The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Foster Youth Writing and Education Project

Grant Information
Categories Education
Location United States
Cycle Year 2009
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Youth News Service Los Angeles Bureau
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
Contact Information
Contact Name Donna Myrow
Phone (323) 938-9194
Additional Information
Used for To give foster youth a means of self-expression, and of sharing information and experiences that can help address their mental health and other developmental issues.
Benefits The program has been successful in giving teens in foster care a forum to express their views, explore their common issues and potential solutions, and advocate for their peers.
Proposal Description Los Angeles County is home to more than 20% of California’s 80,000 foster youth, and these youth face incredible odds for reaching an adulthood that is both productive and successful. A large percentage of them experience three or more placements during their time in the system, and this shuffling results in emotional and behavioral problems that threaten their mental health, their physical health, and their ability to perform well in school. Given the transience of foster youth’s lives, it is not surprising that research predicts grim futures for them. According to statistics, nearly half of foster youth will emancipate from (age out of) the system without completing high school, and within four years of emancipation, as many as 60% are homeless and 40% are incarcerated. The socio-economic forecast for foster youth must improve, and it is critical therefore that service providers and philanthropic organizations collaborate effectively to stimulate those improvements.

With generous support from The California Endowment, L.A. Youth piloted the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project in 2003. More than 100 foster youth have participated actively as members of L.A. Youth’s student staff, and the organization’s adult staff have established strong collaborative partnerships with more than one dozen agencies and facilities that refer youth to the program.

The project also has widened L.A. Youth’s scope significantly, and while staff now play a substantive role in civic circles, the project also has closed some gaps that have existed between circles. For example, as the foster youth participants have become increasingly candid about reporting on their mental health issues, the newspaper’s broad readership has become more willing to explore those issues and understand how the stigma surrounding mental health challenges can undermine an individual’s capacity to seek help. Participating youth “in the mainstream” are now more forthcoming about the mental health challenges they face, and the across-the-board reporting, together with the results of the mental health survey that was conducted in 2007 in collaboration with the Endowment, have resulted in written information that can inform stakeholders and ultimately change policy.

L.A. Youth’s national presence has continued to grow as well, in part due to the ongoing relationship with Represent, the national foster youth publication. Their reprints of L.A. Youth articles, as well as the L.A. Youth reprints that have appeared in textbooks and national publications, consistently bring in new readers, promoting informed decision-making and an enhanced appreciation for the issues that challenge teens.

L.A. Youth shares the Endowment’s interest in ensuring that individuals have adequate access to the types of mental health services they need, and the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project has been catalytic in demonstrating the need for mental health services among many Los Angeles teens (those in the “mainstream” as well as those in the foster care system). Key to facilitating access to those services is reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues, and as the foregoing section indicates, the project has opened a dialogue on the pages of the teen newspaper. L.A. Youth will continue to grow the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project, thereby enhancing the organization’s capacity to serve marginalized youth populations.

The Foster Youth Writing and Education Project essentially expands the reach of the organization’s mission:

We will provide teens with the highest level of journalism education, civic literacy and job skills. We will strengthen and build our relationships with more and more teachers to bring relevant issues into the classroom and improve the quality of education. We will reach out to the community to better educate policy makers about teen issues; create a more positive image of teens in the mainstream media; and raise the credibility and awareness of L.A. Youth.

Through collaborative relationships with foster care facilities and organizations that serve foster youth (e.g., Linden Center, Rosemary Children’s Services, Star View, facilities served by GLASS [Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Support Services], Casey Family Programs, Children’s Law Center, and Fostering Imagination, among others), staff will present the program to interested youth and encourage their participation as members of the newspaper’s student staff. Thereafter, staff will mentor participating youth as they explore their interests and concerns and develop stories that bring their feelings and experiences to life.

Published six times per year and reaching an estimated readership of 500,000 in the greater Los Angeles area and across the nation, each 28-page issue of L.A. Youth will include at least one foster youth-written article, and many of those articles will be reprinted by Represent for national distribution. The articles also will be posted on L.A. Youth’s website. These ongoing activities not only will provide youth with knowledge and skills that are transferable, but the process will improve their attitudes and behaviors, thus increasing the likelihood that their futures will be brighter than those predicted for too many foster youth.

The newspaper’s wide reach will continue to include policymakers and other stakeholders, and when articles relate to an issue that is particularly connected to current legislative debate, staff will create special targeted mailings to ensure that decision-makers in the policy arena have the opportunity to read first-hand accounts from the youth themselves. The input of additional foster youth will be encouraged through regular letters to the editor, essay contests, and readers surveys, and L.A. Youth will continue to bridge the gaps between “mainstream” and marginalized youth through the inclusion, in each issue, of curriculum that are designed to spur candid classroom discussions.

L.A. Youth is confident in its approach to working with foster youth and encouraging their participation in personal reflection and public debate. Foster youth participation since the project’s pilot in 2003 has revealed the tremendous value both of the education provided and the process of delivering that education. In 2007, two of the foster youth participants became senior writers, and the significance of this should not be underestimated – historically, only 10% of all L.A. Youth student staff members become senior writers. The Evaluation & Training Institute (ETI)’s May 2007 assessment of the project elaborated on the its value, stating that it “has achieved increased visibility in the foster care community, has expanded the number of partnering institutions, and has increased foster youth participation.” In addition to commenting on the positive outcomes for the youth themselves, ETI indicated that “L.A. Youth is well positioned to grow the program both in terms of the number of foster youth served and the impact of the project on public policy.” As the project continues on its successful path, L.A. Youth will help the Endowment realize its goal of expanding access to mental health services.