Culturally Specific Programs for Foster Care Youth: The Sample Case of an African American Rites of Passage Program

Article excerpt

In tandem with increased recognition that many social interventions have been limited by their failure to deal with issues related to ethnicity, program developers are increasingly utilizing culturally specific programming in the design and implementation of programs for youth and families. We describe a culturally specific rites of passage program designed for African American youth in foster care as an adjunct to an independent living program. In addition, we present some preliminary evaluative data of this Africentric rites-based initiative.

THE SAMPLE CASE OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN RITES OF PASSAGE PROGRAM*

Stephen id. Gavazzi, Keith A. Alford, and Patrick C. McKenry" he literature concerning the impact of family system characteristics on adolescent growth and development is burgeoning (cf. Anderson & Sabatelli, 1990; Bartle & Sabatelli, 1989; Brody, Moore, & Glei, 1994; Gavazzi, 1993; Henry, 1994; Sabatelli & Anderson, 1991), as is the literature on the development of prevention and intervention efforts targeting adolescents and their families (Blumenkrantz & Gavazzi, 1993; Dumka, Roosa, Michaels, & Suh, 1995; Gavazzi, 1995; Guerney, Guerney, & Cooney, 1985; L'Abate, 1990; Sporakowski, 1992). However, at the same time, little attention has been directed to the study of adolescents who are experiencing out-of-home placement, including those who are placed within a foster care environment. In particular, inadequate information is available about the impact of foster family characteristics on adolescent adjustment. Concurrently, little emphasis has been given to the development of prevention and intervention initiatives that target youth in foster care placement (Schuerman, Rzepnicki, & Littell, 1994). All youth who are experiencing foster care are placed in a dependency relationship outside their family of origin. Upon removal from their families, certain normative developmental pathways toward self-sufficiency are altered for these youth. In particular, youth who are moving from a dependent custody arrangement to independent living status are faced with a relatively abrupt transition into adulthood. Research suggests that youth who are dealing with this critical life transition are placed at high risk of continued dependency on the community well into their adult lives. This continued dependency is most evident in the use of welfare and Medicaid and/or periods of institutionalization. Also, because of the declining economic opportunities within most metropolitan environments, urban youth are at even greater risk of continued dependency, a situation compounded by ethnic status (Jackson & Westmoreland, 1992). One response to this problem has been to use life skills training programs within the context of traditional independent living programs that have been designed to directly facilitate the youth's movement toward adult self-sufficiency prior to emancipation. Self-sufficiency most often is equated with the youth's ability to accomplish any or all of the following: (a) graduation from high school, (b) maintenance of a stable job, (c) accessing appropriate health care services, (d) avoidance of young parenthood, (e) establishment of a social network, and (f) development and maintenance of a positive self-concept (cf. Daniel Memorial Institute, 1991). National studies of independent living programs (Westat, 1991) have reported significant relationships between the exposure to life skills training programs and the accomplishment of many of these self-sufficiency criteria. However, this report also has noted the lack of programmatic impact on (a) avoidance of early parenthood, (b) obtaining higher levels of educational achievement, and (c) establishment of a social network (Westat, 1991).

It has been hypothesized that life skills programs that do not focus on issues related to the cultural backgrounds of the program participants may achieve limited success. When youth are taken out of their family of origin's homes, often they are removed from their immediate social and/or cultural community as well (Gill & Jackson, 1983; Mullender & Miller, 1985). …