This blog post was written by Joan Riebel, LICSW, Executive Director of Family Alternatives in Minnesota. Family Alternatives is a licensed foster care and adoption agency.
Andrea Brubaker's blog post on San Pasqual Academy caused me to share our experiences as well. For any child, being removed from her family is a traumatic experience, regardless of how well that family did or did not care for her. Family Alternatives has begun to address how kids "make sense of the situation" by providing programming and by developing new protocols around our social work practices. In the fall of 2009 we implemented Creating Ongoing Relationships Effectively (CORE), which has helped us address the socio-emotional needs of older youth in foster care who are nearing transition into adulthood. Evaluated by Chapin Hall, University of Chicago, it was found to have statistically significant impact on several key outcomes regarding supportive relationships.
CORE employs a holistic approach to developing and enhancing trusting and supportive relationships between youth and adults that will be lasting, particularly through their transitional years. With CORE we have learned what it takes to turn around the system's failure to help young people in care develop caring relationships with each other, sharing experiences and offering supports. The components of our CORE programming are designed to enhance youth decision-making and relationship building skills. We have found that these experiences, which are both fun filled and therapy based, empower these emerging adults to feel capable and competent in taking charge of their own lives.
Since CORE's inception, over 88% of our youth in care have maintained their placement and nearly 93% of our eligible youth have graduated from high school--dramatically higher than both local and national averages. Over 85% of those graduates have been accepted into post high school educational experiences, many in four year colleges. Again, this is significantly higher than both local and national averages. These youth have all identified adult mentors who will support them and guide them as they transition to adult living. Most of them maintain their connection with their foster family.
We do this by ensuring that we have foster families who are well trained and are committed to helping youth cope with their grief, loss and trauma. We do this by developing our staff, and by continuing to offer them opportunities to learn new ways to help young people be successful. We do this by offering CORE programming: programming that emphasizes youth empowerment, giving young people more control over the decisions that affect their lives, and acknowledging, often for the first time in their experience, that this is their life and we are there to support them. These opportunities enable youth learn about decision-making and to build lasting and healthy relationships with people who can, and want to, be there for them for a reason, a season or a lifetime.