Academic journal article Child Welfare

After Care, Then Where? Outcomes of an Independent Living Program

Academic journal article Child Welfare

After Care, Then Where? Outcomes of an Independent Living Program

Article excerpt

Society has made a major capital investment in the out-of-home care system and, to a lesser extent, in preparing youths exiting out-of-home care for selfsufficiency. The field of child and family services has begun to evaluate the effectiveness of independent living skills programs and to measure outcomes that document the extent to which these social investments are cost effective and linked to positive outcomes. This article provides descriptive and evaluative outcome data for all youths discharged to independent living from December 1987 to December 1994 in a New York City-based independent living program operated by Green Chimneys Children's Services.

Preparing young people in out-of-home care for independent living and for successful adulthood has not been one of the child welfare system's primary goals. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272), intended to restructure the nation's out-of-home care system by preventing the unnecessary placement of children and adolescents in care and by moving children toward permanence in a timely manner, neglected to address independent living for adolescents who remain in long-term care.

All young people must amass a tremendous amount of knowledge to function self-sufficiently in society. For the majority of adolescents, learning life skills occurs both formally and informally over a period of years within the family milieu. In contrast, young people growing up in out-of-home care, many without the advantage of a stable home environment, have limited opportunities to learn life skills in the typical way. Nollan and Pecora [1994] noted that in 1992, an estimated 442,000 children were in out-of-home care. Cook [1990, 1991] noted that approximately 40% of this population are adolescents. Many of these young people are not reunited with their families and experience multiple placements, with the number of placements rising with the length of time spent in care [Cook 1988; Maluccio & Fein 1985]. Hornby and Collins [1981] observed that less than 20% of the youths in out-of-home care returned to their biological families and fewer than one in 20 were likely to be adopted. Recent attention to the needs of these young people, who are too old to remain in out-of-home care and yet unable to support themselves and to live independently, has prompted the child welfare system to deal with the necessity of preparing the youths in its care for self-sufficiency [Mech 1988a]. Ironically, for most youths in out-of-home care, their long years of "being in care" does not guarantee that they can care for themselves at discharge [Mallon 1992].

This article offers descriptive and evaluative outcome data for youths discharged to self from a New York City-based independent living program operated by Green Chimneys Children's Services. This exploratory study was conducted for two purposes: first, to generate aggregate program data and client outcome data to monitor the effectiveness of the program, and second, to respond to the concerns of the agency's board of directors, who customarily asked about independent living outcomes as they pertained to the self-sufficiency of the client population after discharge. To answer the question, "What happens to youths in out-of-home care who are discharged from the Green Chimneys Life Skills Program?," the investigator assessed the overall results of the independent living program's efforts and evaluated the effect of the program upon the youths served.

The literature in the early 1980s [Euster et al.1984; Festinger 1983; Jones & Moses 1984; Mauzerall 1983; Zimmerman 1982] strongly suggested that child welfare practitioners and policymakers should examine and respond to the fact that many young people exiting out-of-home care were insufficiently prepared for living independently. Educational and employment deficits of these youths were concerns consistently cited for policymakers. Mech [1995: 3-4] provides an excellent review of the major issues, programs, and directions for research with respect to preparing youths in out-of-home care for independence. …

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