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Independent Living

Programs for transition-aged youth involved with the DHS Office of Children, Youth and Families include the Independent Living Initiative and Independent Living Programs. Services to support both programs are provided through the DHS Executive Office.

PDF Icon CYF/PNC Subsidy Payment Debit Card Frequently Asked Questions
All subsidy payments for CYF placement services (foster care, adoption, permanent legal custodianship, and independent living) will be paid using a PNC Bank Debit Card beginning in August 2013. Learn more about this by reviewing the list of FAQs above.

National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD)
DHS is submitting information to Pennsylvania related to services and outcomes of Allegheny County transition-aged youth who received independent living services through DHS. Submitted data will become part of the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) with the goal of providing guidance to ultimately improve the futures of youth who are transitioning to adulthood from the child welfare system.  

Independent Living Initiative

The Independent Living Initiative began in 2006 to assist youth in foster care, who are interested and qualified, to pursue post-secondary education. Three DHS Caseworker IIIs and two Master’s level Educational Liaisons assist participating transition-aged youth, ages 16 to 24 years, apply for: admission to academic, vocational or other institutions for post-secondary education; employment and vocational training; housing; financial aid and scholarships. They also help youth enroll in programs and services to enhance post-secondary success.

Independent Living Programs

Independent Living Programs provide traditional independent living services to 16- to 18-year-olds who are in foster care, and enhanced aftercare services to 18- to 21-year-olds who have exited the placement system. Services are provided by five contracted neighborhood agencies selected through a competitive process by a panel that includes youth who were recipients of services. Services include: life skills assessments; individualized goal plans; job and career development; personal safety and health issues; career development and job skills; financial assistance; employment assistance, housing; and household and dormitory items. They are funded through a combination of federal Chafee monies and State funds.

A series of partnerships and collaborations provide youth with experiences and enhanced opportunities and include:

Casey Family Programs
Howard Knoll, Senior Director, is providing technical assistance to enhance job readiness training for transition-aged youth. This will expand and enhance existing Workforce Development Programs with other service offerings now available to transition-aged youth. This initiative focuses on systems-level coordination of services offered by Workforce Development Programs and CYF service providers (group home, residential, and independent living services).

With Mr. Knoll’s assistance, DHS will coordinate services across DHS program offices, expand current programming to include all transition-aged youth, and offer new initiatives aimed at engaging youth and providing them with a more complete array of services.

In May, 2008, DHS sponsored the first Workforce Development Symposium at the Hill House. Representatives of Workforce Programs, CYF providers, and current and former foster youth met for a day of strategic planning and networking. The providers were divided into teams which included youths, a mixed group of provider representatives, and a Team Leader. The event generated fresh ideas for programs to engage youth: a “Street Team” comprised of youth who would provide outreach, information and referrals to other youth; new experiences for youth that could open up new avenues of interest and opportunity (e.g. establishing relationships with business for job shadowing, peer mentoring, team building activities, and social networking opportunities); youth as advocates and mentors to younger, still-placed youth. Our youth agreed that repairing past relationships and reestablishing lost relationships were crucial to their well-being.

DHS is currently establishing benchmarks and will measure success by the number of jobs attained and retained.

The Heinz Endowments
A grant supports two Educational Liaisons to assist youth with academic achievement and post-secondary education or training. Youth participants receive an Educational Passport containing transcripts, immunizations, financial aid information, and identification (birth certificate, social security card).

The Bridge of Pittsburgh
The Bridge is a “one-stop-shop” for transition-aged youth that was established through the DHS Office of Community Services and Arbor, Inc. with grant from the PA Department of Labor and Industry. The Bridge maintains non-traditional hours (11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. weekdays, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays), and offers services like remediation/GED prep, career planning, and programs that support health and wellness. The Bridge opened in February, 2007. By mid-2008, more than half of the youth who visited opted to become “members,” although membership is not a pre-requisite for receiving services. Members are eligible to serve on advisory boards and receive incentives for completion of skill-related goals, such as securing employment or passing to the next grade. 

Leadership Development Initiative of Pittsburgh (LDI)
An LDI “team” developed the Embark! Mentoring Program for transition-aged youth who attend colleges or universities. The team also developed a marketing plan and all materials, including a pamphlet and flyer. By mid-2008, 15 youth had been matched with young professionals.

