A Summer of Youth Focus Groups

Appleseed’s Amy West leads a webinar before statewide child welfare focus groups.

You may remember past blogs about an exciting new program that would extend services and support for youth who age out of foster care to the age of 21.  These services and supports would include, among other things, Medicaid coverage, housing assistance, and youth-directed case management.

State Senator Amanda McGill introduced LB 1150 in January of this year, which would have created such a program in Nebraska.  Although the bill remained in committee, discussion during the hearing sparked enthusiasm and led to the introduction of LR 537 on March 27, an interim study designed to gather data and develop recommendations to address the struggles and challenges facing youth who age out of foster care.

As a part of LR 537, Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare Team has been busy working with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF) and its contractors to organize a series of focus groups across the state this summer.  The purpose of these focus groups is to gather together groups of young people with experience in the foster care system and hear their thoughts and experiences with homelessness, health care access, permanency, and services currently available in Nebraska (including the Former Ward program).

We are also providing these groups with information about the potential for an “Extended Services and Support to 21” program and asking them how they think such a program should look with a detailed survey of the many options Nebraska has for designing its own program.

To provide you with an idea of what this summer has been like, along with an update on the progress we’ve made on this project, here is our timeline of summer activity:

Timeline of events:

  • June 27 – NCFF and its contractors partnered with us to provide a Focus Group webinar for Project Everlast Youth Advisors, who were responsible for facilitating the focus groups of youth with experience in the foster care system.
  • July 10 – Our first focus group was held with Project Everlast members from Grand Island.
  • July 11 – The Omaha focus group was held.  We had to break youth up into three groups due to the large number of attendees (approximately 30 youth)!  Amy Williams from Senator McGill’s office was also able to come listen to the youths’ stories and perspectives.
  • July 18-20  – I spent three days camping out with Project Everlast members at their annual Summer Convening, sharing information about the Extended Services and Support program, and gathering input from the youth.
  • July 25-26  – The Scottsbluff and North Platte focus groups were held on a two-day trip to Western Nebraska.
  • July 30 – The Norfolk focus group was held at the Norfolk Group Home.
  • August 7 – The Geneva focus group will be held at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center at Geneva.
  • August 8 – The Kearney focus group will be held at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center at Kearney.  Amy Williams from Senator McGill’s office plans to attend this group, as well.

So far, we have spoken with more than 60 young people and collected surveys from nearly 90.  Their comments and experiences will help raise awareness and develop solutions to some of the issues mentioned in Senator McGill’s LR 537.  Nebraska Appleseed, with full support from Senator McGill, will be compiling survey responses and using youth input to advocate for the design of an Extended Services and Support program in Nebraska.

Involving youth voice in the program design process provides lawmakers and other stakeholders the opportunity to create a program that will truly be beneficial for those it intends to serve.  We are SO excited to see where this busy summer takes us and what young people in Nebraska have to say about the needs of youth in foster care.

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