Fostering Futures Initiative

After numerous years housed at San Diego Grantmakers, the Fostering Futures Initiative transitioned to be a self-sustained and -organized collaborative group. Below is a brief history of their dynamic formation, accomplishments, and continuing plans as of late 2018.

                                                             

Since the Fostering Futures Initiative (FFI) launched in 2014 as a cross-sector collaboration focused on supporting the needs of transitioning foster youth related to implementation of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, its accomplishments testify to the need that existed and the community support for its goals. In that time, FFI has been generously supported by grants from The California Wellness Foundation, Esther Fischer, LJ Galinson Advised Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Parker Foundation, and the S. Bernstein Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation. Equally important, members of the Leadership Team have contributed countless hours and invaluable expertise.

Accomplishments 2014-2018 

While we understood the challenges generally faced by foster youth and youth ages 18-21, FFI recognized the value of seeking direct input from youth in extended foster care to inform our assessment of the needs and opportunities in the San Diego Community.  

Early indicators: An early success for FFI was serving as the initial catalyst for the creation and passage of 2014's Senate Bill 1252 which allows counties to extend housing to foster youth up to age 25 for up to three years if they are pursuing a college degree. Enthusiastic collaboration by the University of San Diego and the response of legislators gave an early indication of interest in supporting EFC youth.  

Youth survey: In 2015, working with the Children’s Initiative and County of San Diego social workers, FFI received 340 completed surveys out of a total 425 eligible. We learned the demographics of our EFC population, how they were accessing and using the resources available to them, and what challenges were most acute. Many youth, it turns out, were not accessing available financial aid and training for school, employment, and food security; but wanted more information. Full results can be found online

Mapping exercise: To begin formulating a strategic plan, in October 2015, FFI convened more than 80 stakeholders, including social workers, other government agencies and nonprofits serving EFC youth, current and former foster youth, and funders. During a day-long session facilitated by HG Consulting, we mapped the myriad services that exist; explored how they were and were not connected and accessed; identified the best opportunities; and honed the list to top priorities. A cross-sector plan to support San Diego’s transitioning foster youth was developed, resulting in four focus areas: 

  • Build communications for a connected system: Quarterly stakeholder gatherings.

  • Navigator team as a resource for TFY-serving professionals: A new position at the County 

  • Action teams innovating in direct services: Focusing on transportation, stable housing, and earlier and coordinated assessment and transition planning 

  • Youth survey: Continued monitoring of data needs, working with the CalYouth study from Chapin Hall to understand if further local research is warranted 

With this youth, practitioner, and national research informed plan in place, the Fostering Futures Initiative turned to implementing system changes in our community. 

Navigator: In 2016, the County of San Diego created and fully funded a new EFC Navigator position. The FFI Leadership Team heard from youth and service providers that they struggled to find accurate, timely information about all of the resources available. Through discussions with the County, FFI helped launch the EFC Navigator team to ensure all government and nonprofit staff who serve EFC youth have this access. We were thrilled to welcome Veronica Gomez to her new role and to the Leadership Team in February 2016. Veronica provides support to her colleagues, as well as direct advising to EFC youth. The County and FFI will continue to assess the needs and how best to meet them, and whether adding additional staff or interns to the Navigator Team is warranted and feasible. 

Quarterly briefings: One of the outcomes of the mapping exercise was strong enthusiasm for continuing to provide space and time for people serving EFC youth to connect and learn together. Formal and informal opportunities to build relationships with and awareness about all the efforts in San Diego was uniquely valuable. FFI, in collaboration with the County, committed to hosting quarterly briefings. Since launching these briefings in 2017, we hosted Children Now (advocacy); California Department of Social Services (“state of the State”); ChapinHall (CalYouth study); and John Burton Advocates for Youth (postsecondary education). Fifty people routinely attend for updates on regional, state, and national issues that gives context to their work, as well as the opportunity to connect with their peers. 

Today we communicate for a connected system & innovate in direct services. 

Leadership Team members convened around targeted direct services improvements and invited others in the field to join them in conversation about what specific actionable steps could be taken to increase housing stability; improve transportation options; and achieve earlier and better-coordinated assessment processes. In some cases, these groups initiated new discussions and in others, they connected with existing efforts.  

Stable Housing 

San Diego County lacks sufficient affordable housing and foster youth face significant challenges.  San Diego Youth Services coordinates a countywide “Ending Youth Homelessness” group that was recently successful in securing $7.9 million from US Housing & Urban Development (HUD) for a regional youth housing effort. FFI will continue to participate and inform the process to ensure the needs of transitioning foster youth are represented. 

Transportation: It is widely acknowledged that lack of reliable, affordable transportation impedes youth’s ability to access and maintain education, employment, and quality of life. This team explored free or reduced-price bus/trolley passes for all EFC youth; ultimately the passes could not be secured for free and funding was not identified via County budget. Philanthropic funding could be a short-term fix, but a sustainable solution is still under discussion. 

Earlier and better coordinated assessment: Many programs strive to support positive outcomes for transitioning foster youth, but limited and sporadic communication and coordination of data challenges the community’s ability to measure success and identify and fill gaps. In addition, earlier intervention would help youth maintain focus and alerts mentors and families to gaps and special needs at a stage where help and changes can be made effectively. The County of San Diego, Center for Children, and others are piloting a new streamlined process that simplifies the youth experience and permits better data analysis and case management. 

Governance: Since its inception, Fostering Futures Initiative has drawn strength from oversight and active contribution of an expert leadership team of nonprofit, government, and philanthropic members who share a dedication to ensure the Extended Foster Care system is robust, well-supported, and produces exceptional results for our youth. This group benefited from a direct tie to the Transition Age Youth Funders and expert facilitation by San Diego Grantmakers staff, as well as early incubation at the Jewish Community Foundation. As FFI transitions from a research and planning orientation to a focus on community-building and service improvement, its administrative infrastructure has evolved. FFI thanks all partners for their roles in FFI’s first years and looks forward to continued positive outcomes ahead.  

Looking ahead 

After four years of collective effort, our leadership team is as active as ever. Relationships developed through a focus on outcomes have created a more cohesive community supporting our extended foster care youth. The team will continue to meet, assess services and outcomes, and develop shared solutions to challenges as they arise. In the coming year, Promises2Kids will lead quarterly stakeholder briefings and the collective group will examine the potential for a new research project in 2019. With more than one thousand youth enrolled in EFC at any given time, our collective attention on their well-being remains critical. Your support has built and maintains a stronger, more connected system that strives to create an environment in which these young people can attain the quality of life that they deserve and to contribute to our community the way they and we know they will. Thank you. 

Leadership Team (2018)

Jorge Cabrera, Casey Family Programs 

Jeanette Day, Public Defender, Juvenile Division

Rashida Elimu, Promises2Kids  

Barry Fox, Community Volunteer

Veronica Gomez, County-EFC   

Roderick S. Hall, A Home Within 

Bernita Lacy, County-Probation  

Michelle Lustig, County Office of Education 

Leslye Lyons, FFI founder 

Stephen Moore, Voices for Children 

Tatiana Rajsbaum, County-EFC  

Cecily Thorton-Stearns, County-Behavioral Health 

Don Wells, Just in Time for Foster Youth 

Steven Wells, County-EFC

 

 

Thanks to past leadership team members: Trish Benesh, Sharyn Goodson, Sharon Lawrence, Tonya Torosian, Aimee Zeitz. And deep gratitude to Leslye Lyons who convened the first conversations that created this initiative and provided consistent, passionate ongoing leadership.

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