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NC LINKS Christy Thompson Renee Walker, MSW

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1 NC LINKS Christy Thompson Renee Walker, MSW
LINKS Coordinator LINKS/Placement Social Worker New Hanover County DSS Brunswick County DSS (910) (910)

2 What is LINKS?? NC LINKS is an Independent Living program for youth, ages 13-21, who are or were previously in foster care after age 13, that focuses on preparing them for a successful transition to independent living. Teens in foster care face a unique set of challenges in regards to learning independent living skills and being prepared for their transition to adulthood after leaving foster care. NC LINKS works to help these youth overcome these challenges and provide support at this critical transition time. The goal of LINKS and the LINKS Coordinator is to help prepare youth for successful adulthood by providing supports, resources, and guidance both before and after the young person turns 18.

3 Why do we need LINKS services??

4 National Statistics Per most recent AFCARS Report in 2011:
(Adoption & Foster Care Report & Analysis System) # of children in foster care nationwide continues to decrease # of children aging out of foster care continues to increase 61% increase in # of children aging out since 1998 In 2011 – 26,286 youth nationwide aged out Another 1,400 youth aged out while on runaway status In 2011 – there were a total of 5,870 youth in foster care who were in runaway status

5 NC Statistics 515 youth aged out of NC foster care at age 18 in 2011
84% of these youth were age 12 or older at the time they entered foster care 2073 youth were between that aged out of foster care between 10/1/08-9/30/11 Stats from Children’s Bureau Child Welfare Outcomes Report

6 New Hanover County Statistics (as of August 15, 2013)
Current Youth in Foster Care: Ages – 34 total Ages – 26 total CARS agreement – 7 total Aged out Youth in NHC: 14 have aged out so far since October 1, 2012 (expect to have at least 17 age out this year) 15 aged out Oct 2011-Sept 2012 24 aged out Oct 2010 – Sept 2011 Youth Currently Open For LINKS Services (ages 18-21): As of today – 69 – 96 total Does not include the 60 youth who are LINKS eligible and open to CHCUS SW

7 Brunswick County Statistics (as of August 15, 2013)
Current Youth in Foster Care who are LINKS eligible (ages 13-17): July 2013 – 32 June 2013 – 35 May Aged out Youth in Brunswick County: 63 aged out youth as of July 2013 Aged out youth currently participating in LINKS Services (ages 18-21): 7 as of July 2013 15 as of June 2013

8 Outcomes for Youth “Aging Out”
1 in 4 will experience being homeless Half will live in shelters, the other half on the streets Nationally, 32% of aged out youth changed their living situations at least 5 times in a 2 ½ - 4 yr. period. One in four will be incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care Half of those criminal involvements are related to drugs/alcohol 30% of male aged out youth had experienced incarceration by age 19 Difficulty supporting self financially/maintaining employment – of youth aging out of foster care nationally, up to four years after leaving care, less than 49% had secured a job Lack of stable housing Lack of reliable transportation Inadequate education Lack of experience Stats from : “Improving outcomes for youth in foster care” – Casey Family Programs

9 Outcomes for Youth “Aging Out”
Only one-half will graduate from high school; Youth in care are twice as likely as youth in general population to drop out of high school Less than 3 percent receive college degrees At high risk for mental & physical health problems Nearly 1 out of every 3 youth aging out of foster care struggles with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse More likely to become parents at early age Females in foster care 2 ½ times more likely than those not in care to be pregnant by age 19 By age 19, 46% of young women in foster care who have been pregnant, have a subsequent pregnancy, compared to 29% of peers outside of system. Struggle with homelessness; rely on public assistance, in addition to all other negative outcomes facing aged out youth – therefore more likely to lose custody of children than other homeless parents. Perpetuates the cycle of involvement in foster care system. Stats from : “Improving outcomes for youth in foster care” – Casey Family Programs

10 The federal government recognized the need for interventions with our foster youth, particularly our aging out youth. Legislation was enacted to help address these challenges!

