2019 Strategic Grant
Legal-name: Home Forever
Address: 3553 Atlantic Ave. #1155
City: Long Beach
Ranking-title: Daniel Exley – President
First-name: Eric Churchill
Title: Vice-chairman and co-founder
Textarea-499: Impacting homelessness through mentoring of foster youth at risk of aging out of the system.
How-many-years: One year
What-is-project: In the US, there are currently ~400,000 children in the foster care system and approximately 30,000 of those are in Los Angeles county1,2. Each year, in the US, approximately 26,000 youth will age out of the system3 and between 31% and 46% will experience an episode of homelessness before the age of 264. In LA county, the number of people who are homeless has increased by ~75% to 58,000 over the past six years and ~36% of those said they had spent some time in foster care prior to becoming homeless5.
Aged-out foster youth who become homeless experience high rates of mental health disorders, a high risk of physical and sexual victimization, and have limited health care access6. The factors leading to the high rate of homelessness for foster youth vary and can include inability to access affordable housing, low levels of education, mental health, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy (among others). However, perhaps even more significant, is the lack of support. The National Alliance to End Homelessness sates that “Beyond the factors of poverty, lack of affordable housing, low education levels, unemployment, mental health, and substance abuse, youth homelessness is largely a reflection of family breakdown7.”
By providing support in the form of mentorship to foster youth, we will limit the number of kids who exit foster care and quickly become homeless. Currently, most programs address this issue through services targeting those who are already homeless. We propose to expand our mentorship to foster youth before they become homeless, thereby decreasing the number of former-foster youth living on the streets. With the recent rise in homelessness5, addressing issues that lead to homelessness can have a significant impact in Long Beach and Los Angeles County.
We employ an ex-foster youth who recently aged-out of the system. Since her emancipation, she has demonstrated a strong drive to better herself and her children; in addition to working at the resource center she is also attending college. However, she understands the difficulties associated with aging out and is using her experiences to mentor a foster girl. We have had good results with this approach and the foster youth has expressed that speaking with someone with a similar story has helped. With this grant we will expand the program by increasing the number of current foster youth being mentored to five.
1Childwelfare.gov. Foster Care statistics 2017.
2Alliance for Children’s Rights Fact Sheet. www.kids-alliance.org
3Dworski A et al. Housing for youth aging out of foster care: a review of the literature and program typology. 2012. Available at: http://www.huduser.org/portal/ publications/interim/hsg_fter_care.html.
4Dworsky A. et al. Homelessness during the transition from foster care to adulthood. AJPH, Supplement 2, 2013, Vol. 103, No. S2
5The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Fact Sheet. www.lahsa.org
6Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative 2014.From Foster home to HOMELESS: Strat
How-will-you-succeed: We will measure our success through three means. First, we aim to increase the number of kids being mentored over the course of one year by four, bringing the total to five. While this may seem small, this mentorship program requires a significant amount of time spent with each individual through face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, and texts. Second, we will follow our mentees for a period following their aging out of the system. This will allow us to continue the relationship and to track progress. Third, we will request qualitative feedback from the mentees to determine the effectiveness of the program.
We currently use several methods of communication and will continue to do so to highlight this project. We will highlight high-level aspects of the project on Facebook while maintaining anonymity for the participants (this is a requirement for children who are in the system). We will communicate stories through our newsletter that targets our partners and supporters, and also share progress directly with our above-mentioned partners so we can identify new mentees. We have also discussed evaluating partnerships with other like-minded organizations that could run similar programs.
We will continue the program in the future through three mechanisms. First, we will attempt to secure an additional grant once this grant expires. This continued funding will allow us to maintain the expanded role of our resource coordinator. Second, as mentioned above, we will partner with other organizations in different parts of Long Beach that could launch a similar mentoring program. One example of such an organization is Parents in Partnership, who work on similar projects. Third, we will recruit volunteers who would be willing to mentor current foster youth.
Who-are-you: Home Forever is a small, nonsectarian organization located in central Long Beach. It was founded in 2014 by families engaged in foster care with the goal of recruiting and equipping people to foster and adopt. We believe children were designed to be raised in relationship and as part of families and therefore create projects/programs that focus on re-unification, support of children in foster care, and adoption. Early projects have included national speaking engagements at community groups, churches, and conferences to promote adoption; coordinating between foster parents and other non-profits; and providing resources to emancipated youth. This has led to partnerships with local organizations such as the Coalition of Christian Foster Care Ministries, the Department of Children and Family Services, and Koinonia Family Services.
Over the last two years, Home Forever has focused even more energy on the local foster community and opened a resource center. The center provides clothes, diapers, cribs, and other resources to foster parents, social workers, and biological parents at risk of losing a child or who are trying to reunify. In the first four months of this year, we provided resources to 137 families across LA County. Current partners include the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, Parents in Partnership, and the South Bay Center for Counseling. In 2017, we hired an ex-foster youth who aged out of the system to run the resource center. She has increased the monthly support provided by the center by over 110% during the first 4 months of 2019, and expanded our scope to include speaking engagements at local high schools and mentoring a teenage girl in foster care. It is this last activity that we hope to expand with the grant.
Our board of directors is composed of current and ex-foster parents and others who are passionate about caring for kids in the system and have the expertise to do so. The majority of our board has adopted from foster care and/or fostered multiple children. We have expertise in finance, governance, IT, healthcare, social work, marketing, and business. We consider ourselves a working board and manage most of the day-to-day operations. Our one employee reports directly to the board and is supported by board member, Tiffany Sickler who has worked in child welfare for 25 years serving in multiple roles. We operate a lean organization with low overhead, allowing us to explore easily new opportunities and maximize return on grant proceeds.
We are uniquely suited to provide mentoring to foster youth for the following reasons: 1) we have experience mentoring and supporting kids in foster care; 2) we employ an emancipated foster youth who is able to share experiences and relate to kids who are at risk; 3) we have a strong board with expertise in foster care; 4) we operate a lean organization, which allows us to maximize grant money.