Dr. Kara Allen Soldati, President & CEO of United Friends of the Children, reflects on her two years at the helm of United Friends, and shares some exciting new developments:
For nearly forty years, United Friends of the Children has remained committed to improving outcomes and breaking the cycle of poverty for Los Angeles County foster youth. While this singular focus has evolved over the decades, our intentions and commitment to young people impacted by the child welfare system have persisted.
Today marks my two year anniversary as the leader of United Friends of the Children. It is incredibly humbling to head such an impactful and important organization. During this time, it has been my charge and opportunity to connect with youth, staff, partners and stakeholders, analyze trends, explore research, respond to our community and evaluate outcomes of similar programs around the country. Through this journey, it has become evident that our current program models can do even more and be more to meet the unique needs of youth in foster care on their quest toward lasting self-sufficiency. Building on the foundation and belief that life-change happens in intentional, consistent relationships, we enter this new year excited for a few key changes that will move us towards increased efficiency and better outcomes for the 1,400 young people we serve each year.
First, United Friends will be combining our two Education programs, College Readiness and College Sponsorship, into one 11-year Education program. The merged program, newly named the “Scholars Program”, will continue to support scholars on their journey from grade 7 through college, and will continue to have three entry points between grade 7 and college graduation. New students can join the program in grades 7-8, as a rising 11th grader, or as a community college student who plans to transfer to a Bachelor’s Degree Granting Institution within two years and continue with us through attaining their Bachelor’s degree.
As we shift to one 11-year Scholars Program we will also be adjusting how we provide financial support to future classes of college scholars. Instead of providing a $15,000 scholarship to scholars attending a Bachelor’s Degree Granting Institution, we will enhance our other support services provided and shift to providing “persistence grants” to scholars with financial need. We remain committed to ensuring our program scholars receive high caliber support and guidance as they navigate their way to and through college and we are even more focused on ensuring that all scholars receive strong financial aid packages and take advantage of the many scholarship opportunities available to them. This shift will make it possible for United Friends to support more of our high school graduates in college and ensure adequate financial support reaches our scholars most in need.
Second, regarding our Pathways Housing Program, we have also transitioned our Advocacy Counselors (ACs) to a community-based model. Historically, ACs were assigned residents from many different sites, but they are now available to focus on residents at one particular site while more effectively creating a unique community identity at each. We expect this will have positive impacts for our program participants in the following ways: by deepening relationships between ACs and residents, improving our ability to establish community referrals and partnerships, and maximizing local community resources to be used in our life skills class curriculum.
Additionally, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and partner agencies, we have learned that removing barriers to program entry is a common goal for many. We therefore have begun to utilize a modified intake process for youth to expedite their entry into the program and thus receipt of services. By significantly reducing our intake process, we are now more than ever, providing essential services where and when youth need them the most.
Finally, we have created a team of staff devoted to resident and alumni engagement. We look forward to the innovation and insights sure to result from our newly formed Youth Advocate program and Resident Council, designed to elevate youth voice and provide opportunities for youth to support our Counselors in planning community events. Also, building a formalized alumni program will allow us to support the “after-care” efforts of former residents as well as identify and train peer-leaders interested in volunteering their time and energy to current youth.
Our outcome targets are still set high. This year, we expect to:
Serve over 700 current and former foster youth through our newly unified “Scholars Program”
– With a target four year high school graduation rate of 90% (national average is 50%)
– With a target of 70% of our college aged youth graduating within 5 years (national average is 4%)
Serve 145 youth through our Pathways Housing Program
– With 70% of program participants graduating into stable housing
– With 60% finding employment while in our program
– With at least 50% enrolled in college or working toward a vocational certificate
Serve over 500 current and former foster youth through alumni and community engagement programs: (College Within Reach, Celebration Graduation, Alumni programs, etc.)
Taking full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead to spread awareness and mobilize critical community resources, we are working to build partnerships within the community of incredible foster youth serving organizations in Los Angeles and exploring what it will take to elevate our footprint in the sector. Helping us to do just that will be new board members (stay tuned for this exciting announcement) and the launching our NextGen Board of young and talented professionals.
Consistently curious and with a sense of urgency, we dedicate ourselves to preparing foster youth for a future that works. As partners and supporters of this mission, we thank you for joining us in surrounding each of our youth with a community of people who care.
Dr. Kara Allen Soldati
President + CEO