11 John Chafee Foster Care Independence Act of 1999
This legislation helps ensure that young people involved in the foster care system get the tools they need to make the most of their lives. They may have opportunities for additional education or training, housing assistance, counseling and other services. In some of it provisions, the Act: Provides for flexible funding for distribution to States through grants for program services for youth. Provides opportunities for States to serve youth who are likely to remain in foster care and those who have aged out of foster care up to 21 years of age. Enables youth to make better choices and accept greater responsibility for their own lives. Enables older youth (18-21) to receive housing assistance if needed. Provides States the option of allowing these young people to remain eligible for Medicaid up to age 21.

12 NC LINKS LINKS is not an acronym.
LINKS is the name of North Carolina’s Independent Living Program. Every county implements LINKS program differently. LINKS is designed to … build a network of relevant services with youth so that they will have ongoing connections with family, friends, mentors, the community, employment, education, financial assistance, skills training, and other resources to facilitate the transition to adulthood. LINKS Program includes both support services and some limited funding. **Funds are NOT an entitlement and not a guarantee!!!!! LINKS Fiscal year is 10/1-9/30. LINKS is a VOLUNTARY Program! Youth can not be court ordered to participate!!!

13 Eligibility REQUIRED RECIPIENTS Youth in foster care age 16 to 18
Young adults voluntarily in care between the ages of 18 and 21 (CARS) Young adults who aged out of foster care at age 18 – mandatory outreach required.  OPTIONAL RECIPIENTS (Varies by County) Youth in foster care ages 13 through 15 Young adults who were in custody as teens but were discharged prior to their 18th birthday (services may be provided until they are 21)  In order for a youth or young adult to receive LINKS services or funding, he or she must be a willing and active participant in the assessment, planning, and service implementation processes.  Youth and young adults who refuse services may later change their minds so long as they are eligible. Youth cannot be court ordered to participate. Who is not eligible: Undocumented or illegal aliens Youth with a reserve of $10,000 or more

14 NC’s Desired Outcomes for Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care
Sufficient income to meet daily needs A safe and stable place to live Sufficient academic and/or vocational training that is in keeping with the youth's goals, interests and abilities Connections to and emotional support from a variety of adults outside of the public child welfare system Avoidance of High Risk Behaviors Postponement of parenthood until emotionally and financially capable of parenting Access to routine mental health, health and dental health care

15 Assessments and the TLP
Assessments must be completed on youth 16+ in custody (Casey Life Skills) Assessments designed to find areas of need and strengths to build on. Assessments are used to develop Transitional Living Plan with the youth Assessments used to identify areas of Independent Living Skills that Social Worker, LINKS Coordinator, Foster Parent, etc. need to be working with youth on. Resources identified, activities determined, etc. TLP developed with youth to create goals and make a plan for them to transition. This is the youth’s plan. Areas covered are supports, educational/vocational goals, where they will live after discharge, etc. Should be attached to court reports.

16 Emancipation Plan Fostering Connections Act of 2008 requires that within 90 days prior to a youth aging out of foster care custody at age 18, the agency shall develop a plan with the youth to discuss his or her plans for emancipation from agency custody. Plan includes specific options regarding how to access housing (including CARS Agreement), health insurance, education, local opportunities for mentoring services and continuing services, sexual health, services and resources to ensure the youth is informed and prepared to make healthy living decisions about their lives. Youth is provided with original document as well as important documents (original birth certificate, SS Card, educational records, etc.)

17 Services Services are individualized but usually include group activities; participation in community activities that promote maturity; one-on-one instruction; volunteer activities; employment; specific life skills training; exposure to educational and vocational resources, etc.

