CASA for Children of DC serves court-involved youth ages 0-20 years old through the recruitment, training, and volunteering of Court Appointed Special Advocates. As the organization has gained expertise in serving at-risk youth in the District of Columbia, it has identified populations with heightened needs – and has built special programs to ensure specialized services for those youth. One program, in particular, the Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA), was established in 2007 to assist the transition of youth ages 14-20 aging out of foster care and empowering these older youth to be more engaged in their court process.
The Preparing Youth for Adulthood program also emphasizes skill building such as financial literacy, education, employment, and other necessary adult tasks to address throughout this program, and preparing our youth for adulthood responsibilities. In the last 15 years, the PYA program has done an outstanding job responding to the specific needs of DC’s youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. For example, in this last quarter, 85% of our youth are on track for successful case closure. However, this program would not have been possible or nearly as successful without our PYA CASA Volunteers. This past quarter our PYA CASA Volunteers have explored higher education and skill training resources with 100% of our PYA youth, and helped them demonstrate positive communication skills, all creating the foundation for a bright aftercare future. Additionally, our PYA volunteers have shown up time and time again, advocating for and addressing the needs of our eldest youth to their teams and judges. With their help, PYA youth have had access to many resources to make their transition into adulthood as easy as possible.
The youth and teens that CASA for Children of DC serve enter the Child Welfare system for various reasons. Youth in the system are provided with a myriad of resources to help achieve the goals of reunification, guardianship, adoption, or another planned living arrangement (APPLA). However, the resources and teams that help youth automatically stop the day they turn 21 unless they are connected with aftercare support. Unlike other teenagers and young adults who have support in their early twenties from friends and relatives, these resources are not as easily accessible for an individual aging out of or emancipating from the foster care system.
Did you know that an average of 20,000 young adults age out of the foster care system every year? These statistics are extremely eye-opening to many human service organizations and nonprofits as they try to help with the continuation of services. Our PYA program is designed to minimize the burden of adulthood transition and teach foster youth how to make adult decisions before they turn 21. It has been proven that emancipating youth who age out of care at 21 years rather than 18 have better outcomes due to extended support. For example, 58% of foster youth who age out of foster care at 18 years old will graduate high school or receive the equivalent, compared to 76% of youth who age out at 21 years old. Therefore, having resources extended until 21 years of age is key in creating a successful future for a young adult, which is supported by PYA.
PYA CASA volunteers undergo the recruitment and training process like any other volunteer at CASA for Children of DC. However, our PYA CASA volunteers have more extensive training geared towards understanding and advocating for older youth, ages 14 to 20, who are preparing to transition into adulthood. This training is related to the following program goals: education, housing and permanency, financial literacy, employment, and aftercare support. PYA volunteers review each module filled with academic research and evidence-based practice to be knowledgeable when they engage with their youth and guide their transition to adulthood. Along with the training modules provided for our PYA volunteers, CASA DC also provides activity guides pertaining to each goal. For example, the housing and permanency activity guides have ideas on how to look for apartments, how to budget for the potential apartment, places where they can go for cheaper furniture and clothing items, etc. This resource can make it easier for our CASA volunteers to understand what resources are available to youth and which activities our volunteers can do with them to fulfill their individualized goals.
The PYA Program has multiple core goals that have been strategically thought out based on our program areas and will need to be achieved to attain the youth’s most successful transition into the adult world. The goals for our PYA program are to increase the following:
1) the number of youth served
2) access to aftercare support
3) skills for independent living
4) volunteer training
These goals are here as a guide to ensure the PYA program is covering the bases in preparing our youth for adulthood and ensuring a volunteer has the extensive resources and support to do so. Furthermore, the program’s goals are designed to expand our services and advocate for more PYA-eligible court-involved youth in the DC area.
The Preparing Youth for Adulthood program is currently focused on supporting educational outcomes with the youth we serve. Some youth struggle to complete educational requirements while understanding the benefits of completing their high school diploma. Due to this need, the PYA Program Manager has set up specialized quarterly workshops, trainings, and events that CASA volunteers can attend to enhance youth’s skills in this educational area. Understanding that there can be barriers to completing education requirements due to transportation, lack of supportive resources, and competing priorities for the youth, such as employment or parenting; the PYA program tries to minimize those barriers and bring awareness to them with the help of CASA volunteers. This is where CASA volunteers are instrumental in letting the team know what youth needs to succeed and how the team can encourage participation in receiving a high school diploma or GED. Their encouragement is monumental because statistically, only 58% of foster youth will finish high school. CASA volunteers can help students prepare for the SAT, set them up with tutoring, help them receive tutoring services, review the 504 plans with staff, and other activities to ensure academic success. This one-on-one attention to the youth’s needs and figuring out the barriers to success are incredibly vital to the youths' completion of high school, GED, or even college.
In addition to supporting PYA's five core goals, CASA volunteers advocate for youth in court. Every time a hearing occurs, volunteers fill out a court report, giving recommendations (and the reasoning for it) specific to their youth. Since CASA volunteers spend time with their youth and know them personally, the insight they bring to court reports is invaluable. The court reports from CASA volunteers help the court make the best trauma-informed, individualized decisions for each youth involved in the Child Welfare or Juvenile Justice System.
What separates PYA from other programs is that in our court reports, the CASA volunteer can also convey the youth’s wishes allowing them to self-advocate. The volunteer listens to the youth, helps them navigate their wishes, and strategizes how best to relay them to the court. Youth need to understand how to use their voice, and CASA DC volunteers are there to cultivate it. Our PYA CASA volunteers also help prepare youth to speak to the judge in their chambers, alone to self-advocate for their personal needs and wants, which is something older youth can do when they turn 14 years old. The ability to advocate for a youth’s individual needs in court from the lens of the personal one-on-one relationships our volunteers and youth develop sets CASA for Children of DC apart from other child welfare agencies.
PYA CASA volunteers advocate for youth and show up in many forms. The PYA program would like to publicly thank all of our volunteers who have done such amazing work making the transition easier for our youth going into adulthood.
Do you want to be a part of this incredible work? Share your life experience and mentor one of our PYA youth today. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to ask any questions or for more information.
Kathleen Watt, Preparing Youth for Adulthood Intern Assistant