Evaluation of Fair Futures Shows a Well-Developed but Still Emerging Model for Working with Young People in Foster Care
New York City’s Fair Futures initiative is a citywide, comprehensive support program that primarily targets the transition to adulthood for children who have been in foster care. The program is operated in cooperation with 25 New York City foster care agencies. The Fair Futures model envisions that through comprehensive and targeted support provided by coaches, tutors, and specialists, youth in foster care will have a higher likelihood of reaching education, career development, and housing goals associated with a successful transition to adulthood. This report details the findings from an 18-month study of the implementation of the Fair Futures initiative.
What We Did
The implementation study investigates whether the Fair Futures program components, as defined by the logic model, are delivered with fidelity and the extent to which youth in foster care participate as expected. It also examines the organizational and operational contexts, staff training and technical assistance (TA), and the relationships between staff and participants.
To collect data, we relied on a mixed methods approach that included document review, focus groups, interviews with key stakeholders, and the analysis of administrative data. As Fair Futures is a dynamic program with regular refinement practices, our findings and recommendations reflect the program as of our data collection timeline (2021–2022).
What We Found
- Youth-centered Service Determination: Fair Futures aims to provide youth ages 11 to 26 with a Coach or Specialist services (or both) tailored to their unique needs. Focus group responses suggest that each agency emphasizes centering youth when adapting the Fair Futures framework.
- Training & TA: We received positive feedback on the training, TA, and learning communities offered by the Fair Futures implementation team. These were universally viewed as extremely helpful and effective for staff to develop skills, solve problems, and build collaboration.
- Online Data Tracking Platform: Staff noted the ongoing improvement efforts with Care4, the initiative’s data collection system used to track the services provided, and praised the support they receive from the Care4 team. Many described challenges related to system navigation, slow processing times, and the burden of entering information in multiple data entry systems.
- Impact of COVID-19: The timing of Fair Futures’ rollout coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff hired into Fair Futures roles pivoted to learning their jobs and performing them in remote or hybrid capacities. While some staff working in residential settings reported little to no changes to their practices, others’ experiences were dramatically different than expected. In addition to performing administrative duties in new ways, they were tasked with employing creative strategies for connecting with and working with young people in virtual environments.
- The Continuous Quality Improvement Cycle: The Fair Futures implementation team continually collects feedback from agency leadership and staff through frequent interactions during training, TA, learning communities, and other support activities. Taken together, these activities provide sufficient opportunities for staff to report first-hand about real-world issues and concerns, and in turn, for the implementation team to work to address those problems.
What It Means
Fair Futures is a well-developed but still emerging model for working with young people. Long-term success hinges on model components on paper that are faithfully replicated in practice. Implementation has no finish line, and therefore, our recommendations are meant to advance the work being done to refine the Fair Futures approach.
- Continue to expand the number of times Core Training is offered to minimize the amount of time staff must wait to attend. Decreasing the number of staff trained in each session could maximize opportunities to tailor the training to the needs of the group.
- Continue to offer varied opportunities for interagency communication and collaboration to foster relationships and build the bond within the Fair Futures network across agencies toward the common goal.
- Continue to allow non-Fair Futures agency staff to learn and be part of the Fair Futures training and TA to create a shared vision and facilitate collaboration with Fair Futures staff to support youth in their agency.
- Continue to build skills and service quality with training, TA, and learning communities. These were universally viewed as extremely helpful and effective, especially when organized around problem solving and collaboration in a CQI framework.
- Improve program capacity, including: 1) investing in improvements to the quality of Care4 and 2) bringing the program to capacity by hiring the Coaches needed to staff the program model fully.
Thanks to a committed team of founders, partners, and staff who are committed to a process of CQI, the iterative nature of the initiative means that changes are regularly being made and monitored for effectiveness.