Connections to Community-Based Navigators for Young People Who Have Experienced Foster Care

For young people, the transition to adulthood marks an exciting time in their development. With support from invested adults, reliable access to quality resources, and help developing life skills, young people can successfully navigate this period and establish themselves as engaged adults ready to contribute to their communities. However, while many young people have the connections to family, peers, and community that can support them in this transition, those aging out of foster care have had many of the relationships in their life weakened or severed by child protective services. Given this, they often have to build new connections and navigate their communities on their own.

The CARES Community Analysis provides insights into how young people define community; as relationships with peers, family, and other supportive adults, and not based on where they live (e.g., geographic boundaries). In the Community Analysis young people described community in two key ways; the first, as being in caring relationships, having a sense of belonging, and a circle of friends and relatives who “have my back;” and the second, as connection to supportive adults who could help them navigate community resources. Yet young people reported that services were often hard to access and spoke about difficulties in building relationships in their communities—especially when it came to finding supportive adults who could help them find community resources to meet their basic needs.

As a CARES Ambassador in Los Angeles explains, “people who get to take in these resources, they know about them. They’re told about them because these are the people that are within the circle of knowing. So, they expose people [to what’s out there]. If they don’t know…no one’s gonna look… if they don’t think it exists.”

And a CARES Ambassador in Atlanta adds, “because being so young, we really don’t know what we’re doing, and there’s not a lot of support behind us, even though people will say, yeah, we support you. We can help you do this. But you just get fed up to a certain point.”

We owe young people aging out of foster care the support all youth need as they navigate the world, including connections to supportive adults who can help them negotiate systems and resources in their community. In response, we propose that a new federal program be established to ensure that community based navigators are available to provide guidance to young people aging out of foster care as they plan for their future, and traverse a range of systems, services, and supports.

Specifically, community-based navigators should be:

  • AVAILABLE IN COMMUNITY, WELL-RESOURCED, AND TRAINED T O SUPPORT YOUNG PEOPLE AS THEY AGE OUT OF FOSTER CARE. These navigators should be based in community and not tied to the child welfare system. There are many reasons for this. One is that young people who are aging out of foster care are forging their own path and building their lives in community. They are no longer tied to the child welfare system, and in fact, do not define themselves by their experiences in foster care. In addition, many have feelings of distrust toward the foster care system and child protective services and want to avoid further contact with the system.
  • KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT COMPLEX PUBLIC SYSTEMS THAT YOUNG PEOPLE INTERACT WITH AND CAN HELP CONNECT THEM TO SERVICES AND SUPPORTS. Navigators could help young adults in a number of ways, including applying for programs and benefits, increasing their financial literacy, setting financial goals, building credit, opening bank accounts, managing money, saving, investing, building wealth, accessing lines of credit, securing housing, planning for financing move-in deposits, teaching them how to balance a budget, establishing utility accounts, and communicating with.
  • AVAILABLE TO SUPPORT YOUNG PEOPLE FOR A PERIOD OF FIVE YEARS AFTER THEY LEAVE FOSTER CARE AND HELP THEM TO ESTABLISH A SOLID FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTURE. Young people who have aged out of foster care are accustomed to abrupt and arbitrary cliffs when it comes to supports, as many programs are cut off at age 18, others at 21, 23, or 26. They are used to relationships ending too—with providers, with case workers, with foster parents, and with systems. These community based navigators should not repeat the pattern of abrupt cut-offs young people experience time and time again, and instead, remain connected with a young person for a period of up to five years after they leave foster care. During this time, community-based navigators can establish trusting and meaningful relationships with young people, helping them navigate the world, and supporting them as they establish autonomy and begin to make decisions and choices that are right for them. In this way, they serve as a needed resource, during an important time, and help young people grow into independence and adulthood.

Read the full policy agenda, A Policy Agenda for a Nation that CARES for Young Adults, here.