July 31, 2017

This health system is helping foster kids transition out of foster homes

Daily Briefing

Youths transitioning out of the foster care system face a unique set of challenges, and Memorial Healthcare System for several years had partnered with community organizations to address those challenges—from navigating the complex health care industry to obtaining a driver's license, Julius Karash writes for Hospitals & Health Networks.

Background

In Florida, youths in foster care are considered adults at age 18 and are permitted to live on their own.

To help those individuals complete the transition to adulthood, Memorial Healthcare in 2010 launched Healthy Youth Transitions. The program, funded by a grant from both Memorial Healthcare and the Children's Services Council of Broward County, uses evidence-based prevention and early intervention to help individuals ages 15 to 22 who are aging out of the state's foster care system.

Aurelio Fernandez III, president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare, said while the health system has worked with this population before, it was always "on the medical piece," as part of "a hospital's role." But with the Healthy Youth Transitions program, the health system "took it upon [itself] to say, 'what more can we do?'" Fernandez said.

What the program does

Healthy Youth Transitions has 175 individuals in its program each year. Participants are paired with a life coach—usually a social worker tasked with guiding participantsthrough the various aspects of living outside of a foster home as an adult.

For instance, the life coaches work with program participants to help them:

  • Plan and make healthy meals, shop for groceries, pay attention to food labels, and maintain a house;
  • Apply for a driver's license and purchase a car;
  • Acquire important personal documentation, such as Social Security identification and birth certificates;
  • Find a "medical home" for preventive care and learn how health insurance works;
  • Connect with resources on healthy relationships, such as how to make good decisions about sexual behavior;
  • Move from old environments and neighborhoods to new ones;
  • Continue their education;
  • Budget and manage money; and
  • Write a resume and apply for employment.

Tim Curtin, administrative director of community services for Memorial Healthcare, said the program also offers participants access to other medical resources. "We have four SUVs. Our staff picks the kids up, takes them to the doctor, takes their babies for immunizations—whatever is needed for the youth to continue to aspire and thrive," he said.

A successful program so far

The program has served 831 individuals so far, Karash writes. Over that time, according to the Children's Services Council's Performance Measurement Summary Report, the Healthy Youth Transitions program has produced the following outcomes:

  • 98 percent of program participants had no new legal violations;
  • 98 percent showed proficiency in employability, as well as in job retention skills;
  • 96 percent had no new pregnancies;
  • 89 percent acquired stable housing; and
  • 86 percent made some sort of progress in school or postsecondary educations, graduating or obtaining a GED certificate, or found employment.

Memorial Healthcare advised that if other areas wish to replicate the successful program, they should be backed by a well-established organization with community ties, with reliable, ongoing financial support.

"Whoever adopts this program has to have a mission statement that gives back to the community," Fernandez said. "The youth who are going to be the future of this community—if they start off on the wrong side of the fence, how can they get back? They can't. Why don't we help them get straightened out from the beginning?" (Karash, Hospitals & Health Networks, 7/27).

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