May is National Foster Care Month, a campaign to highlight the needs and increase the well-being of youth in the foster care system. This month, we’ll share a series of blog posts that explore the issue in depth.
Have you ever needed to borrow $50? Or run into car trouble and needed to call in a favor from a friend or family member? Most of us are lucky enough to know exactly who we would call in a situation like this. Many youth in the child welfare system, however, come up empty when asked the same question.
Across the United States, child welfare systems intend to benefit children by removing them from environments of abuse and neglect. However, the reality of how each system operates can create unintended consequences when children are separated from siblings and/or moved in and out of group homes or foster homes multiple times. The instability and sense of disconnection that comes from those circumstances have significant impacts on their ability to perform well in school, develop strong relationships, and successfully transition to adulthood.
Research from Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child has shown that meaningful relationships with supportive individuals can help youth build resilience in the face of trauma. As a part of a global movement committed to youth development and helping all youth find their potential, the YMCA of San Diego County supports foster youth with a variety of programs that bring stability to the chaotic and unpredictable reality they’ve experienced.
One of those programs, host housing, is a particular point of pride for YMCA Youth & Family Services. The host housing model provides therapeutic support and stipends that allow a foster youth, aged 18-21, to continue living with and strengthening bonds with a caring, supportive adult. Through this innovative approach to transitional housing, youth experience stability, live in an environment that mirrors an intact family, increase their well-being, and avoid the possibility of housing disruptions or a homeless experience. Host housing affords foster youth a critical “grace period” in which they can slowly increase their independent living skills in a supportive environment, as many of their non-systems-involved peers are fortunate enough to experience. In fact, the latest evidence reveals that young Americans, ages 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation. (1)
Youth in the program receive guidance to increase their independent living skills and emotional support to increase their well-being and support goal attainment. They also build their economic stability with a $500 monthly stipend to pay for necessities that meet basic needs along with savings accrued at exit.
Host families have access to highly trained staff 24/7 to respond to any needs, especially in times of crisis, along with monthly check-ins, and training in working with youth to make sure the housing arrangement is sustainable. They also receive a $500 monthly stipend to offset some of the costs of a youth in the home.
The first host housing placement has already proven successful. Iris* was able to continue living with her foster mom after she turned 18, and her housing case manager worked closely with the whole family to resolve the typical family conflicts that arise among parents/caregivers and youth when they are in the process of becoming adults. Iris has since moved into her own living arrangement and is able to move through her life knowing that she can maintain the internal skills and external support that led to her independence.
Iris looks back on her experience and the relationship she formed with her case manager fondly “I love that my housing worker not only cared about supporting me when it was time to transition to living on my own, but she also cared about my well-being. Even though I’m not in this program anymore, she will always be my favorite person that has worked with me."