Several years ago, recognizing that young people leaving our group home as young adults were struggling to succeed, we took a hard look at how we could change our approach. Until then, we’d operated with the conventional wisdom that older youth could not be reconnected with birth family or connected with new families. This assumption was based on the belief that older youth in care didn’t want a family and, even if they did, there were few people able to fill this role.
For that reason, like many other residential programs, we focused on teaching life skills, like food shopping and cooking, doing laundry and making and following a budget. We helped them open a bank account, get a state ID and apply for jobs. We tried to help them not need family.
But that wasn’t enough. Despite efforts to prepare them for living independently, youth leaving our care struggled on their own. Many faced unemployment, homelessness and/or incarceration. Many became young parents with few resources. Goals for both high school graduation and post-secondary education went unmet. After doing some research, we realized this result was not unique to Plummer.
These youth shared one major experience: they were leaving residential programs without family who would offer them the unconditional support and guidance they needed as young adults. Without such family, they struggled to meet their basic needs and many of them ended up in unsafe and unstable living situations. And they were lonely.
In response, we adopted an Intervention Model that focuses on building family relationships, skills and community connections, with a primary emphasis on family. The family element of our model includes three well-recognized best practices: family search and engagement, youth-guided, family-driven teaming and permanency readiness. We also implemented a new system for collecting and evaluating data. The process the agency went through to become permanency-focused is detailed in “The Plummer Youth Promise: Infusing Permanency in Residential Care”. Click here to read the full article.
Implementing this new model required getting all staff to embrace new ways of working. Extensive training, mentoring and the strategic use of national permanency experts as consultants and coaches were among the resources used to help all staff get up to speed.
Today, approximately 2 of 3 youth leave Plummer’s residential programs with safe, emotionally secure parenting relationships. Our vision statement reflects this new direction: Every young person has a family unconditionally committed to nurture, protect and guide them to successful adulthood.
We are not alone in this work. Other organizations in MA that work with older youth in residential programs are also beginning to emphasize safe, permanent family relationships. Together with The Home for Little Wanderers, The Justice Resource Institute and Youth Villages, Plummer has formed the Massachusetts Permanency Practice Alliance to influence policy and practice throughout the state. In addition, we are collaborating with Walker to provide training and technical assistance to residential programs that contract with the MA Department of Children and Families and/or the MA Department of Mental Health. We are pleased to partner with each of them as we all pursue family and a better future for youth in residential programs.
Photo credit: Susannah Bothe