Researchers at the School of Social Work are part of a new consortium that received a five-year, $20 million grant to help develop a national center to engage and empower foster youth ages 12 to 20. The goal is to give the youth an active role when decisions are made about their care, including reuniting them with their birth families or placing them in other legally recognized and permanent arrangements. The $2.6 million award to the School will be used to measure the impact of the national effort.
Called the Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY), the center will evaluate and implement youth-engagement models at six to eight pilot sites before national implementation. The center will also develop trainings, tools and other strategies focused on foster youth as well as those who work in the child welfare arena, such as caregivers, social work professionals and court personnel.
School Associate Professor Angelique Day will serve as lead evaluator for the multi-year project, working in partnership with two colleagues: William Vesneski, associate teaching professor, who will provide expertise on training court personnel, and Margaret Kuklinski, director of the School’s Social Development Research Group, who will provide the cost analysis.
“The grant will support systems reform as a way to change the mindset of the child welfare workforce and the courts,” said Day. “We want youth to be seen as competent and knowledgeable parties who deserve to have input and decision-making power about their own lives.”
The grant was awarded by the federally funded Administration for Children & Families’ Children’s Bureau. In addition to the School of Social Work, the consortium partners are: Spaulding for Children, North American Council on Adoptable Children, New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors, and University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
The initial pilot sites might include states, counties, tribal nations or territories. Working in partnership with the sites, researchers will evaluate and implement engagement models that are authentic and resonate with youth. The project also includes a workforce training and coaching model focused on the skills necessary to engage with youth in ways that are realistic and genuine.
“Our goal is to have a more youth-friendly process, particularly for older youth who know what permanency arrangements might work best for them,” said Day. “We also hope to prepare the child welfare workforce to better support youth through education, job prospects and other assistance.”