18 Services LINKS Coordinator can provide support & information in areas such as: Resource & referral information; Supportive Services Independent living assessments of need Assistance with looking for employment, completing applications Assistance with applying for college, completing financial aid applications Assistance with resume building, job interviewing skills Monthly LINKS Group at DSS that focus on variety of Independent Living Skills (not all counties offer monthly groups – check with each county) Continued foster care after age 18 (CARS agreement)

Funds for youth between currently in custody or were in custody as a teen. Counties will determine if they can receive funds based on availability and needs. Must be used to meet one or more of the LINKS 7 outcomes. Examples: tutoring, work uniforms, transportation to visit supports, drug/alcohol educational programs, incentives, etc. These are NOT entitlement funds

20 LINKS Housing Funds Youth are eligible if:
Currently between 18 and up to their 21st b-day. Were in DSS custody on 18th b-day – “aged out” Were not incarcerated or in a correctional facility on 18th b-day; were not living in the removal home at time of 18th birthday Up to $1,500 per year for rent, deposits, or housing assistance. No other funds can be used for rent/housing, therefore, if youth did not “age out” they cannot get assistance with this from LINKS. NOT ENTITLEMENT FUNDS! Must be able to show you can maintain your living expenses. This is not ongoing monthly rental assistance.

21 Expanded Foster Care Medicaid
The 2007 legislature approved funding to provide the state match for NC Medicaid coverage for youth who aged out of foster are at age 18, until the month of their 21st birthday, without regard to assets or income, HOWEVER the youth MUST apply for the program and be evaluated for all other Medicaid programs first. Therefore they MUST provided all requested information to determine eligibility. Young adult must reside in NC Young adults ages who aged out of foster care will need to apply for the coverage at the county Department of Social Services where they currently reside.

22 Education/Vocational programs
All begin with the FAFSA ( FAFSA is what gives the Pell Grant Youth adopted from foster care at any point after their 13th birthday will be able to be claim “independent” status. There is specific question on FAFSA that addresses this.

23 Educational Training Vouchers (ETV)
Youth Eligible if: Was in DSS custody on or after 17th b-day and at that time was living in licensed foster care home or with relative, or in other court-approved foster placement or Was adopted from DSS foster care after their 16th birthday, and Is now under age of 21 (not reached 21st b-day) and has been accepted into qualifying postsecondary educational or vocational program. **Can continue to 23rd b-day if already enrolled at 21st. If enrolled in program, must continue to make satisfactory progress toward completion. They submit their grades every semester. Program is run by Foster Care to Success organization Up to $5,000/year for tuition, books, living expenses, etc. **May be eligible for computer. Can be applied to any accredited school. Applications begin July 1 of each year (for attendance that fall)

24 NC REACH Youth are eligible if:
Students who were adopted from North Carolina foster care on or after their 12th birthday or who aged out of foster care at age 18 will be eligible for scholarship assistance to pay the cost of attendance at any branch of the University of North Carolina or any public North Carolina community college.  Students will access this after PELL Grant and ETV are used. NC REACH will provide the balance of the cost of attendance for students. Students participating in the NC REACH program will have case management services available to help the students deal effectively with issues that may be impeding their academic progress. Academic Success Program Care Packages Applications begin July 1 of each year (for attendance that fall)

Strong Able Youth Speaking Out Statewide association of youth aged 14 to 24 who are or have been in the out-of-home care system that is based in NC. This is a youth lead organization. The mission is to work to improve the substitute care system by educating the community, speaking out about needed changes, and providing support to youth who are or have been in substitute care. All youth are eligible and membership is free. They sponsor various events for youth across the State.

26 CARS Agreements Contractual Agreement For Continuing Residential Support Allows for youth to remain in their foster care placement after age 18. Voluntary agreement between DSS and youth that may end at any time. Youth is NOT in DSS legal custody. Conditions of CARS: Youth must be enrolled in full-time academic or vocational program or accepted for the next term Must be making progress in school Must follow rules of placement CARS agreements are county funded with some state reimbursement Director of DSS must approve the CARS Agreement

27 CARS Agreements Each county is able to decide who they want to serve and their criteria; some counties do NOT offer CARS Agreement Generally for youth 18-21st birthday who aged out, but may have been in custody as teen and discharged prior. Youth not required to participate in any other LINKS program to receive this service. Youth is eligible for all LINKS services even if they do not do a CARS agreement Violations/problems addressed as they arise. If youth disrupts their placement, agency does NOT have to find another placement and in all reality would be very difficult to do!!! This is why back up plans are needed!!! Problem: Lack of foster home willing to foster teens, let alone those over age 18!!

