• Dec 2009/Jan 2010
  • Vol. 10, No. 10

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Promoting Youth Involvement in a System of Care

Transitioning to adulthood is particularly difficult for youth who have had contact with the child welfare system. The Dauphin County, PA, Systems of Care (SOC) initiative, funded by the Children's Bureau's Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration project, has helped Dauphin County Human Services focus on preparing older youth to take control of their own futures by introducing them to services available around the community.  

Helen Spence, SOC Community Outreach Coordinator in Dauphin County, took on the role of bringing the community members into a partnership with Dauphin County Human Services. In 2006, the SOC Faith-Based subcommittee, various school districts, police departments, and other organizations and agencies in Dauphin County came together to provide information and funds for troubled youth, and this collaboration created the 8-week New Beginnings Summer Enrichment Program. The Summer Enrichment Program provides structured activities around academic enrichment, life skills, drug education, sex education, self-esteem building, job readiness training, and conflict resolution. The program began with one site and 60-75 participating youth. By 2009, nine sites across Dauphin County participated, serving over 300 youth.  Additionally, a youth group has formed that meets on a year-round weekly basis to identify their own strengths and discuss relevant issues. Many of the program participants use their experiences to help other youth learn how to sustain themselves and connect with services and supports within their area. "It's a continuum of support for them in their own communities," says Ms. Spence.
 
The Summer Enrichment Program has yielded positive results. Ninety-four percent of youth in the 2008 Summer Enrichment Program reported they stayed out of trouble in their community over the summer, ninety percent indicated they learned things that helped them stay out of trouble while attending the program, and eighty-eight percent reported they learned skills that will help them stay out of trouble in the future.

"The success of involving youth in Dauphin County is dependent on many factors. Programs such as this need committed, consistent adult leaders," remarks Randie Yeager-Marker, Operations Manager and Community Liaison, Dauphin County Human Services. "When youth see the same people coming out on a consistent basis, it becomes more real to them that these adult leaders care," she adds.  

To ensure the continued commitment of the youth, there must be a purpose or issue for them to talk about and solve, emphasizes Andrea Richardson, SOC Project Director. Youth who have an issue to solve that directly affects them will be motivated to stay involved. In addition, Ms. Richardson maintains that "engaging youth and providing them with leadership skills and opportunities will ensure that they will continue to work for community change . . . By doing this you are making changes to their world and their life path."

Fortunately, the Summer Enrichment Program and the important work being done around youth involvement in Dauphin County continue even after the grant funding ended in September 2009. The network of subcommittees formed under the SOC grant developed into a nonprofit organization, New Beginnings Youth & Adult Services (NBYAS). The mission of NBYAS is to provide a synergy of collaborated and integrated services, supports, and resources that will empower youth and adults to be successful in their homes, schools, and communities.  

For more information, contact Helen Spence, System of Care Community Outreach Coordinator (hspence@dauphinc.org), or Andrea Richardson, System of Care Project Director (anr63@pitt.edu).    

Thank you to the following people who provided information for this article: Andrea Richardson, SOC Project Director; Helen Spence, SOC Community Outreach Coordinator; Jennifer Zajac, University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, SOC Local Evaluator; and Randie Yeager-Marker, Operations Manager and Community Liaison, Dauphin County Human Services.

 

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