For the past three years, the Child Advocacy Clinic (CAC) has been educating youth about their rights and entitlements through a community education project entitled “Aging-Out: Don’t Miss Out.” The mission of the Aging Out Project is to ensure that every youth in New Jersey who transitions out of foster care is aware of and receives the necessary and appropriate services and assistance from the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), other state entities, and community organizations. The CAC partnered with the New Jersey State Child Placement Advisory Council to develop a book for the youth that was both engaging and informative about the child welfare system, the court process, and their rights and entitlement to services and assistance. Aging Out: Don’t Miss Out remains the only book of its kind in New Jersey. Based on the information in the book, the CAC developed two training curricula, one for youth and one for those who work with young people aging out of New Jersey’s foster care system.
The Project has conducted extensive outreach within the State of New Jersey. Not only have hundreds of youth been educated, but the Project hosted training sessions for all 46 DYFS local offices, for the majority of the 21 court vicinages, as well as for Law Guardians, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Child Placement Review Board volunteers, and foster parents. The Project also has been asked to speak at several statewide conferences and before various special-interest committees.
Most recently, the Project has begun to work in conjunction with Family Court Judges to host training for youth at the court houses across the state. These trainings have already taken place in five counties and many others are in the planning process. Additionally, the CAC has begun to meet with groups of youth to begin a dialogue about what systemic changes they would like to see, how we might all work together, and whether there would be any benefit to creating a youth-based advocacy organization.
In addition to providing training sessions, the Project is becoming a resource for youth and their advocates. The Project receives numerous calls and e-mail messages, seeking information or assistance. These calls are received from youth, DYFS case managers, Law Guardians, Deputy Attorneys General, CASA workers, foster parents, and other caregivers. The Project responds to each of these inquiries and assists by providing the needed information or giving referrals to appropriate entities.
Becoming a community resource has been an unexpected, yet necessary and beneficial, result of the Project’s outreach efforts.