Sunday, March 23, 2008

In My Shoes

In My Shoes is a non-profit, peer-mentoring organization in Tuscon, Arizona that matches adults who have previously been in foster care with teenagers who are currently in the foster care system.

This program was established in July 2003. It represents collaboration between Tuscon foster care alumni, juvenile court, caseworkers, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Aviva Children Services and Casey.

The primary focus is on one-on-one matches between foster care youth and alumni:

- Mentees are young people currently in the foster care system, either in a group home or foster home. They must be between the ages of 16 - 17 years old.

- Mentors must be former foster children with a positive outlook on their experience. They must be at least 18 years old and have successfully demonstrated life skills for at least six months.

The match is a two-year commitment, facilitated by bi-monthly trainings and quarterly outings. The bi-monthly trainings are coordinated by Aviva Children Services.

In My Shoes
staff members spend 20-40 hours each month working with mentors and mentees.They provide technical support on their website, in a format similar to FaceBook. For the quarterly trainings, they facilitate:

- Recreational activities such as baseball games and miniature golf
- Holiday activities such as Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas Angel with white elephant gifts

Since the number of youth outnumber alumni mentors, In My Shoes supports 'waiting mentees' and youth development through youth advisory boards, clubs, socials, informal get-togethers and trainings.

In My Shoes receives grants through the Department of Behavioral Health. They contract through the Division of Economic Services. Mentoring is a billable expense through Behavioral Health, and they generally have more funding than the state.

In My Shoes maintains community partnerships in order to receive affordable bids for advertising.

Matching Process
- Youth are referred by their caseworker, which means that, at first, most of what is known about the young person is just paperwork. Youth are empowered to look over what their caseworker has written and add to it.

- Mentors come to the office in order to fill out their paperwork. This method has proven to work better in terms of ensuring follow-up on the mentor's part. The next steps are a phone interview and a screening interview.

During the first match meeting, the mentor and mentee look over their mentoring contract and decide if any changes need to be made. They have one goal per month, and the first goal is to get to know each other.

Mentors are encouraged to attend their mentee's S.A.R. (Staff Annual Review) in order to discover additional ways to support their growth and progress.

Later on in the relationship, they will have opportunities to revise the mentoring contract in response to youth needs. For example, if a young person gets involved in school activities.

In My Shoes administers 'satisfaction surveys' to everyone involved in the program.

Because this program was established by Christa Drake, an alumna of foster care, it is focused on basing the measurement of success on what youth want, and not other people's definitions.

Christa's concerns about measuring other outcomes are that:

- Not every foster care alumni has mastered school, home life, etc.
- Alumni of foster care offer a unique perspective and should be valued for that
- Other organizations are paid to provide Independent Living Classes
- She doesn't want to alienate her partners by competing with them

As a former foster child myself, I respect and understand Christa's concerns. However, I believe that this model could and should be replicated across the nation. And without concrete outcome measurements, that is less likely to happen.

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