How many 18-year-olds are capable of living on their own? Not many. And yet that was the expectation in Florida, which in 2001 determined that 18-year-olds in foster care could be considered adults, able to leave the only stable homes they’d ever known and live on their own.
To help these young people have productive and rewarding young adulthoods, Memorial Healthcare System launched the Healthy Youth Transitions program in 2010. With a combination of evidence-based prevention and early intervention, the program serves at-risk youths ages 15-22 who are aging out of foster care.
Part of Memorial Healthcare's Community Youth Services initiative, Healthy Youth Transitions is funded by a grant from the health system and the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, and it has helped earn the system an American Hospital Association NOVA Award.
“Memorial Healthcare System worked with these kids before,” says Aurelio Fernandez III, president and CEO of the Hollywood, Fla.-based health system. “But we just worked on the medical piece. That's a hospital’s role. We took it upon ourselves to say, ‘what more can we do?’”
Each year 175 young people go through the program, which provides each with a life coach, typically a bachelor’s-degree-level social worker who guides participants through various aspects of responsible adult living, including:
- Planning and making nutritious meals, shopping for groceries, reading food labels and keeping house.
- Applying for a driver’s license and buying a car.
- Obtaining personal documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.
- Finding a medical home for preventive care and learning the ins and outs of health care coverage.
- Linking up with resources that provide guidance in social relationships, such as making good decisions about sexuality.
- Transitioning from old environments and neighborhoods to new and better ones.
- Obtaining more education.
- Learning to manage money.
- Writing a resume and applying for a job.
“Nobody ever taught these youth those sorts of things,” says Tim Curtin, Memorial Healthcare's administrative director of community services. “They really didn’t have parents growing up. They were bouncing from group home to group home, and when they ran away from a group home they would couch surf at a friend’s house. Nearly half the girls have been impregnated. We’re trying to break that cycle, so they can be acceptable, responsible, productive young adults.”
In addition to its grant, Memorial Healthcare provides other resources. “We have four SUVs. Our staff picks the kids up, takes them to the doctor, takes their babies for immunizations — whatever is needed for the youth to continue to aspire and thrive,” says Curtin.
Since its inception, Healthy Youth Transitions has served 831 youths and young adults. The Children’s Services Council’s 2015-16 Performance Measurement Summary Report enumerated the following outcomes:
- 96 percent of participating youth had no new pregnancies.
- 98 percent had no new violations of the law.
- 98 percent demonstrated proficiency in employability and job retention skills.
- 86 percent made progress in school or postsecondary education, graduated or obtained a GED certificate, or found employment.
- 89 percent obtained stable housing.
To replicate Healthy Youth Transitions in other cities, Memorial Healthcare recommends that a founding organization be well-established in the community and that the program have reliable, continuous financial support.
“Whoever adopts this program has to have a mission statement that gives back to the community,” Fernandez says. “The youth who are going to be the future of this community — if they start off on the wrong side of the fence, how can they get back? They can’t. Why don't we help them get straightened out from the beginning?”
Each year, the American Hospital Association honors up to five programs led by AHA member hospitals as “bright stars of the health care field” with the AHA NOVA Award. Winners are recognized for improving community health by looking beyond patients’ physical ailments, rooting out the economic and social barriers to care and collaborating with other community stakeholders. The AHA NOVA Award is directed and staffed by the AHA's Office of the Secretary. Visit www.aha.org/nova for more information.