Each year approximately 26,000 young people in foster care will turn 18 and “age out” of the system. These youth face numerous obstacles as they transition to adulthood such as homelessness, unemployment, difficulty accessing postsecondary education, and financial instability. AYPF’s recently released issue brief, “Creating Access to Opportunities for Youth in Transition from Foster Care” highlights best practices, policies, and makes recommendations to support these youth in three critical areas of need – sustainable social capital, permanency supports, and access to postsecondary opportunities.
During this forum, panelists shared how policies and programs in their states have addressed these challenges and opportunities. Michael Leach, Director of Independent Living for Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services discussed the state’s network of resource centers and services for youth in transition from foster care. Cecilia Tran, Policy Analyst with the John Burton Foundation, provided an overview of California’s Transitional Housing program for youth in foster care. Finally, Ann Rossi, Analyst with the Michigan Department of Human Services discussed how DHS works with institutions of higher education in Michigan to create better access to postsecondary education for youth in transition from foster care.
Garet Fryar, Policy Research Assistant, American Youth Policy Forum
Michael Leach, Director of Independent Living, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
Ann Rossi, Departmental Analyst, Education/Employment, Michigan Department of Human Services
Erin Russ, Program Associate, American Youth Policy Forum
Cecilia Tran, Policy Associate, John Burton Foundation
Garet Fryar joined the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) as the Policy Research Assistant in March 2014. Her projects focus on investigating policies, practices, and research to promote success for all youth ages 14 to 26 in postsecondary education and the workforce. Garet’s most recent projects included transitional support for youth formally in foster care, competency based education, expanded learning opportunities, and pathways to postsecondary education and the workforce for disconnected youth.
Prior to joining AYPF, Garet interned at the Children’s Defense Fund’s national office. In this role, she focused primarily on child poverty, gun violence involving children, and the cradle to prison pipeline. Garet has also worked in direct service with children and youth through positions at The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem, NC and at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center in Fort Valley, VA. She continues to work with children through her volunteer and advocacy work with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project in Southeast Washington, D.C. Garet holds a double Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. She is a native of Columbia, SC.
Michael Leach is the Director of Independent Living for the State of Tennessee, Department of Children’s Services (DCS). The Independent Living team is charged with building networks of appropriate supports and services for youth transitioning out of care, as well as for those who are likely to remain in care after turning 18. In building these networks, Michael and his team help youth attain and sustain ongoing connections with caring adults, acquire and maintain gainful employment, achieve educational/vocational goals, and receive financial assistance and skills training. Prior to his role in Independent Living, Michael was the Director of Systems Integration within DCS. In this role, he worked with all facets of the department including implementation of the Child and Adolescent Needs & Strengths Assessment (CANS), contract development/monitoring and utilization review.
Prior to his time at DCS, Michael worked in clinical roles at the Vanderbilt Center of Excellence (COE) and Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic (CAPOC). He also has experience in facilitating crisis response services at a community mental health center. Michael has provided in-person training to the Singapore Social and Family Development Ministry and continues to deliver regular, on-going consultation to that team. Michael recently received the annual TN CASA Champion of Children award. The award goes to an individual that exemplifies the word “champion,” a person who fights or argues for a cause on behalf of someone else.
Michael holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Stanislaus. Michael has been a mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle TN program for the past 6 years.
Ann Rossi is a part of the Education and Youth Services Unit at the Michigan Department of Human Services. She works on policy and programming for older youth in foster care, predominantly in the areas of education and employment. She has been employed with the State of Michigan since January 2009. Prior to coming to the Department, Ann worked for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, where she was a foster care worker, independent living worker, and then the State Education and Training Voucher (ETV) Coordinator. She received both her Bachelors and her Master’s degrees in Social Work from Eastern Michigan University. While working at the Department, she has worked to develop the position of the education planner, which now has 16 positions throughout the state, as well as the Independent Living Skills Coach contracts, which are on eight Michigan post-secondary institutions. She hopes to see Michigan continue this work until all youth that have experienced foster care have the available resources to attend education or training programs after high school.
Erin Russ joined AYPF as a Program Associate in 2013. Her projects focus on policies and practices that enable a continuum of success for students from K-12 to postsecondary and the workforce. Her areas of expertise include school discipline, as well as supports for youth involved in systems such as juvenile justice and foster care. She has authored and co-authored several briefs and publications, including the AYPF publications “Creating Access to Opportunities for Youth in Transition from Foster Care,” and “From Discipline to Dialogue: Changing the Conversation about Classroom Discipline.”
Prior to joining AYPF, Erin served as Education Initiatives Fellow with The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C. In this role she partnered with the Prince George’s County, Maryland community to focus on issues related to education including dropout prevention, parent engagement, early childhood services, and college and career readiness. Erin also previously served as an intern in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. She was a middle and high school Government and Economics teacher for five years in North Carolina and Virginia. Erin holds a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Psychology from Anderson University in South Carolina, and a Master of Public Policy with concentrations in Education and Social Policy from George Mason University.
Cecilia Tran is the Policy Associate for the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, a statewide advocacy organization based in San Francisco, California that seeks to improve the quality of life for current and former foster youth and homeless youth. In this capacity, Ms. Tran works to develop and implement legislation and regulations that achieve the goals of the foundation. Additionally, she manages the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Participant Tracking System (THP-Plus PTS), a robust database that captures demographic and outcome data for former foster youth ages 18 to 24 participating in the THP-Plus programs throughout the state. Prior to joining the John Burton Foundation, Cecilia worked with the California State Assembly Human Services Committee and staffed legislation impacting foster youth as a legislative aide to State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.
Director of Independent Living
Cordell Hull Building, 8th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
Departmental Analyst, Education/Employment
235 S. Grand Ave. Suite 514
Lansing, MI 48909
235 Montgomery Street, Suite 1142
San Francisco, CA 94104