Nebraska Bridge to Independence Extended Foster Care Evaluation
Nebraska’s Bridge to Independence (b2i) program supports young adults who recently exited foster care in “transitioning to adulthood, becoming self-sufficient, and creating permanent relationships.” The program provides three broad types of services to all enrolled: medical care, housing, and case management. These services support young people while they pursue education and employment. Participants receive monthly stipends and are assigned to an independence coordinator who helps them develop and modify their transition proposal and connects them to available resources. To be eligible for the program, a young person must be pursuing a degree or otherwise enrolled in educational activities, employed at least 80 hours a month, participating in programs or activities to enhance employment opportunities, or unable to complete the aforementioned activities due to documented medical conditions.
Many b2i participants are also part of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Connected Youth Initiative (CYI). CYI is a statewide network, supported by multiple agencies and organizations, that focuses on youth ages 14 to 25 who are unconnected to family and extended social supports due to involvement in state systems such as foster care or juvenile justice, or who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of being homeless. The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative’s Opportunity Passport® asset matching program is one component of the CYI network.
To support the success of b2i through activities such as quality assurance monitoring, evaluation, and policy guidance, the b2i Advisory Committee meets regularly to make recommendations to the Nebraska Children’s Commission. The Committee’s 2018-2019 Annual Reportiv highlights evaluating the efficacy of b2i and assessing outcomes for participants as priorities in 2019 and beyond. This report, prepared by Child Trends with the support of the b2i Evaluation and Data Collection Workgroup, is one component of the Advisory Committee’s broader evaluation and monitoring efforts.
The research team at Child Trends used three datasets (Foster Care Review Office administrative data, Opportunity Passport Participant Survey, and the Transitional Services Survey) to evaluate young people’s outcomes during and after b2i. The datasets were also used to evaluate whether and how b2i, together with other initiatives, improves participant outcomes.
The datasets used in the outcomes analysis contain information obtained through surveys from young people who are part of the CYI network and young people in Opportunity Passport. As a result, none of the analyses involve a true comparison group because all young people who participated in the surveys were connected to some type of service or support. Additionally, young people who are eligible for b2i but not connected to any programs and services did not participate in the surveys.
To supplement the quantitative findings obtained through surveys and administrative data, Child Trends collected qualitative data through interviews and a focus group with young people. Some of the young people who participated had never enrolled in b2i, while others were current participants or had aged out of the program.
Defining success in b2i
The final definition of success used in this evaluation came directly from conversations with young people. While many of the young people listed some of the outcomes Child Trends included in the original definition (e.g., education and financial stability), most centered on attributes other than the typical outcomes used to measure well-being. Participants also stressed the importance of setting and working toward goals with a positive attitude. Several participants included self-advocacy and community involvement in their definitions of success, or said that, ultimately, success was feeling “normal” when spending time with peers without foster care experience. As a result of these conversations with young people, the evaluation team expanded the definition of success in b2i to measures of being goal-oriented and having hope for the future.
In general, participating in b2i is associated with improved outcomes for young people. B2i participants are more likely than their non-b2i peers to:
- Report having some post-secondary education experience
- Have safe, stable, and affordable housing
- Be able to cover monthly expenses
- Have adults to turn to in a crisis or for a loan
Young people who participate in both b2i and in the Opportunity Passport asset matching program through CYI are also more hopeful and have better self-regulation than their peers who are only part of the CYI system without asset matching.
Importance of b2i resources
All interview and focus group participants reported having a high-quality, positive relationship with their b2i independence coordinator. They also reported that their independence coordinator was able to address any concerns they had and help them make progress toward their goals. To be successful in b2i, young people emphasized the importance of having a positive attitude, setting goals and working to reach them, and building a strong relationship with their independence coordinator. When asked what advice they would give future b2i participants, most focus group participants and interviewees emphasized the importance of building a relationship with their independence coordinator and making the most of that resource.
Participants were also appreciative of the monthly stipend, reporting that it allowed them to feel financially secure and focus their energy elsewhere (e.g., education, parenting). However, some participants expressed difficulty with managing their money when they first entered b2i and began receiving the stipend.
Young people reported not thinking about the exit process from b2i until a few months before they aged out of the program. Although they perceived that they had gained knowledge, skills, and relationships as a result of b2i, those close to aging out expressed concerns about their futures upon leaving the program. Several participants expressed anxiety about covering their expenses after no longer receiving the monthly stipend.
Outcomes data show that young people who have exited b2i do not report all the same positive outcomes as those still in the program. Young people who have exited b2i are more likely than their peers without b2i experience to have safe, stable, and affordable housing, some savings, and enough people to turn to for advice during a crisis or for a loan. However, exited b2i participants were no less likely than their non-b2i peers to experience recent homelessness or couch surfing. They also were no more likely to be able to cover their monthly expenses.