28 What can GAL’s do… Realistic expectations for foster youth
Listen to what they want & support their plans – help them think them through and assess each plan For all of the LINKS outcome areas, encourage and allow youth to be independent where they can be!!!

29 What can GAL’s do… Safe & Stable place to live:
Be realistic with the youth about their options for age 18 if they are aging out Know the resources in the community the youth lives Know the LINKS resources that are and are not available for them – many teens have this idea that DSS will “put them in housing once age 18” Begin talking with them EARLY about plans for their life after age 18 Talk to youth about responsibilities and realities related to housing (paying security deposit, paying rent, keeping the apartment clean, etc.)

30 What can GAL’s do… Safe & Stable place to live:
Talk to youth about responsibilities and realities related to housing (paying security deposit, paying rent, keeping the apartment clean, etc.) Begin talking with them EARLY about plans for their life after age 18 The YOUTH makes their plan! How can we make sure it is safe and offer appropriate resources? BACK UP PLAN! BACK UP PLAN! Even if youth is signing a CARS agreement, this is not a “forever” thing! Need to be making contingent plans for youth and many times that means exploring family – family you may not have wanted them to be with!

31 What can GAL’s do… Economic Self Sufficiency:
Can they handle a part time job?? If so, help them look for a job or encourage them in this Encourage youth to volunteer! This teaches many skills and allows youth to also “give back” to the community If youth has access to regular money (allowance, job, etc) talk with them about budgeting Help with the “life lessons” we all learned growing up in our own homes – how much things cost, how to save money, need vs. want, etc.

32 What can GAL’s do… Economic Self Sufficiency:
Coach youth on how to keep a job and discuss employer expectations for things such as arriving on time, appropriate dress, and positive work attitudes. Be knowledgeable of the LINKS resources available to youth Help youth open checking and savings accounts before they leave foster care. Use everyday “teachable moments” to provide lessons about smart shopping, paying bills, and saving for long-term goals.

33 What can GAL’s do… Academic & Vocational Preparation:
Provide support to the youth at school – not just school meetings, maybe attend important things such as concerts, awards, etc. Have realistic goals for the youth regarding their academic future Encourage them to explore interests Begin discussing future plans EARLY!!!!

34 What can GAL’s do… Academic & Vocational Preparation:
Learn about the educational resources available to the youth (LINKS, scholarships, etc) Hold students accountable for their actions/choices – if suspended from school – making them have the consequences associated with that. Talk with youth about their educational goals, how their goals fit with their talents and job interests, possible barriers to achieving their goals, and next steps.

35 Postponing Parenthood:
What can GAL’s do… Postponing Parenthood: Remember “Value of Neutral” Personal values have to be put aside Be realistic with youth and honest about options available to them Help youth identify a person they feel comfortable talking with about these issues, even if it is not you!

36 Access to Needed Health Care:
What can GAL’s do… Access to Needed Health Care: Encourage youth to know their history, medical needs Discuss critical health and mental health issues with youth while in care Encourage older youth to begin taking a role in scheduling their appointments Be aware of resources in community for youth Help youth understand when to seek medical attention and how to find low-cost health and mental health services through community health centers, student health centers, or other resources

37 Avoiding High Risk Behavior:
What can GAL’s do… Avoiding High Risk Behavior: Hold youth accountable Provide education about risks Ask for support or information from Social Worker or LINKS Coordinator Incentives for youth!!!

