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July 2012Vol. 13, No. 6Preparing Youth for Adulthood

In 2007, roughly 800 Washington, DC, youth transitioning from child welfare planned to exit care with Alternative Planned Permanent Living Arrangements (APPLA). APPLA is a permanency option selected when reunification, adoption, legal guardianship, and relative placements are not possible, leaving the agency responsible for the child until adulthood. The Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA) initiative was designed to help reduce the number of DC youth exiting care with APPLAs and help them achieve safety, permanency, and well-being.

PYA is a collaborative effort among the DC Family Court, DC Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and the DC Child and Family Services Agency and is supported by Court Improvement Program Basic Grant Funds. Youth in the program are assigned a CASA through the Family Court, and the CASA works with a social worker and youth to develop an Individual Transitional Independent Living Plan (ITILP). The ITILP is then filed with the Family Court Magistrate Judge, who holds regular preparation hearings to discuss transition goals, tasks, and timelines. PYA participants must meet with their CASA volunteers at least twice per month and attend all preparation hearings. The Hon. Lloyd Nolan, Magistrate Judge in the DC Superior Court, said youth attendance at hearings isn't an issue. "Kids actually come to court on a regular basis. The kids who participate in PYA have clear ideas about what they want to do, and they communicate those ideas in court. I'm not just hearing from the CASA or the social worker, I'm hearing from the kids themselves, and it makes my decision-making easier."

PYA was established before the passage of the 2008 Fostering Connection to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Fostering Connections requires youth to work with social workers and other representatives to devise a transition plan at least 90 days prior to their exit from care. Nolan and Phillip Lartigue, Senior Manager of Transitioning Youth at CASA DC, said PYA goes above and beyond those requirements. "PYA was ahead of the curve. Fostering Connections requires planning 90 days before exit. We start working with kids as young as 15 and 16 years old to get them planning through age 21. It can take 8, 9, or 12 months to get them truly engaged in planning. Ninety days is great, but starting transition planning 4 years prior to exiting care is more powerful."

Tracie Nelson, Acting Supervisory Independent Living Specialist, Office of Youth Empowerment, Child and Family Services Agency, said PYA is special because it helps youth establish ownership of their future. "It provides them with a team of experts who start to guide the process, point them in the right direction, and eventually help them lead the way to their own future."

To enroll, youth must have an APPLA goal and express interest in participating. After attending a PYA orientation, youth complete a match form. "The match form asks about their goals, hobbies, and interests so I can match them with a CASA volunteer who has those same interests or who can best help youth develop a roadmap to accomplish those goals. That's a golden ticket to becoming part of PYA," said Lartigue.

One barrier to increased enrollment has been docket changes. Nolan is the presiding judge over PYA. If a child is not on his docket, then he or she must petition to be put on Judge Nolan's docket. Nolan said that many children have strong connections with their judges and don't want to transfer, even to be part of PYA. Program staff is looking into alternative processes to help maintain those connections and still allow youth to participate. "We're thinking of maybe allowing them to stay with their judges who will make permanency rulings, but come to me to address PYA matters and get the services they need."

As of September 30, 2010, there were 18 youth enrolled in PYA and 13 had completed the program. Several positive outcomes have been achieved, included the following:

  • In PYA's third year, 10 youth emancipated to safe and stable homes—4 were living with relatives and 6 were living independently.
  • The 13 youth who completed the program identified two to five supportive life-long connections.
  • Eleven of the 13 graduated from high school or obtained their high school equivalency, 7 were enrolled in college, and 2 had completed vocational programs.
  • Nine of the 13 youth were employed by the time they transitioned out of the child welfare system.

Lartigue said the biggest success is the youth engagement. "It's amazing to see their progress. They go from wondering why we're having these meetings to emailing us and asking us to RSVP to their transition planning meeting." Nolan echoed that sentiment: "Once they buy in, once they're engaged in the program, they want to advocate for themselves, and they take on a different role in the courtroom. It's almost as if they don't need the attorney, and they run the meetings."

As for next steps, Stephanie Minor-Harper, Family Court Coordinator for the DC Superior Court, said she hopes PYA helps redefine success in transition. "Often, when you talk about kids who leave care because they've aged out, it's perceived as a failure. The system failed those kids. But youth in PYA are succeeding. They're making huge progress and helping us reshape how we define success."

More information on PYA is available on the National Resource Center for Legal and Judicial Issues website:

More information on CASA DC is available on its website:

Special thanks to Hon. Lloyd Nolan, Magistrate Judge for the DC Superior Court, Phillip Lartigue, Senior Manager of Transitioning Youth at CASA DC, Tracie Nelson, Acting Supervisory Independent Living Specialist, Office of Youth Empowerment, Child and Family Services Agency, and Stephanie Minor-Harper, Family Court Coordinator for the DC Superior Court, CIP, for providing information for this article. Yewande Aderoju, Abuse and Neglect Section Chief in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia is also a member of the PYA Initiative.