Finding Families Program
The Finding Families project aims to establish lifelong, permanent family connections for teens and young adults who have remained in foster care for years and who are expected to age out of foster care without a permanent family. Youth who are removed from their families during childhood face tough challenges when they leave foster care and go out on their own.
In Multnomah, Washington, and Columbia counties last year 125 youth between 18 and 21 aged out of foster care. Despite considerable optimism when teens leave foster care, former foster children are more likely than others their age to face financial insecurity, housing instability and homelessness, hunger, poor physical and mental health, early pregnancy, and involvement with the justice system.
An important missing ingredient is the family connection. If teens have long-term committed relationships with family members ranging from a monthly home-cooked meal or a weekly phone call to more frequent contact, teens reported that they felt connected. Adoption or guardianship is even more powerful. The Finding Families staff and CASAs will work to build a team of relatives and extended family who will form and sustain lifelong support networks for teens who would otherwise leave foster care and be completely on their own.
Elements of the program include interviewing the teens, reviewing their files, creating a family tree, and making a thorough nationwide search for family members. Staff and CASAs will telephone and email family members to gauge their level of interest and then will invite selected family members to meet their young relative and help them develop a plan for their future support.
Fostering Futures is an 8 hour training curriculum that equips CASA advocates with skills and strategies to engage older CASA youth in goal setting and planning for life after foster care. Using the “Possible Selves” model, Fostering Futures allows CASAs to become partners with youth in setting goals to guide their futures. Research shows that imagining and planning for positive goals is a strong motivator and predictor for achievement.
Trained CASAs work with teens to help them discover their interests and learn the process of planning to meet long-term goals. They discuss what it would take for the teens to reach their future goals, and the CASA enters the teen’s goals into the court record. Then, for the remaining time that the teen is in foster care, the CASAs will use this document as the blueprint to advocate in support of their goals.
Advocacy might include seeking more tutoring in critical subjects, support for extracurricular activities, visits with an adult in the teen’s dream occupation, continuing in their foster home beyond age 18, and finding opportunities for internships or specialized coursework. Staff members conduct the initial training and provide coaching and support for volunteers as they implement strategies outlined in the curriculum.