Keys Service Corps / AmeriCorps
This program provides summer employment opportunities and educational stipends to youth attending college.

In partnership with a local foundation, Braddock Redux, AmeriCorps has committed three members to renovate a triplex for homeless foster care alumni. Foster care alumni work side-by-side with AmeriCorps volunteers to clean and paint the homes. When completed, two AmeriCorps Urban Farmers will live in one section of the triplex and will act as mentors and teachers to the youth residing there. The youth will be offered paid positions with AmeriCorps.

Funded through a grant from the PA Department of Labor and Industry, YouthWorks provides job-readiness training to youth in residential- or group-home placements.

Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and Bidwell Corporation
A series of meetings has led to a formal collaboration through which transition-aged youth will attend these programs.

In December 2006, DHS and KidsVoice began a new conciliation process that looked at each youth individually in order to craft a disposition best suited to his or her needs and individual situation. The team consists of a representative from KidsVoice, an attorney from the Allegheny County Law Department, and a DHS representative. These meetings result in a joint determination of individual need for youth who are attending post-secondary education or training programs, and result in the youth receiving an “offer” of continued support by Allegheny County that is based on individual need. Some youth receive a daily stipend (i.e. “pocket money”) to be used for essentials and clothing, as well as reimbursement for books and school supplies. Other youth remain in CYF paid placements while they attend local colleges or training programs. DHS also provides housing in various forms (paid foster placements/apartments) for youth who live in dormitory settings during the academic year but require alternative living arrangements during breaks and summer vacations.  

Once conciliated, youth are subject to progress reviews by the conciliation team at the conclusion of each semester. Grades for every youth are requested and reviewed by the team. Youth who are in danger of academic discipline are contacted and counseled. Youth who exhibit exemplary academic performance (3.0 GPA or higher) at the conclusion of the academic year are subject to an increase in the amount of their stipend.

Trade Unions
As of 2008, DHS is forging partnerships with local trade unions in order to train transition-aged youth for careers as carpenters, steamfitters, steelworkers, and building engineers. A special focus of this effort is the training of youth for jobs in the growing “green economy.”

There are many ways to assist transition-aged youth through donations 

Research and Evaluation

The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) is a prospective study following a sample of young people in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they make the transition from foster care to early adulthood. Beginning during the fall of 2008, portions of the Midwest Study survey were administered to all youth involved in the DHS Independent Living Initiative. The Midwest Study examines the experiences of these young people across a variety of domains, including living arrangements, relationships with family of origin, social support, receipt of independent living services, education, employment, economic well-being, receipt of government benefits, physical and mental health, health and mental health care service utilization, sexual behaviors, pregnancy, marriage and cohabitation, parenting, and criminal justice system involvement. Because many of the questions they were asked had also been used in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, it is possible to make comparisons between this sample of young adults who “aged out” of foster care and a nationally representative sample of their peers in the general population. Data from the Midwest Study indicate that young adults who have aged out of the child welfare system are faring poorly as a group compared with their peers.

Further, during the summer of 2008, video diaries of adults who were involved in the child welfare system were cataloged. This project was designed and will be conducted primarily by two individuals who have been through the system themselves. Rich findings are expected from this work.

Finally, with the generous support of the Eden Hall Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work will study DHS data on the outcomes of child welfare involved youth in two phases. The first phase of the project will study the experiences of those youth who were born between 1985 and 1993 and have ever been involved with CYF. The second phase will focus on identifying the relationships that these individuals have to experiences of abuse and neglect, their experiences in CYF and other systems, and their individual subsequent outcomes. Drs. Jeff Shook and Sara Goodkind will lead the study.

Related Resources

Foster Club
Created for youth and powered by youth, this website offers registered users a wide variety of information and the opportunity to connect with peers across the nation who are or were in foster care.

PDF Icon Foster Club 2011 Yearbook

Foster Club Pennsylvania
Created for youth and powered by youth, this website offers registered users a wide variety of information and the opportunity to connect with peers in Pennsylvania who are or were in foster care.

Publications for Youth