Sunday, March 23, 2008

How ASTI evolved into the Transitioning Teens program

The Transitioning Teens Program is a collaborative effort among the Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, California CASA and local independent living programs to promote the development of hands-on life skills development through positive mentor-like relationships.

It was established in 2003, as a way of building upon the pre-existing Advocates for Successful Transition for Independence program, which had been conducted in two phases over the past two years. The ASTI program focused on pairing emancipating youth between the ages of 16 - 18 with an advocate to help prepare them for adulthood.

The dependency court refers youth to the program. The young people can be anywhere from birth to 18 years old. Unfortunately, since the number of youth in dependency court outnumber the number of volunteers, there are never enough mentors to match every child.

The mentors in this program are advocates. Their screening process is in accordance with CASA requirements. They have their first interview, and then attend a 30-hour training where they learn more about child development and the characteristics of youth at each age level.

During their second interview, the supervisor pulls 3-5 files, based upon the age range that the advocate is most comfortable with, and the advocate picks the child.

In the Transitioning Teens Program, the advocate works one-on-one with a teenager to help them develop critical life skills. The volunteer makes sure that the teenager's health, education, employment and housing issues are fully addressed, and writes notes to the court focusing on a youth's unique needs.

Group activities include sexual education, violence prevention, gang awareness, cooking courses and recreational activities like bowling. Particular attention is paid to the development of life skills, employment and housing.

Karen Scussel and her colleagues are in the process of developing a curriculum for teens, and will be happy to share it with others once it has been developed.

Financial Sustainability
An initial grant was used to 'kick start' the program, and to establish a network of connections. It is maintained through generous donations from foundations, corporations and individual donors.

1.) After twelve months of participation in ASTI, foster care youth exhibited improved social skills, a higher level of trust in adults, and self-esteem enhancement.

2.) Teens who participate in the Transitioning Teen Program are asked about their experience during their exit interview by their social workers. Advocates try to maintain lifelong supportive relationships with youth if possible,

3.) According to a November 2003 survey of 311 Advocates, 95% reported that they found their experience to be satisfying, and 94% felt that they had made a positive difference in a child's life.

4.) Youth testimonials: “My Advocate helped me get into a transitional house for female youth who have been emancipated... She’s also helping me get a driver’s license and a bank account. She is like family, like an auntie... I really recommend that you find an Advocate if you’re a youth about to come out of foster care.”

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