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V.I.T.A.L. Highlights: Activating Potential in Young Adults to Build Success, Justice, and Lead Change

By Linda Dixon

Graphic for Transitional Age Youth that outlines the VITAL approach: Voice and choice, Innovate, Thorough and accountable, Authentic youth engagement, and Life launch"Can You Hear Me Now???"  A 30-year-old woman presented this as a tag line that described her experience as someone who transitioned from a child welfare system at age 18.  Her delivery was loud and abrupt.  No explanation.  The mic immediately turned off.  The woman has been silent in every session of a year-long breakthrough series on serving transitional age youth.  We were separated across thousands of miles and different life experiences.  I'm not quite sure, but I believe we happened to make eye contact at that moment.  I was stilled and fortunately, I was with a very strong and dedicated team of colleagues.   I admit I didn't expect anything to happen in that session and I was prepared to multi-task throughout the hour.  These are the exchanges that keep the momentum in adolescent work.  

Since the overview of V.I.T.A.L adolescent practice approach in May, policy regarding Adolescent and Transitional Age Supports and Practice Guide materials have been disseminated and the work moved into implementation mode.  The hope is to give transitional age youth (TAY) progressively more control over their planning and to make system adjustments based on feedback from those with lived experiences.  The Transitional Supports and Success team has leveraged several partnerships across the agency to move the work.  The aim is to capitalize on rigorous engagement vs. an emphasis on compliance.  In the past few months we have assigned tasks to team members and partners based on strengths and we divide the work into three broad buckets: "paper and research," "people," and "numbers."   Everything has been inspired by authentic youth engagement.   

Traction has started in the following ways:  

  • Launched the partnership with the Academy to revamp the adolescent certification process.  
  • Activated a team to develop the Health and Wellness Curriculum for adolescents.  
  • Began compiling a civic engagement workshop for TAY.  
  • Piloting the Omega functional assessment process with the ACR team with Orlando Cuadrado's leadership and expertise.
  • Pulling data for a second deep dive on outcomes of TAY.
  • Multidisciplinary team members have sketched out a framework of deliverables to ensure all LGBTQIA+ youth and families involved with DCF are provided a safe, inclusive, affirming, and discrimination-free environment.  This group will create a 'toolkit" to support practice work with chapters for child welfare (e.g., intake, investigations, etc.), family support, housing, education, engagement, legal rights/resources, launch to adulthood, race, ethnicity and LGBTQIA+ intersectionality, and health and well-being.
  • Wrote and posted a new RFP for an enhanced mentoring service for LGBTQIA+ youth.  This will triple the budget, increase the catchment area to cover the entire state, and structure the mentoring. 
  • Started a consortium of paid young adults to work in tandem with providers serving TAY to develop a manual that embeds V.I.T.A.L values and principles into the work.Text and logo for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
  • Developed a partnership with D.E.E.P. to pay young adults in environmental conservation service at the Wilderness School this summer. 
  • Gathered philanthropic donations for TAY. For example, Jordan's Furniture donated 5 $1,000 vouchers for furniture for TAY. They hope to expand this donation in the future.Text and logo for the DMV (Safety, Security, Service)
  • Writing an MOU with DMV that streamlines the process for youth to obtain non-driver's identification and driver's licenses.  This will include adding a mobile serve that visits area offices, adding a pre-check of documents, creating a designated day for youth in DCF care to obtain a license, and streamlining an interagency exchange of funds, etc.)Seal for the Connecticut Department of Banking
  • Met with the Banking Commission and compiled a list of banks that offer financial literacy programs through schools.  
  • Recruited private providers to offer life skill courses at DOC facilities serving young adults. 

One challenge has been finding young adults to commit as paid role models and ambassadors.  We hope to build on that in the future as this is critically important.  

There is no shortage of staff ready to support TAY.  Our work pivots based on feedback and creative ideas from regional partners including Lisa Mas and Christine Stebbins, our teammates in a national Breakthrough Series Collaborative on TAY. 

Even though we have accomplished quite a bit in just a few months, some of the impact hasn't happened quickly enough for our taste.  Outcomes for TAY in child welfare are stubborn.  Recently, I've found comfort in a phrase I heard a lot growing up:  "Proceed as the way opens."  I ignored this years ago, but I now understand the value in waiting for guidance to come and avoiding hasty action.  Using patient discernment requires a demanding level of discipline.  Guidance can come in a time of seeking or entirely unexpectedly.  The way eventually will open.  It always does.  

Please feel free to contact myself or Latosha Johnson, Program Director if you would like to help lift and sustain the V.I.T.A.L. culture.  

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