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May 2004Vol. 5, No. 4Transitioning Y.O.U.T.H.

If you want to know what needs to change to improve the foster care system, who better to ask than the youth who have lived in and grown up in that system? That is the guiding philosophy behind a curriculum developed through a collaborative effort of the San Francisco State University (SFSU) School of Social Work, the San Francisco Department of Human Resources, and the California Youth Connection (CYC).

The Transitioning Y.O.U.T.H. (Youth Offering Unique Tangible Help) training project is designed to increase the skills of frontline child welfare staff in preparing foster youth for independence. It strengthens trainees' age-appropriate intervention, assessment, and communication skills with young teens as well as older youth ages 16 to 21 by directing the child welfare workers' attention to aiding these youth in making a successful transition to adulthood and helping them to avoid long-term social welfare dependency.

This project is remarkable in the extent of involvement by former and current foster youth. For example:

  • Youth had input into all aspects of proposal writing, significantly informing whole sections of the proposal.
  • CYC youth conducted an extensive statewide needs assessment, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups throughout California with foster youth and child welfare social workers.
  • A team of five current or recently emancipated foster youth was hired to develop the 2-day curriculum and a "Training for Trainers" manual.
  • Each training session is presented entirely by youth trainers. The Project Coordinator also is a foster care alumnus.

The curriculum itself focuses on treating transitioning youth with dignity and respect, and recognizing the importance of youth as the major planners of their own lives. Topics vary from identifying the characteristics of a "super social worker" and then comparing those to the characteristics identified by a sampling of transitioning youth, to examining the needs of parenting youth and of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth in the system. Training techniques include small- and large-group discussion, youth-made videos of their life stories, interactive games, case studies, and firsthand knowledge and input from the youth trainers themselves.

By September 30, 2003, the project had trained 445 child welfare workers in a total of 19 sessions throughout California, as well as presentations at conferences in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Participants show a significant increase in knowledge after taking the training. Although the original Federal grant has expired, the project has been awarded a small grant from the Stuart Foundation to allow the project to continue for at least 1 more year. Staff plan to disseminate the curriculum regionally and nationally to agencies and individuals working with or interested in foster care youth who are transitioning out of care.

For more information, contact:

Jamie Lee Evans, Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project Coordinator
Bay Area Academy/San Francisco State University
2201 Broadway, 1st Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 419-3607

Note: The development of this training curriculum was funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant #90 CT 0066. This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau Discretionary Grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from official Children's Bureau site visits.