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OJJDP News @ a Glance May 2024

Helping Young People Transition From Foster Care to Independence

Photo of Next Step program participants outfitted to go indoor skydiving
Young people in the Next Step program can join peer support groups and participate in recreational activities—like indoor skydiving. (Photo courtesy of Jackson Street Services.)

Of the more than 391,000 children and youth currently in foster care in the United States, roughly 5 percent—20,000—will be emancipated this year. That is, they will “age out” of the system that currently houses and feeds them and provides their medical care. The age for emancipation varies from state to state, but in most cases young people age out of foster care on their 18th birthday. Many are students in high school. They’re kids.

Too many young people leave foster care unprepared for life on their own. In 2021, 77 percent of eligible youth left the foster care system “without receiving the federally funded services necessary to prepare them for adulthood and independent living,” according to the Children’s Bureau. Many do not realize they are eligible for services outside the foster care system—or they realize, but do not know how to access them. Without caring support and guidance, these young people are at heightened risk for homelessness, mental illness, substance use disorders, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

In northwest Oregon, OJJDP grantee Jackson Street Services works to ensure that young people leaving foster care have a safe place to live where they can develop the skills they need to live on their own.

“Jackson Street's mission is to provide safety and stability to youth and young adults experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness,” said Executive Director Kendra Phillips-Neal. “We do this through building connections, providing housing, and growth in skills for independence.”

With OJJDP funding, Jackson Street operates Next Steps, a transitional living program for youth ages 18 to 24 who are leaving foster care or otherwise facing housing insecurity. The program houses up to 25 young adults in 3 homes—2 in Corvallis (Benton County) and 1 in Albany (Linn County). The program partners with other youth-serving agencies, schools, and professionals from law enforcement and local government to offer services that include skills training, mental health assistance, and case management. Next Steps has served 105 young people since the program’s first site opened in 2013—including 25 in 2023 alone.

“Every individual has their own story and we really like to honor that, making our work with youth and young adults strengths based.” 

—Kendra Phillips-Neal, Executive Director, Jackson Street Services

Jackson Street opened in 1999 to serve young people who were facing or at risk for homelessness. The first 24-hour shelter, Corvallis House, opened in 2001. Jackson Street’s range of services expanded quickly between 2012 and 2019. In addition to the three Next Steps locations, Jackson Street currently operates a drop-in center and two 24-hour shelters, and conducts outreach to young people throughout Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties. 

“We have a vision to end youth homelessness in our region,” Ms. Phillips-Neal said. “Our [youth and young adults] are not ‘bad kids.’ They have been in bad circumstances and are incredible individuals working hard to improve their lives.” She referred to a current Next Steps resident who first connected with Jackson Street through the mentoring, outreach, and shelter programs. 

“Throughout our time of service, we always knew—if given the opportunity—this individual would thrive in a program that supported their independence,” she said, “but we were a bit shocked that they applied for Next Steps, given that most of their life has been spent in programs or controlled by authority figures. We were thrilled to see their interest.” Currently a high school senior, the young person has settled in and is “making friends for the first time in a long time,” Ms. Phillips-Neal said. Ups and downs are inevitable, but “we are excited about the growth this individual will accomplish while in a safe and independent space.”

Date Created: May 29, 2024