In 2018, we launched My First Place™ to provide support for teens aging out of the foster care system in Massachusetts. All too often, we saw the desperate plight of young adults forced to become fully independent after their 18th birthday with no help from family and reduced services from the state.
Lacking the consistent support of parents and other family members to guide them in developing the skills of independent living, teens who age out of foster care often experience homelessness, unemployment, and poverty. The National Foster Youth Institute estimates that one-quarter of former foster care youth experience homelessness within four years of aging out of the child welfare system and are arrested within two. About half of youth emancipated from foster care have chronic health conditions like asthma, post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, and dental decay and up to one-third lack health insurance. Fewer than 5 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree.
With My First Place™, newly-emancipated teens receive rent-free housing and intensive case management services through which they develop the skills needed to live independently: maintaining employment, managing their money, and negotiating health care, educational, housing, and social service systems.
HopeWell’s program is modelled after the one developed nearly 20 years ago by the California-based organization First Place for Youth, which has a strong track record of supporting former foster youth through a pivotal time in their lives. The 2021 report “Raising the Bar: Building system- and provider-level evidence to drive equitable education and employment outcomes for youth in extended foster care” found that each additional year of support with housing, employment, and education between ages 17 and 21 was associated with a 41 percent decrease in odds of being arrested, a 28 percent decrease in experiencing homelessness or couch surfing, and an eight percent increase in the probability of graduating high school or earning a GED.
Today, we work with about 30 of the more than 900 young adults who annually age out of care in Massachusetts. As our program enters its fourth year, we are incredibly grateful to the Liberty Mutual Foundation, which has donated more than $400,000 since the program’s inception to support the young adults in My First Place™ as they prepare for a life of independence.
“We are so excited to partner with Liberty Mutual Foundation, which shares HopeWell’s vision for creating and sustaining innovative programs that provide youth aging out of foster care opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive, as they work to fulfill their hopes and dreams,” said HopeWell President and CEO Shaheer Mustafa. “Liberty Mutual’s support is vital to the success and growth of My First Place™.”