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The WAY Home
Support for Kids in Transition
The WAY Home Program provides at least one year of aftercare to all youth leaving The Children’s Village residential school, with the opportunity for older youth who have no family resources to apply for an additional four years of support. The program is based on the WAY Scholarship model, which was developed by The Children’s Village in 1984, and has since been implemented not only at The Children’s Village but also in sites throughout the country. A 15-year longitudinal study published by the Child Welfare League of America on the WAY Scholarship Program showed that 80% of the alumni studied completed high school, 80% were working with mean earnings of $23,000 and 95% had avoided adult criminal arrests.
The WAY Home employs counselors who support the youth primarily in school and work issues. It encompasses what much of the field refers to as “youth development,” what school officials call “drop out prevention,” and what the child welfare community refers to as “independent living skills”. It is all these things, but most importantly, for youth leaving Children’s Village, it is also a long-term “aftercare” program.
Among the skills these kids need most are those associated with becoming self-sufficient adults: a decent education, the attitudes and ethics needed for successful employment, and a belief in oneself and the possibility of controlling one’s future.
The following description breaks down the areas of services provided to all WAY Home participants.
Individualized counseling for up to five years
The WAY Home provides what these youth often need most – the unfailing support of a caring adult to help them with school, work, and personal problems. Counseling is highly individualized and addresses the developmental needs of each participant. The WAY Home participants work toward meeting their own short and long-term goals. Counselors assist participants to meet challenges and solve problems.
The counseling component serves as the connection between the youth and all WAY Home services. Once enrolled in the WAY Home program, each youth is assigned a professional WAY Home Counselor with whom he develops a relationship that forms the core of the WAY Home experience. The Counselor is the primary means of service delivery, ensuring that youth receive advocacy, information, encouragement, work ethics education, counseling, and other services as needed to succeed in school and on the job.
Counselors become closely involved in the youths’ lives and serve as role models, advocates, and advisors. They see the young people regularly in the offices, in their homes, and on the job. Wherever and whenever help is needed, the WAY Home Counselor is available. The Counselor provides personal and intensive emotional support and practical guidance at every step of the way in the youth’s young adulthood. Counselors are coaches, cheerleaders, surrogate parents, advocates, teachers, and friends.
Prompt School Placement
The program places a great deal of emphasis on educational continuity and helping participants succeed in school. The importance of education as a key to long-term success in the workplace is a consistent theme of the program. When youth are discharged to the community, schools are often reluctant to take them, both because it may be in the middle of the school year and thus disruptive to class and because the youth are perceived as being troubled. Before the WAY Home began to focus on school placement almost half of youth went without placement for 2-3 months. They not only missed valuable instruction time, but they were also at risk of getting into trouble during the day because they had no structured time. Today, we succeed in placing 95% or more of youth in school within a month following discharge.
Work experiences and work ethics training
Counselors assist youth to help see themselves as “workers,” helping them to develop work ethics and gain a sense of purpose. Counselors help participants to devise a plan to look for work, stay with the process, and deal with setbacks. Counselors may also visit job sites, help youth solve job-related problems and encourage youth to develop appropriate work habits and positive attitudes towards supervisors and peers.
Group activities and workshops to promote a positive peer culture
The WAY Home creates a sense of belonging and helps youth learn about making commitments. Entry into WAY Home and continued participation are regularly celebrated through an annual dinner, award ceremonies, special events and visits from program graduates. Such activities help scholars feel good about belonging to a positive peer culture and are designed to offset the pressure and challenge of living in neighborhoods filled with crime and violence. The WAY Home participants meet regularly for workshops on life skills, which address topics such as social responsibility, citizens’ rights, sexual behavior, healthy lifestyles, housing and legal issues, and parenting.
To enhance our regular services for older youth, we have a weekly career club group. Based on a model developed by the Columbia University Workforce Center, the Career Club group helps youth enter the world of work and work together to support their peers’ efforts.