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March 2019Vol. 20, No. 2Engaging Youth in Strategies to Reduce Homelessness Among Child Welfare-Involved Youth

The Children's Bureau is funding the multiphase Youth At-Risk of Homelessness (YARH) grant program to build the evidence base for what works to prevent homelessness among youth and young adults who have been in foster care. YARH is focused on the needs of three populations: (1) adolescents entering foster care between the ages of 14 and 17, (2) young adults aging out of foster care, and (3) homeless youth 21 or younger who have been involved with foster care.

A recent brief, which was produced by Mathematica Policy Research for the Children's Bureau and the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families, looks at the first and second phases of the YARH program. The first phase funded a 2-year planning grant for 18 organizations between 2013 and 2015, during which grantees analyzed data to understand the local population and developed a comprehensive service model to improve outcomes in housing, education, job training, social well-being, and permanent connections. The second phase, a 3-year implementation grant awarded to six organizations, took place from 2015 to 2018, with grantees testing and refining the service model. (The brief looks at the work conducted through 2017.) If funded, a third phase would involve evaluations about how to support youth with child welfare involvement and prevent their homelessness.

Grantees engaged youth in developing service models by having them weigh in on risk factors (e.g., the number of foster care placements, substance use, teen pregnancy) and service needs (e.g., housing, permanent connections, life skills) and by including them in the decision-making process. Youth were engaged to ensure any proposed solutions reflect their experiences with the child welfare system and result in greater service enrollment and quality. Grantees collected data from youth through surveys, focus groups, and community events.

The brief profiles three grantees with particularly innovative strategies for engaging youth in service planning. One of these is Colorado's "shark tank" approach to having youth weigh in on proposed solutions to service needs (premised on the popular television show where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to investors). In this activity, youth identified their top priorities as safe and stable housing and access to long-term mentoring. Another grantee, United Way of King County (UWKC) in Washington state, learned that youth are most likely to engage in services when recommended by peers and is proposing that youth with child welfare experience be recruited and trained as peer navigators. UWKC developed a risk model for predicting youth homelessness. The Westchester County, NY, Department of Social Services also learned that youth peer navigators can make a big difference in helping youth advocate for the services they need. Their work led to the formation of Bravehearts M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience), a local chapter of Youth M.O.V.E. National, a youth-led advocacy organization. The Bravehearts group developed an independent mission of empowering youth with child welfare experiences to become active leaders of their own lives and in their community.

The brief, Youth Engagement in Child Welfare Service Planning, is available at (499 KB).