Better Foster Care for Kids, Counties, and Communities

At the 2017 MACo Winter Conference session, Breaking the Mold: Foster Care Collaborations That Work!, attendees learned how counties are forming innovative partnerships to deliver the best programs for children in foster care.

The session began with a presentation by Shalita O’Neale, Foster Care Ombudsman for the Maryland Department of Human Services. Shalita discussed the importance of using the youth engagement model to engage the voices of foster kids and alumni of the foster care system into the development of programs that are intended to assist or serve them. She advocated for boosting their social capital and helping to connect them to the networks needed for them to succeed once they age out of the system.

From left to right: Shalita O'Neale, Dina Daly, Linda Webb, Deborah Harburger
From left to right: Shalita O’Neale, Dina Daly, Linda Webb, Deborah Harburger

Dina Daly, Director of the Caroline County Department of Social Services, Linda Webb, Director of the Talbot County Department of Social Services, and Deborah Harburger, Clinical Instructor for The Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work jointly presented on a partnership between the mid-shore counties (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot) for the Thrive@25 program.

The goal of the Thrive@25 program is to end and prevent homelessness among youth and young adults currently or previously involved in the foster care system. The mid-shore counties were one of 18 grantees nationwide to receive a planning grant and only one of six to receive the 3-year, $2 million implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children and Families, Children’s Bureau for the program.

The presenters discussed how they decided to take a rural look at youth homelessness and worked with community organizations to reach out to foster youth in their early 20s. They found that while the state did not discharge youths into homelessness, their transition plans were deficient. Using a youth engagement model to work from the inside out, they worked to develop a program to help transition these youths into sustainable adult hood. Accomplishments included Achieve My Plan, Thrive House, and expanding a summer employment program into a year-long program for some positions.

The panel stressed communication as a key to collaboration. While they discussed some of the bumps they encountered along the way, the also provided some tips and lessons learned for successfully working together to implement a program.

This session was held on Thursday, December 7, 2017. The MACo Winter Conference was held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme was  “The Power of Partnership.”