Support for Kids in Transition
The WAY Home, which is funded entirely by private donations, provides two years of support to foster care young men leaving The Children’s Village campus in Dobbs Ferry and to young men and women leaving family foster care. Older youth who have no family resources can apply for up to five years of support.
The program is based on the WAY model, which was developed by The Children’s Village in 1984, and has since been implemented at sites throughout the country. The WAY Home employs counselors/mentors who support students 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, it is also a long-term “aftercare” program for youth leaving Children’s Village.
A 15-year longitudinal study published by the Child Welfare League of America on the WAY program showed that 80% of the alumni studied completed high school, 80% were working, and 95% had avoided adult criminal arrests.
Among the skills most critical to these kids 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.
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.
Counselors become closely involved in the youths’ lives and serve as role models, advocates, and advisors. They see the young people regularly in Children’s Village 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 importance of education as a key to long-term success in the workplace is a consistent theme of the program. When students 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 existing classes and because the youth are perceived as being troubled. Before 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 students 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. They 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 toward supervisors and peers.
Group activities and workshops to promote a positive peer culture
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 participants 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. 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 monthly “Wrap It Up Saturdays” group that meets in Harlem. This program is extremely popular and includes current participants as well as alumni.
The WAY Home program continues to show dramatic results with some of the most at-risk teens in the New York area: 94% are either graduated or in school and passing, 59% are working at least part-time, 86% are in stable housing and 94% have avoided any contact with the criminal justice system.