Court Appointed Special Advocates of NJ
Each of 750,000 youths living in the US child welfare system, is at incredible risk. When these children are removed their homes and placed into foster care, they lose more than their parents; they are uprooted from their schools, neighborhoods, faith communities, and siblings; basic needs are unmet, most often their medical and educational needs. "Significant numbers of children in foster care are failing to receive needed health care services." In a sample of 6,000 foster children, 40% had never visited a health care or mental health provider during the year after placement. Children in out-of-home care experience "higher rates of grade retention, lower academic skills as measured by standardized tests, highest absentee and tardy rates and higher dropout rates (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Press Room -- June 2005)." The most exposed subgroup within the foster care population is comprised of the adolescents between the ages of 14 -- 21, known as the "aging out" population or "youths in transition." These youths face particular hardships in that they have been in the system the longest, they are the most challenging to adopt, they are often years behind educationally, and have chronic health needs that are perpetually unaddressed. These youth are often involved with the criminal justice system, are susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and struggle to graduate from high school. And, it is during these last years of their youth that child welfare experts believe we must be especially vigilant.
Each year, roughly 800 youth transition out ("age out") of New Jersey's foster care system, contributing to the 25,000 youth who age out of child welfare systems across the US, annually. At any point in time, New Jersey has about 3,000 teenagers and young adults aged 14-21 who have the state child welfare agency -- the NJ Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) -- involved in their lives. At the age of 21, DYFS involvement ends and these youths are thrust into the expectations and pragmatics of adulthood, which is a challenge for any young adult.
Youth in foster care often lack the vital supports necessary for success in life. Generally, they struggle to complete high school, fail to attend to their health needs, have a hard time finding and maintaining employment, and lack the most basic life skills. It is no wonder that Casey Family Programs reports that 270,000 US prisoners were at one point in foster care.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of New Jersey seeks an AmeriCorps Planning Grant to design a project that will deliver intensive, targeted, and outcomes-driven advocacy services for these extremely vulnerable and at-risk youth. We want to ensure that as these youth have the necessary tools available to them when they leave their foster homes, residential treatment facilities, group homes, shelters, and detention centers, to begin their lives as adults. We want them to understand and be enrolled and engaged with the services to which they are entitled. We want them to have the life skills necessary to manage their most basic needs and more, and also that they have a person -- when everyone else is unavailable -- who will be there for them. We believe that a partnership between CASA and AmeriCorps can help meet the needs of these youth, and give them a better chance at healthy futures.