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Dec/Jan 2005Vol. 5, No. 10Preventing Teen Homelessness: You Gotta Believe!

Homelessness is a reality for many youth who "age out" of foster care without a connection to a permanent family. Yet child welfare and adoption agencies--and even the teens themselves--are sometimes reluctant to see teens as good candidates for adoption. You Gotta Believe! (YGB) is slowly changing that perception in Suffolk County, a suburban county right outside of New York City, by successfully finding permanent homes for teens, including those coming from congregate care facilities.

YGB's Teen Homelessness Prevention Project is a federally funded program to place teenagers ages 12 and older into permanent families before their discharge from foster care. In the first 2½ years of a 4-year grant, the program is achieving what many believed to be impossible. So far, staff have recruited 67 families for adoption classes, certified 23 of those families, and placed 19 teens (10 from congregate care) and 7 of their younger siblings and cousins into permanent homes.

Some keys to their success include:

    • Extensive public awareness activities. The program is featured regularly on television shows, in newspaper and magazine articles, and on the radio. The program even produces its own weekly cable access television and radio forums ("The Adopting Teens & 'Tweens Forum," which can be viewed on the YGB website at Program staff and successful adoptive parents also make frequent community presentations.
  • Dedicated staff. All YGB staff are connected to adoption and/or foster care in a personal way; many have adopted children themselves.
  • Focus on youth. YGB staff spend time to develop good rapport with each youth, look for their best qualities, and focus on bringing youth and adults together for activities that make sense.
  • Organizational factors. YGB is small enough to know each child and family individually. It prides itself on being flexible and thinking "outside the box."
  • Accessibility. YGB staff are personally accessible (including by toll-free cell phone). Their offices are located in the heart of the communities they serve and welcome visitors (the Coney Island office offers fax, copy, and notary services).
  • Effective adoption classes. When adults express interest in adopting, they are referred to a class that starts right away (the same week) in a variety of locations. Classes are reality-based, and teachers are adoptive parents who share their own experiences with passion.
  • Ongoing support. During and after the placement process, new families are supported by "veteran" families with adopted youth. YGB staff are available around the clock for assistance, and postadoption support (including events, support groups, and respite care) is available.
  • Strong relationships with DSS and the courts. YGB staff have spent a lot of time building relationships with DSS caseworkers, resulting in more regular referrals and better access to case records. Because of its reputation for success, YGB is now getting referrals from judges and probation officers.

For more information about YGB and the Teen Homelessness Prevention Project, contact:

Pat O'Brien, Project Director
You Gotta Believe!
1728 Mermaid Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11224
(800) 601-1779 or (718) 372-3003

Note: This program was funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant #90-CO-0961. 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.