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Education / 2013

Virtual Mentor Program for Foster and Atrisk Youth

Virtual Mentor Program for Foster and Atrisk Youth

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Foster Care Counts

I would use $100,000 to shape the future of Los Angeles by applying this money to the development and implementation of the Foster Care Counts Virtual Mentor Program that is currently being conceived by Foster Care Counts, a 501c3 corporation whose mission is to improve the lives of foster youth in Los Angeles County. Although I believe that a mentor can help a foster or at-risk youth with any if not all of the challenge areas proposed in LA2050, I propose that Foster Care Counts’ Virtual Mentoring Program will create positive change in the area of education, as educational achievement continues to be one of the major impediments foster youth face in our country today. Although 70% of our nation’s foster youth desire to go to college, only 3% of them are able to graduate with a degree. After fully developing a best-practices virtual mentor program, I propose to use this funding to pilot a mentoring program to assist current and former foster youth to both enter as well as remain in the following postsecondary educational institutions in Los Angeles: UCLA, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Trade Tech Community College, and Cal State Los Angeles. Background There are currently more than 400,000 foster youth in our country today, and approximately 20,000 of them reside in Los Angeles. This is by far the highest number of foster youth living in any city in the United States. Having been removed from the homes of their biological parents due to abuse and neglect, either through the criminal justice system or LA County Social Services, these children become wards of the state. As decisions and resources available to raise them are now dictated by taxpayer votes and dollars, we, as taxpayers, have now become the parents of these children who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves homeless, voiceless, and powerless. Foster children are much more likely to experience the consequences of not only abuse and neglect than the general population, but face serious impediments to the ability to grow and mature to live stable, adaptive lives in rates that are astonishingly higher than their non-foster peers. Upon becoming legal adults, usually at the age of 18, foster youth are no longer protected by the foster care system, and face disproportionate rates of homelessness, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, and physical and mental health problems when compared with their non-foster peers. For example, according to Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Casey Family Programs, and the Hilton Foundation, in 2011 approximately 22% of former foster youth were experiencing homelessness compared with .04% of the general population, 52% of former foster youth were unemployed compared to 9% of the population at large, 33% were living below the poverty level compared with 15% of the greater population, 57% of former foster youth have had at least one mental health diagnosis compared with 26% of the general population, and somewhere between 25-35% of former foster youth have been incarcerated compared with 2.7% of the general population. (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Culhane, Metraux, Byrne, Moreno, & Toros, November 2011; Marian, Lovie, Kirk, & Peter, 2009; Munson & McMillen, 2009; P. J. Pecora et al.; P. J. J. P. S. R. L. H. L. J. O. A. Pecora, 2009; Trout, Hagaman, Casey, Reid, & Epstein; Zima et al., 2000) Moreover, the average number of placements in different foster homes for these youth is 7, and many foster youth experience as many as 12 separate foster placements before they reach age 18. 65% of former foster youth experienced seven or more school changes before 12th grade, less than 60% of foster youth graduate high school, and although 70% of foster youth would like to and/or plan to attend college, approximately only 3% graduate college, as compared to the national average of about 30%. Of the foster youth who do enter college, almost a full 100% are unprepared academically and do not possess the independent living skills necessary to matriculate successfully through college without the support network of a family. There is a tremendous amount of peer-reviewed literature analyzing both the barriers to as well as protective factors that enable foster youth to succeed in their ability to grow up, become educated, and lead constructive lives as adults. In fact, foster youth probably suffer from significant lags in most if not all of the challenge areas included in LA2050, and could benefit from assistance directed toward each one of these arenas. I believe that a mentor would have the flexibility to be able to assist foster youth in many if not most of these challenges, and that if the foster youth population could be significantly assisted, we might see other at-risk populations become included into this model, with the ability to positively impact the statistics in each of the LA2050 challenge areas.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Interviewing Skills Workshops for Foster Teens

Foster Mother’s Day (Gala Celebration for Foster Families)

No Foster Child Left Behind: One Laptop Per Foster Youth

Guardian Scholars College Program support

Educational Scholarship “Friend” - raisers

Interactive Independent Living Skills Training Website collaboration

Clothing & Household Item Recycling Exchange Site

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

I plan to partner with Guardian Scholars organizations at the following Institutions: UCLA, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Trade Tech Community College, Cal State Fullerton. Guardian Scholars is an on-campus support organization to support foster youth in college. I plan to partner with two state licensed clinical psychologists who have prior experience with foster youth, one of whom has done a great deal of consulting for Los Angeles County. I plan to collaborate outcome research with the University of Southern California, with whom I am collaborating on other outcome research related to the foster care system.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

I can perform evidenced-based outcome studies to either show that virtual mentoring provides a statistically significant benefit to foster youth and their ability to complete college, or that the program does not provide the anticipated benefits and future funding should be directed on other types of programming. If outcome studies show statistically significant benefits, these studies can prove to be very valuable in attempting to direct government funding and legislative change by showing how vastly the benefits would outweigh the costs.

