DSS AND LOCAL UNIVERSITY PARTNER TO BRING PROGRAMS BENEFITING FOSTER YOUTH
CHARLOTTE, NC Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) and Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) are teaming up to enhance the Countys foster care system and help foster youth discover opportunities to succeed in adulthood.
In March, DSS Director Mary E. Wilson will meet more than 300 foster youth on the JCSU campus in a series of focus groups. The youth will share their personal experiences in the Countys foster care system and provide valuable feedback on how it addresses their needs. JCSU admissions staff and students will be on hand to answer questions and conduct tours of the campus.
The perspective of youth who live in foster care is often very different from that of foster parents or DSS staff, said Wilson. It is imperative that we give these young people a voice to speak about their experience. By seeing their point of view, we can adapt our program and strengthen outcomes for all foster children in Mecklenburg County. We are surveying all 300 of the young people to get their input on ways we can improve and meet their needs so that they can be successful in the future.
The focus groups at JCSU will fulfill a requirement set forth by North Carolinas Program Improvement Plan, which evaluates child welfare divisions across the state. The plan requires DSS directors in all counties to meet face-to-face with every foster youth in the County ages 13 to 21.
The partnership began when JCSU President Dr. Ronald L. Carter himself a former foster parent approached Wilson and DSSs Youth and Family Services Division Director Paul Risk about piloting an innovative program designed to help 16- and 17-year-old foster youth transition from foster care to adulthood. Independent living staff from DSSs Phoenix Project will identify the foster youth who will be paired with JCSU student ambassadors. The program will kick off this month with a training session for ambassadors and a mixer with the foster youth. On February 24, each foster youth is invited to watch the CIAA Tournament with one of their foster parents in Dr. Carters private box at Time Warner Cable Arena.
This partnership helps fulfill an important strategic goal of the Social, Education and Economic Opportunity Focus Area Leadership Team to increase citizen self-sufficiency by collaborating with community partners to create services that help people transition from various levels of dependency.
I believe we have a moral obligation not to simply tell these children to fend for themselves when they age out of foster care, Dr. Carter said. This program will help them build a personal support network, expose them to educational opportunities and give them a way to be there for each other.
Wilson and Dr. Carters vision for the partnership extends beyond Mecklenburg County. They hope it will inspire similar programs in counties across the state so that, in the future, all North Carolina county programs can come together annually for workshops and social activities.
Who knows, there might be another (President) Obama in the group to lead the next generation, Dr. Carter said.