Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Working Group – March 28, 2012

In attendance:  Marge Barrett-Mills, Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, Sean Barry, DMH, Shannon Barry, Springfield Schools, Michelle Butcher, Springfield schools (intern), Danielle DeBerry, ServiceNet, Lisa Goldsmith, Dial/SELF, Kim Majewski, Gandara Center, Karen Richardson, Gandara Center, Jean Rogers, Center for Human Development, Wanda Rolon, ServiceNet,   Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Sarah Slautterback, DESE, Rani Turner, Dare Family Services/Treehouse, Rhonda Young, CHD/Safety Zone

Paul Fitzsimmons, Department of Children and Families:  First challenge is defining “unaccompanied youth” – each state agency defines this definition differently, also different definitions in federal law and among private funders.  Important to establish common language.

For DCF, the transitional age is 18-20.  Frequently kids become 18 and leave the system – eager for freedom – then return to system.  DCF changed rule to allow agency to respond to these youth.  Responses run range, e.g. independent living programs, enable youth to become repayees, etc.

Stipends for unaccompanied youth?  Paul:  if youth are receiving payments, it is not a stipend, but it is in the context of becoming their own repayee, i.e., becoming their own “foster parent.”   Youth would have to be open to DCF about this situation, a case-by-case assessment.

Also federal dollars available for unaccompanied youth, administered centrally.  Small amount, not usually cash assistance.

Sean Barry, Department of Mental Health.  Focus is not housing.  Focus is skills development for transitional age youth.  Limited foster care.  Serves up to age 19.  Has transitional age youth programs in Holyoke and Springfield.

Most child recipients of services will not be a recipient of adult services.  Qualifying criteria is more lenient as child, eg. ADHD, autistic spectrum disorder.

If existing client of DMH, as 18 year old, transition process to adult DMH services would begin.  If 18 and not pre-existing client, then would apply straight to adult services.  Will take kids back into system if leave and then want to come back, as individual circumstances dictate.

DMH has flexible fund payments for clients seeking to live on their own.  Not ongoing payments but could be one-time start-up, e.g., security deposit, a bed.

DCF:  For children under 18, agencies are mandated reporters.  If parents have stopped parenting children under the age of 18, agencies are required to report to DCF.  This issue comes up most frequently at schools (failure to report).

Acknowledged that 17 year olds are a particularly tricky population b/c almost independent but not quite (and considered adult by police)

Challenging issue around 16-18 year olds who actively try to avoid DCF.  Worries about having to leave school, getting adults who are taking care of them in trouble, worried about siblings getting separated, too.  Valid concerns.

DESE – 750 unaccompanied homeless youth identified by schools; but based on risk assessment survey, number is closer to 6,000.

Among providers, discussion ranges from 14-22 years old.  Springfield schools sees big problem around 18 and 19 year olds who have returned to school but are couch surfing.

Pending legislation is asking for services of unaccompanied homeless youth and the establishment of a commission to study under 18 population and the barriers that prevent them from coming forward.

Reviewed working group purpose:

Right now, use the Network to make connections around resources, learn what is out there, eg how to better use adult shelter resources.  Provide support, information exchange.  See where the group goes over time.

Agreed to meet roughly every 6-8 weeks.  Agreed on next meeting date:
Thursday, 5/17/12, 9:30-11 am, DMH Haskell Building

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