What is a community assessment? A community assessment is a process by which a collaborative partnership gathers information on the current strengths, concerns, needs, and conditions of children, families, and the community. The information comes from many sources -- especially parents and family members -- and is elicited by many techniques, including interviews, focus groups, and scanning demographic data collected by local agencies. Because many types of partners participate in a community assessment -- strategic planners, program staff, administrators, teachers, parents, and other community members -- the resulting information is broad, accurate, and useful (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, n.d.). Chiefly, such assessments focus on local assets, resources, and activities as well as gaps, barriers, or emerging needs. The process of identifying and appraising this information will help a collaborative partnership with addressing a social problem, such as foster care youth in the AZ state system.
Due to a lack of support and resources, our foster care youth are inadvertently disadvantaged before their lives truly have an opportunity to begin. Shockingly, over 500,000 youth are in foster care in the U.S. (Williams, 2011). Each state has a social service agency, Department of Economic Security (DES) that is legally responsible to care for abused, neglected, and abandoned children who enter foster care because they cannot remain with their parents or other family members. Unless these children can be returned to the custody of their parents, placed in an adoptive home or with a permanent guardian, they remain in the care and custody of DES until they reach the age of 18.
In comparison to other young adults, youth with a foster care history are at greater risk of low educational attainment, homelessness, non-marital pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, joblessness, poverty, physical and mental illness, and engaging in or being victims of crimes (Williams, 2011). Foster youth who are also involved in the juvenile justice system are at even greater risk. These youth very often are released from the juvenile justice system on their 18th birthday with little or no family support, no home to return to, and few, if any, services to help them live successfully on their own.
AZ foster care youth need a great deal of support while in foster homes, as well as transitioning into adulthood. The lack of support can have long-term implications and negative effects physically, mentally, and emotionally. By providing tools to help develop self-efficacy and self-sufficiency, foster care youth may persevere and become contributing members of society. The goal is to empower them to rise above their situation and to enrich life's experiences and choices.
The Office of Adolescent Health under the Department of Health and Human Services has compiled information regarding adolescent health disparities that spans many areas, from mental, physical, and reproductive health to substance abuse to relationships. For example, in 2008, Arizona was ranked 45 out of 50 states on teen birth rates among mothers ages 15 to 19 (Hope and A Future, 2010). The choices made and behaviors adopted during these years affect adolescents' overall well-being and, potentially, their health throughout their lives. Foster care youth demonstrate a greater risk of low educational attainment, homelessness, non-marital pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, joblessness, poverty, physical and mental illness, and engaging in or being victims of crimes. Without the proper support and resources available, foster care youth are at a disadvantaged compared to youth not in foster care. By identifying foster care youth, empowering foster care youth with support and information through peer group workshops, and increasing accountability and responsibility through resource referrals, this will help bridge the gap of health disparities among foster care youth.
Needs Assessments also provide an opportunity for communities to be empowered in the mitigation of their unique social problems. Additionally, such assessments are a form of community-based research, which is collaborative inquiry that is dedicated primarily to serving the research or information needs of community organizations (Norris & Schwartz, 2009). Therefore, a Needs Assessment of foster care youth, between 12-18 years old, reveal the necessity of tools for successfully transitioning into adulthood.
NATIONAL STATISTICS (Hope & A Future, 2010)
3,000,000 reports of child abuse or neglect are made every year in the United States.
Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit a violent crime.
Annually 600 teenage foster children turn 18 & "age-out" of foster care with limited support.
40% of foster children are between the ages of 13 and 21.
50% of foster children drop out of high school.
It is estimated that nationally a foster youth change placements about once every six months.
50% of young women previously in foster care will become pregnant by 19 years old.
25% of young men previously in foster care will father a child by 19.
3 in 10 of the nation's adult homeless are former foster youth.
On average, only 7-13% of foster youth enroll in higher education.
1% of former foster children earn a college degree.
As of February 24, 2009, Maricopa County has 6,891 children in foster care placements.
Currently statewide, there are approximately 10,000 children in foster care.
35,000 reports of child abuse or neglect were made in Arizona last year.
In Arizona, 1,300 children a year wait more than three weeks in emergency shelters for a family.
60% of child abuse victims also suffer from neglect.
A young child is more likely to die of child abuse or neglect in the Phoenix Metro Area than any other area in the Nation.
As of 2003, 12% of Arizona High School students dropped out, tied for the highest percentage in the nation.
Arizona ranks 47th out of 50 states in highest teen birth rates.
Unfortunately, broken homes describe the community structure. With child abuse cases creating a bottleneck in many social services agencies nationwide, youth are placed in homes until a determination for family reunification. Children and youth enter the Arizona foster care system because of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Once this occurs, returning the child home or finding an alternative permanent placement is a primary goal. This includes reuniting the children with their family, or if that is not possible, arranging for an appropriate permanent alternative such as adoption or guardianship. However, permanency is not achieved for all children. Many youth remain in long-term foster care and do not leave the foster care system until they reach age 18. Without the necessary support, these youth are faced with real life, such as teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Youth programs must educate on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV / AIDS. The key is to empower foster care youth to rise above their situation and to enrich life's experiences by making better choices. Armed with resourceful tools and support, foster care youth develop accountability and responsibility to reduce teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, juvenile delinquency, and low academic achievement. By building knowledge of healthy relationships, financial literacy, education & career resources, life skills, and other useful tools for transitioning youth into adulthood, foster care youth develop self-efficacy and self-sufficiency.
Patterns of Influence, Control & Service Delivery
Due to a lack of support and resources, foster care youth are inadvertently disadvantaged before their lives truly have an opportunity to begin (Williams, 2011). The Department of Economic Security (DES) is the state agency legally responsible to care for abused, neglected, and abandoned children who enter foster care because they cannot remain with their parents or other family members. Unless these children can be returned to the custody of their parents, placed in an adoptive home or with a permanent guardian, they remain in the care and custody of DES until they reach the age of 18.
Older youth are likely to have a history of multiple foster care settings. Changing placements disrupt a youth's relationships with peers, foster parents and other adults, often interferes with progress in school, and too frequently means changing health and mental health providers. Data on older youth also show a correlation between multiple placements and greater odds of involvement with the juvenile justice system (Collins et al., 2010).
• Youth remaining in foster care to age 18 spent an average of over four years in foster care (48.6 months) and had more than eight different placements.
• Nearly half of foster youth who are also under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system changed foster placements 11 or more times; the vast majority had six or more placements.
For many youth, late adolescence and early adulthood can be a time of change and uncertainty. For youth in foster care, this time of life may bring more than the usual constellation of worries and questions about managing and coping with adult responsibilities. Each year, hundreds of Arizona youth leave foster care to…