For years, experts recognized that older youth in care were not thriving and that young men and women who turned 18 and "aged out" faced dismal outcomes.
When we looked at our own cases, we saw older kids experiencing more frequent placement changes, often to more and more restrictive settings, further and further from home. They were not doing well in school and certainly were not developing the soft and hard skills they needed to step over the threshold into young adulthood.
In January 2017, Piedmont CASA launched Bridges to Success. Today, three qualified adult mentors provide 1:1 guidance and support to foster kids ages 13 to 18, and continue to work with young adults who stay on our caseload up to age 21.
We set four goals: improve placement stability, improve academic performance, improve soft and hard skills needed for employment and - this is the game-changer - engage the youth in the life-planning process. We wanted our kids to see a world out there and a place for them in it.
Shifting to virtual
In FY20, our Bridges Coaches served 44 youth and young adults ages 13 to 21. During the first half of the year, they traveled 26,616 miles to spend in-person time with their kids. On March 18, the Coaches transitioned to remote methods of staying in touch. That works reasonably well for youth who have the structure afforded by foster care - but our young adults who live out in the community are more vulnerable. Isolation makes it difficult for some of them to meet their basic needs. Coaches drive them to grocery stores and food banks, even to emergency medical care. Others simply need the calming presence of a trusted adult.
The good news
Bridges youth have plenty of good news to report. Ten have graduated from high school. Two earned their GEDs. Ten enrolled in college credit courses. Two participated in vocational programs and two earned professional certification. Prior to COVID-19, twenty young people had jobs or internships and twenty-seven were involved in extracurricular activities. Our first Bridges young adult is about to turn 21. He has experienced foster care more than once. Since turning 18, ‘D’ has earned his GED and a CNA certificate. He has been employed continuously, lives in his own apartment, and is preparing to buy a car with the money he has saved. ‘D’ asks for help when he needs it and has learned to advocate for himself. His Coach is justifiably proud of ‘D’s independence and remarkable resilience.
The pandemic is particularly hard on older youth in care
The pandemic is making it much more difficult for older youth in care to transition into adult lives that are safe and productive.
DMV – the DMV still has a backlog for those in need of a State ID or driver’s license. This really holds back our rural teens who don’t have many other ways to get around. It is difficult for them to get a job without an ID, and they cannot typically take a GED test without it.
Transportation – The lack of public transportation options limits the range of job options available to our youth, and makes it harder for them to take care of other needs such as grocery shopping.
Jobs – Many of our teens were laid off and several were not hired back. Available jobs are often frontline positions like grocery clerks. One of our younger teens started to volunteer, then had to quarantine.
Daycare – There was already a lack of daycare, especially in rural areas. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem. A single mother cannot work if she doesn’t have someone to watch her child.
Education – Several of our teens are having a difficult time finding access to stable internet as well as a peaceful place to study. Mental health situations have worsened, which interferes with their ability to sleep and maintain a proper mindset to study. Students with different immigration statuses face additional barriers because they are required to show extra paperwork to prove residency and they are not eligible for federal support.
Immigration processes – Timelines which were already long and complicated have been bumped back even more. Consulates, which offer IDs from home countries for youth who cannot get a U.S. ID, have been shut down due to COVID.
Medical care – For those who cannot be on Medicaid due to immigration status, getting health care is a stressful financial burden. Getting into UVA’s Financial Assistance program is complicated and time-consuming under normal circumstances. For any number of bureaucratic reasons, our youth have difficulties providing the necessary paperwork.
Isolation – Youth in residential centers have felt this the most. A lot of centers were not allowing any visitors until recently.
A conversation with coaches and youth in the Bridges program
An inside look at how Bridges Coaches and their youth work together to build a better tomorrow for themselves, their families, and their community.