

To explain the concept of Positive Deviance, let me tell you a story. In the 1990’s, a man named Jerry Sternin 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 let’s apply this concept to aging out of foster care.  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, finding and sharing the aging out “positive deviant” strategies around the country is one of the things I hope to accomplish with the AOI National Awards Program.

Through an application process, foster parents and organizations will explain the strategies they use to successfully help youth prepare to age out of foster care, or to help support them after they have aged out while they find their place in the world. After the winners are selected, AOI will write up white papers (or “strategy papers” as we’re calling them) that will give the details of each winner’s strategies so that others who work with foster youth throughout the country can learn from them, and possibly even apply them in their own homes or programs.

Do you know any “positive deviants” who help youth age out of foster care and into independence with effective, innovative strategies? If so, please tell them about the AOI National Awards Program being launched in 2018 – we definitely want them to apply when the application window opens on 01.01.18!


AOI Awards Program Covered by The Chronicle of Social Change
July 12, 2017 by Lynn Tonini

The Chronicle of Social Change published an article about the AOI Awards Program! Read it here:

New Award to Honor Those Who Work with Transition-Age Foster Youth


Introducing the Panel of Judges for the New AOI Awards Program!
July 1, 2017 by Lynn Tonini

This month, AOI is sharing with the world the names of the eight individuals – all experienced researchers and/or practitioners in the field of foster care – who have generously volunteered to be the judges for the 2018 AOI Awards Program, the first ever national awards program dedicated to recognizing successful strategies to help prepare youth for aging out of foster care and support youth after they age out of care. The judges for the 2018 AOI Awards Program are:

  • Chris Chmielewski, Former foster youth and Founder/Owner/Editor of Foster Focus Magazine
  • Dr. John DeGarmo, Consultant, international speaker, foster parent, and founder of The Foster Care Institute and Never Too Late, a home for boys in foster care in Georgia
  • Dr. Amy Dworsky, Research Fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
  • Dr. Johanna Greeson, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice
  • Dr. Judy Havlicek, Associate Professor at the School of Social work at the University of Illinois
  • Susan Punnett, Executive Director of Family & Youth Initiative
  • Tina Raheem, Director of Scholarships and Grants at Foster Care to Success
  • Steve Walsh, Director of the Educational Opportunity Program at California State University, Bakersfield

We are very excited that they have joined the AOI team, but why did they do it? It will take time and energy to review and judge all the applications, and these are all very busy people, so something must have struck them as being important about this awards program.

If you have read the page on the AOI website about the awards program, then you know that the AOI Awards will recognize foster parents and organizations that are implementing strategies that are successfully preparing youth for aging out of foster care or supporting them after they age out. We all know that statistically, foster youth aging out of care face many challenges. Among other difficulties, these youth have (as compared with their peers not in state care) lower high school and college graduation rates, lower employment rates, and more difficulties finding stable housing.

We know that there are foster parents and organizations out there making a difference, minimizing these risks and successfully supporting youth through the transition to adulthood through the services they offer. Besides just publicly applauding these dedicated professionals, we are also going to share the winners’ strategies through papers and webinars so that others in the foster care community can learn from them and apply them in their own homes and organizations. Over the years, the AOI library of award winning strategies will become a significant resource for the foster care community (we think especially for those who are starting new programs and need guidance as to the services and strategies that they want to implement).

So back to the question about why the individuals above have agreed to be judges. Well, here are a couple of quotes from two of them that might shed some light on their motivation:

“I don’t think we fully understand the experience of fostering for older adolescents who developmentally are gaining independence and trying to figure out who they are and who they will become. Recognizing and acknowledging the hard work and commitment of those that do this work is critical to developing understanding of how to do this better than we do.  Foster parents and other organizations have a lot to teach the field. Recognizing their hard work is the first step in this process.”  -Judy Havlicek, Ph.D.

“Today’s youth in foster care face many challenges and difficulties when they age out of the system.  It is important for them to realize that there are, indeed, people who care about them, that there are people who want to help them, and that there are people who are cheering them on to succeed.” -John DeGarmo, Ed.D.

We thank the judges for participating, and we greatly appreciate all the foster parents and organizations that have already expressed an interest in applying for an award. So you are aware, foster parents and organizations may submit applications between January 1, 2018 and February 28, 2018. The judges will review the applications between March 1 and June 30, 2018. Winners will be announced in August, 2018. If you would like to be kept apprised of the development of the awards program and when applications are available online, please go HERE and fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Please share this page and spread the word!

Lynn Tonini
Founder/Owner
Aging Out Institute