Preparing Kids for Education, Work and Life

New Report Looks at Youth Aging Out of DSS Care

BOSTON — Young people who have been in the state’s foster and congregate care system are especially vulnerable as they "age-out" of supervision of the state Department of Social Services. Homelessness, incarceration, sexual abuse, unemployment and crippling depression afflict far too many of these young people, who often lack the skills and human networks they need to thrive.

Now, their circumstances and a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve their situation, are presented in a report that is being released during a series of forums around the Commonwealth, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Task Force on Youth Aging Out of DSS Care. The report, titled Preparing Our Kids for Education, Work and Life, is authored by Task Force Director, Della M. Hughes, a Senior Fellow at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and a team of specialists in the field.

"Most youth in DSS care enter adulthood without the supports that most young people can expect to receive from stable families and support networks," said Joan Wallace-Benjamin, President and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers, and a Co-Chair of the Task Force. These young people experience trauma early on in their lives and are often re-traumatized when they leave the state’s care and attempt to live on their own. The Task Force was created to engage public, private and non-profit representatives to ensure youth aging out have the services and supports they need to succeed."

At stake is the long-term well-being of the approximately 6,000 youth over the age of 12 in Massachusetts who are placed in alternative settings such as foster homes, group homes and residential facilities. Many young people remain in DSS custody until age 18, when they traditionally are expected to begin to lead independent lives. Since changes in state policy in 2005, youth over the age of 18 may elect to return to DSS for voluntary services up through age 22. In 2007, the total number of children in DSS placement totaled 10,081, of whom 5,902 were age 12 or older, evenly distributed across the state.

The report also includes data from a Task Force-commissioned study including a summary of the outcomes of DSS youth who turned 18 while in state care. Among the findings of the study are the following:

    • 59% reported feeling "sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row" during the last 12 months, which is an indicator of depression.
    • 54% were unemployed.
    • 43% had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant.
    • 37% reported having been homeless since turning 18
    • 30% reported being threatened or injured with a weapon in the last 12 months.
    • 25% had been arrested within the last 12 months.
    • 8% had been incarcerated within the last 12 months.

Building a system of care and preparation

The report suggests that with careful planning and dedicated resources, a system of support and opportunity can be provided to help make the transition to independence more successful for young people coming out of DSS Care. The recommendations are included in the report, along with the type of action required to put each recommendation into effect—for example some require a change in the state budget, some require changes in administrative policy, and some require changes in statutes. In each case, the necessary agency—Department of Social Services, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the state legislature—is identified

All of the recommendations are built on what are called the "Five Core Resources" for the healthy development of all youth, which are science-based and promoted by the Commonwealth as best practice. These resources are:

    • Ongoing, nurturing relationships with adults and positive relationships with peers;
    • Safe and stable places for living, learning, working, and playing;
    • Values, skills, opportunities and supports that promote optimal physical and mental health;
    • Educational preparation and economic opportunity; and
    • Opportunities to make a difference through community service and civic participation.

The three broad areas of recommendations are:

  • Establish a dedicated and fully resourced transition age youth system of care and preparation that is organized around the five core resources
  • Align foster care practices with the Five Core Resources framework for the healthy development of young people
  • Every youth should transition from DSS care with a secure, permanent relationship with a family or caring adult

"The report seeks to build on Massachusetts’ reputation as a national leader in many aspects of policy and practice related to young people and the process of aging out of DSS care with a thorough and comprehensive review of current practice," said Denise Maguire, Task Force Co-Director and Executive Director of Cambridge Family & Children’s Service. "Its premise is that by building on principles known to increase the chances for positive outcomes, careful planning, provider collaboration, and dedicated resources, a system of care and preparation can be developed to help make the transition to adulthood successful for young people coming out of DSS Care."

The Task Force is a multi-agency effort established in 2002 to develop new strategies for improving the outcomes experienced by youth transitioning from state care. Today’s Understanding Boston forum is one in a series of similar events co-hosted by the Task Force across Massachusetts. The purpose of the forums is to generate legislative, public, private, and government commitment to improving conditions for an underserved youth population in Massachusetts.

 

 

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