The Edwin Gould Academy: Building Support Networks for Youth Leaving Foster Care and Juvenile Justice
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The Edwin Gould Academy in New York serves youth who age out of the foster care system or exit the juvenile justice system. Without family support or a safety net, these youth are at high risk for homelessness, substance use, and other problems. Jim Golden, Edwin Gould Academy’s Executive Director, discusses the network of community partnerships that support these youth.
“Youth who are coming from the foster care and juvenile justice systems do not have strong social or family support systems in place. When these youth face a crisis, like not being able to pay the rent, it turns into a catastrophe because they do not have a safety net,” says Jim Golden, Executive Director of the Edwin Gould Academy in New York City.
Nationwide, about 24,000 youth age out of the foster care system each year. Many young men and women who have been in the foster care system are at high risk for homelessness, unhealthy relationships, substance use, and mental health issues. Without a built-in family support system, their chances for success are seriously diminished.
The Edwin Gould Academy offers a model of housing and supportive services for these youth. The goal is to leverage the expertise of community organizations. The Academy offers a single, coordinated point of entry for participants to access a wide range of supportive services, called the Exodus Partnership. It consists of over 20 well-coordinated systems of care in areas such as substance use and job training.
The Edwin Gould Academy serves as a pipeline for other community agencies. Academy staff help them to understand the unique aspects of working with youth who have aged out of the foster care system, or who are exiting the juvenile justice system. “We are very good at understanding the foster care population. We understand the issues they experience as a result of damaged relationships with family members,” says Jim.
Jim offers one example of how their partnerships work. “We may have a young man who is going through a job training program with one of our partners. He also has a substance use problem. Job training cannot address the substance use problem, so using our network of community partnerships, we locate resources to help with his substance use issues.” A comprehensive communication system among partners allows the Edwin Gould Academy to address any problems that arise in the network.
Currently, the Edwin Gould Academy provides on-site housing for 51 young people and 24 children. There are an additional 200 individuals who receive services outside of the residential program.
One of the unique challenges of working with youth who have aged out of foster care is understanding the mentality that may come with growing up in a system of care. “Many young people come to us with a sense of entitlement that all things will be given to them, even if their behavior is inappropriate.”
Edwin Gould Academy creates opportunities for young people to take responsibility for their own needs. They want youth to understand that there is not an unlimited supply of resources. For example, few youth have the skills to manage their personal finances. “We strive to provide real life exercises that help young people track their spending and learn how to budget and live within their income. When we give tangible support, we require them to explain why they need support and to submit it in conjunction with their personal budget.”
Case managers at Edwin Gould Academy meet with young people once a month to set and work toward achieving goals. Their ultimate goal is to connect young people with community resources. They also provide some job training and job referrals. Many youth at Edwin Gould struggle with substance use, so they conduct assessments and provide referrals for those who need detox services.
Only a small percentage of youth at the Academy are interested in family reunification, but case managers are there to help as appropriate. This may include bringing parents in for counseling to resolve family conflicts. “Almost all of the young people we work with have unresolved issues around family relationships,” says Jim. The Children’s Aid Society provides family counseling to youth at Edwin Gould Academy.
“We also run parenting groups at Edwin Gould Academy,” explains Jim. One class offers parents the opportunity to share their experiences and gain support around the stressors of being a young parent. Another focuses on concrete parenting skills. Edwin Gould refers young parents to childcare organizations in the community and they link with formal support networks. However, some parents are not eligible for childcare support and have to find creative ways to care for their children. They often work cooperatively to share childcare. Read Dominique’s story, “An Awesome Feeling” to learn more about the life of an Edwin Gould Academy resident and her daughter.
Jim Golden originally signed on with Edwin Gould Academy for a nine-month appointment. He has now been with the organization for 19 years. During this time, the organization has really grown from a residential treatment center for youth in foster care that operates out of a small office with one staff member. Today, they have $9.2 million in support from private foundation funding. In March of 2006, they opened a new facility. The Academy continues to focus on creating lasting connections for youth to build and sustain themselves in productive and meaningful ways.
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