HSU Graduate Students Work to Improve Support for Native Foster Youth

May 17, 2019

A group of HSU Social Work students has been working to improve Native American foster youth’s access to support and services.

The project, led by Masters of Social Work students Melody Soper, Liliana Gandarilla, and Alex Garcia, was recently awarded a $2,500 CSU Basic Needs Student Research grant to continue their research.

The group has been working closely with Indian Tribal and Educational Personnel Program (ITEPP), which identified the need for improved services. ITEPP Coordinator Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond says the program is also working with the California Wellness Fund to improve a pathway from foster care to higher education.

Nearly 50 percent of Humboldt County’s foster youth are Native, Colegrove-Raymond says, but they’re not receiving all the services they may be eligible for.

The grant allows them to travel to meet with aid workers at tribes, social services, schools, and other agencies to discover solutions to gaps in services.

“We found through interviews that social workers often identify who’s Native, or who’s a foster youth, but don’t necessarily connect the two,” Soper says. Understanding a youth’s full situation gives social workers the ability to connect them with more appropriate services.

It also gives workers better connections with foster youth.

“Social work requires developing human relationships—interventions are ineffective without relationships,” Garcia says. “The outreach model is looking for a more targeted approach that’s culturally relevant and appropriate.”

Colegrove-Raymond says that rules about confidentiality can cause students to miss out on opportunities and services available to them.

“In Humboldt County Native foster youth work with a multitude of agencies that don't necessarily communicate with one another, which makes it very difficult to identify students when providing educational services,” she says. “Our hope is to increase the sharing of information amongst agencies to best serve the educational needs of a population in most need.”

The student’s research will help aid workers get past immediate disinterest and distrust that can end up harming Native youth, since they won’t receive all their eligible services.

“It is also our goal to help service providers address their needs beyond academics, such as their emotional, physical and spiritual needs. In this way Native foster youth will not just have greater access to resources, but hopefully feel more empowered to seek them,” Soper says.

The project complements ITEPP’s ongoing California Wellness Fund program, which empowers former foster youth to become mentors to current Native foster youth.