connect / 2021

Advocates for Youth in Foster Care on College Campuses

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by CASA of Los Angeles

CASA of Los Angeles, alongside DCFS and local colleges, will match volunteer advocates (CASAs) one-to-one with Non-minor Dependents (NMDs, or youth in foster care age 18-21) currently enrolled or transitioning to enroll at local colleges. In addition to helping NMDs secure benefits and basic needs, CASAs will help them navigate all aspects of college life, i.e. securing financial aid, campus housing, job opportunities, physical/mental health support, tutoring and whatever else they may need to graduate and thrive during this critical time.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

For Non-minor Dependent youth (NMDs, or those who have elected to remain in foster care from ages 18-21) who are enrolled in college, the burden of navigating both Extended Foster Care (AB12) and school can be overwhelming. Young people of color are particularly over-represented in this system and frequently struggle to access and maintain services available to them. According to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, only 3% of LA County youth in foster care graduate from college, even though 70% of youth in care say that they want to pursue a higher education. CASAs have already proven to be a tremendous support to NMDs by helping them navigate the gauntlet of paperwork, meetings, and phone calls needed in order to access AB12 services. We need to expand upon this program with help from community partners to better identify NMD youth enrolled in local colleges who would benefit from the personalized advocacy a CASA volunteer can provide, including support of their academic success.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

CASA/LA plans to recruit, train and support new and active CASAs to assist NMDs in college and post-secondary institutions with whatever the young person may need during this critical time, and help NMDs develop skills to live as independent adults. CASAs will help ensure that once youth are enrolled in college, they have the support systems in place to successfully complete their chosen academic programs. CASAs make sure that these young people are receiving all applicable resources, including financial aid, that they are eligible for. They are also often one of few caring adults that these young people can rely on. CASAs trained to work with these young people will: (1) ensure that foster care exit planning is complete; (2) mentor the young adult through the process of accessing available financial aid and academic support, completing their education, securing housing, transportation, job training/employment; and (3) help these young adults gain confidence and self-sufficiency. To achieve this CASA/LA will: (1) Work with DCFS, LACCD and other colleges, universities and post-secondary institutions to better identify NMD youth on campus who would benefit from this personalized advocacy and collect referrals to our program. (2) Recruit and train 50 new volunteers in the first year to serve minimum two-year terms as advocates for NMDs, and 50 new volunteers in the second year. (3) Serve 120 new non-minor dependents with one-on-one advocacy.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

220
Direct impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

We envision that this program will allow more young people in LA County foster care successfully complete college, reducing overall attrition rates, and provide them with an achievable plan for safely exiting the system. It will also provide these young Angelinos with the confidence and skills to build and maintain relationships, problem solve, and take personal responsibility. LA foster care continues to operate as a pipeline into homelessness, poverty and the prison system and will continue to do so until fundamental changes are made to how we care for our community’s most vulnerable kids. We believe that an LA in which every young person in child welfare has an advocate and the opportunity to thrive is a safer, richer, more successful LA for all. Every day our team works hard to make this LA a reality. We have determined that there are 12,000 youth in foster care in LA who have an immediate need for CASA intervention. This number includes all NMDs receiving AB12 benefits in LA.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

In 2016, we fully implemented our monitoring database by Social Solutions, Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) and developed a framework that allows us to track key data elements, including how many children we serve, how many CASAs are serving youth, the length of our waitlist and how many more CASAs are needed to serve waitlisted youth. ETO also allows us to track case progress and measure outcomes. When a case is assigned, the advocate supervisor and CASA examine the case and rate the status and level of risk of the youth on a baseline scale along the three core dimensions: safety, permanency and wellbeing. We then document the initial assessment related to these dimensions, advocacy goals and plans, the degree to which the plan is then implemented, and how the assessment changes over time. In 2019, we hired a Director of Research & Evaluation, responsible for guiding program evaluation and using this data to measure success and change our programs to better serve children and their families.

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

Our community partners at DCFS, LACCD, local colleges and post-secondary institutions will be instrumental in helping us identify young people on college campuses and post-secondary institutions in need of CASA advocacy. Youth must be formally referred (in writing) to the CASA of Los Angeles program to be matched to a CASA volunteer. CASA/LA works with many community partners to better ascertain and define the growing advocacy needs of the children and youth that we serve. These partners work with us to better serve our youth, identifying and addressing the needs of the individual young people we serve as well as the advocacy priorities of the child welfare community at large. We rely this input from and collaboration with these partners to better inform our work and programs.

Which of the connect metrics will you impact?​

  • Social and emotional support
  • Government responsiveness to residents’ needs
  • Volunteerism

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to LEARN