The project will be evaluated by comparing an experimental group of foster youth college students who have virtual mentors to a control group of foster youth college students who have similar demographic characteristics who do not have mentors, and, controlling for various extraneous environmental circumstances, determine whether foster youth in college who have mentors exhibit statistically significant higher rates of graduation than foster students in college without virtual mentors.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Virtual mentors can help foster youth enter and complete college, and as indicated in the LA2050 challenge, better education can increase prospects and participation in community life in all areas of the LA2050 challenge, creating better citizens and a better city. A myriad of resources exist to support my assumptions about the potential benefits of providing mentors to youth who lack the support and guidance of a stable family. M.R. Munson et al. found that “older youth exiting foster care value having someone that maintains contact, stays by their side, and is simply there for them” (Munson & McMillen, 2009). Samuels and Pryce found that young adults more often seek instrumental forms of support, such as help with housing, but that their pride may hinder them from asking for emotional support (Griffin et al., 2011; Samuels, 2008). Data from this study revealed that both of these forms of support were perceived by the foster youth as valuable. Leadbeater & Way’s study on young adults reported that they often want another person in their lives that will hold them accountable and set limits (Leadbeater & Way, 2001). Finally, the National Mentoring Partnership (2004) found that an online mentoring program taking place between 2002-2004 “bolstered mentees’ self-esteem, literacy and future orientation.”

Why virtual mentors? There are two main reasons. First, in reading the existing literature about the most established face-to-face mentoring programs, and surveying adult peers about their potential willingness to be a mentor, it seems that one of the main impediments to peoples’ willingness to be a mentor is the expectation that the mentor commit to a regularly-scheduled, minimum amount of time spent with the mentee, not including travel time and having to juggle unexpected conflicts and the vagaries of today’s overcrowded lifestyles.
This seems to be a commitment that may feel overwhelming for the average bright, accomplished, busy individual who could probably REALLY help a youth navigate the complexities of his or her own life if the volunteer had the flexibility to make this commitment fit within his or her own set of obligations. Indeed I myself have always wanted to be a mentor or big sister but have always hesitated when trying to imagine myself fighting traffic to get to East LA by a certain time to meet a vulnerable kid waiting and wondering if I am going to show up and then there is an accident on the freeway and one of my kids’ schools calls to inform me that a kid is sick, etc… The second reason virtual mentoring makes sense is that today’s youth are potentially as or more comfortable with online communication as they are face-to-face communication. Additionally, given that many foster youth have issues of trust and attachment, a virtual relationship may feel safer and less overwhelming than a traditional face-to-face relationship with a stranger who looks like the many other adults who may have already disappointed a mentee.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Of the 70 % of foster youth who wish to attend and complete college, I would consider my program successful if a statistically significantly greater number of youth were able to finish college with the help of a virtual mentor than are able to do so today, if the model of virtual mentoring were extended beyond the foster care system to all at-risk populations, and if there were government incentives available to those willing to be virtual mentors because the benefit to society far outweighed the taxpayer cost of the incentive.

References

Barbell, K., & Freundlich, M. (2001). Foster care today. Washington, DC: Casey Family Programs.

Culhane, D., Metraux, S., Byrne, T., Moreno, M., & Toros, H. (November 2011). Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent or Delinquent Care in Los Angeles County. from http://www.hiltonfoundation.org/

Griffin, G., McEwen, E., Samuels, B. H., Suggs, H., Redd, J. L., & McClelland, G. M. (2011). Infusing Protective Factors for Children in Foster Care. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 34(1), 185-203. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2010.11.014

Leadbeater, B. J. R., & Way, N. (2001). Growing up fast: Transitions to early adulthood of inner-city adolescent mothers. Psychology Press. Marian, S. H., Lovie, J. J., Kirk, O. B., & Peter, J. P. (2009).

Disproportionality in education and employment outcomes of adult foster care alumni. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1150-1159. doi: 10.1016/j.child youth.2009.08.002

Munson, M. R., & McMillen, J. C. (2009). Natural mentoring and psychosocial outcomes among older youth transitioning from foster care. Children and youth services review, 31(1), 104-111.

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., . . . Herrick, M. A. Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 1459-1481. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003

Pecora, P (2009). Mental Health Services for Children Placed in Foster Care: An Overview of Current Challenges. Child Welfare, 88(1), 5.

Samuels, G. M., & Pryce, J. M. (2008). What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”: Survivalist self-reliance as resilience and risk among young adults aging out of foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1198-1210.

Trout, A., L., Hagaman, J., Casey, K., Reid, R., & Epstein, M., H. The academic status of children and youth in out-of-home care: A review of the literature. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 979-994. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2007.11.019

Zima, B. T., Bussing, R., Freeman, S., Xiaowei, Y., Belin, T. R., & Forness, S. R. (2000). Behavior Problems, Academic Skill Delays and School Failure Among School-Aged Children in Foster Care: Their Relationship to Placement Characteristics. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 9(1), 87-103.