38 What can GAL’s do… Personal Support Network******
Allow the youth to tell their story – listen to what they say about the people in their life, their relationships, etc. Explore relatives! Sometimes over and over again. Explore how relatives can be involved with youth – just because they can’t be placement option does not mean they can’t be a support or have a connection Support youth in exploring relationships and connections before they leave foster care!!! Majority of foster youth all return to biological family at some time after age 18!!

39 What can GAL’s do… Personal Support Network(cont.)
Be Creative in looking for supports for youth – can be relatives, coaches, church members, neighbors, friends, etc. Encourage youth to participate in activities that will help them form relationships. Encourage the youth’s development of peer support networks through participation in group activities of youth with similar experiences (including foster youth advocacy groups) or similar interests (sports, dance, cooking, business, other).

40 What can GAL’s do… As GAL of a youth preparing to transition, you have several vital roles: Coach—listening, advising, and providing youth with opportunities to learn and practice new skills Advocate—learning about and fighting for the youth’s rights as they relate to education, health and mental health care, court proceedings, and case practices Networker—helping to cultivate connections and supports for the youth

41 What can GAL do… To support transitioning youth, experts in the field of youth development recommend that foster parents & other adults in their lives: Empower youth to make decisions. Youth in foster care often have been left out of critical decisions about their lives. It’s important to let the young person take charge of his or her own future, while you listen, guide, and support. During daily life, provide youth with frequent opportunities to make decisions and to learn from the consequences, positive and negative. Communicate high expectations. All too often, youth in care have heard more about their limitations than about what they can achieve. Send positive messages about future possibilities. Weave forward-looking comments into everyday conversation, for example referring to “when you go on to college…” Recognize success. Celebrate achievements and milestones on the path to adulthood.

42 What can GALs do… Start early. Preparing for adulthood does not occur overnight. Don’t wait until youth are nearing the date they leave foster care. Find ways to introduce important concepts to younger youth. Decrease control and increase youth responsibilities gradually. While allowing youth you are working with to make choices, be clear about boundaries. Involve youth in setting rules and establishing appropriate consequences related to their behavior. As your teen shows readiness, allow him or her to learn and practice adult life skills with your support. From: Helping Youth Transition to Adulthood, Guide for Foster Parents – Children’s Bureau Express, April 2013

43 What can GALs do… Expose youth to experiences and interests that will build self-confidence. Help youth to collect and safely organize important personal documents, many of which may be required for future services, such as a Social Security card, birth certificate, child welfare agency documentation, State-issued ID, etc. From: Helping Youth Transition to Adulthood, Guide for Foster Parents – Children’s Bureau Express, April 2013

44 New Hanover County specific LINKS info…..
LINKS Coordinator does not carry any child custody cases. Maintain caseload of all aged out youth ages as well as provide direct services to LINKS eligible youth currently in foster care. LINKS Coordinator makes mandatory quarterly outreach to all aged out youth from ages and offers services. Independent Living Skills Group offered monthly (first Wednesday of month from 4-5) at DSS. Group is for youth only!

45 New Hanover County specific LINKS info…..
LINKS Coordinator meets with all youth at age 16 to begin assessing IL needs, develop relationship, identify goals, etc. LINKS Coordinator completes TLP for all youth. LINKS Coordinator attends all court hearings for youth prior to custody case closing or turning 18 LINKS Coordinator meets with all LINKS eligible youth and families prior to case closure to advise of continued eligibility for LINKS services.

46 Brunswick County specific LINKS info…..
Two LINKS coordinators that both carry foster care caseloads Male worker has all teenage male foster youth, male young adults on a CARs agreement Female worker has all teenage female foster youth, female young adults on a CARs agreement LINKS coordinators are responsible for the completion of all assessments and plans Responsible for outreach for all youth eligible for LINKS services Serve as a SAYSO adult supporter

47 Are LINKS Services Effective?
Success stories from each county Challenges each county has faced Ways to improve effectiveness Program ideas???

48 Questions????

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