Older youth and young adults who have experienced extended time in foster care are at increased risk of negative consequences once they leave care, such as dropping out of school, unplanned parenthood, high rates of untreated illness, homelessness, criminal activity, depression and suicide. In order to help these youth and young adults have better outcomes, the NC LINKS program provides services to all youth in foster care age 16 to 18 and to those young adults who are voluntarily in care between the ages of 18 and 21, as well as to young adults who aged out of foster care at age 18. For the purposes of this policy, "foster care" means that the youth was in DSS custody as a minor and lived either in a licensed foster care facility or lived with a relative (not the removal home.) County Departments of Social Services are required to offer LINKS services to these two populations if they have eligible youth or young adults who are or were in their custody. The Orange County Department of Social Services provides services to youth in foster care ages 13 through 15 and to youth and young adults who were discharged from their custody as teens but prior to their 18th birthday. In order for a youth or young adult to receive LINKS services or funding, he or she must be a willing and active participant in the assessment, planning, and service implementation processes. Youth and young adults who refuse services may later change their minds so long as they are eligible.
The NC LINKS program is comprised of several elements:
1. An assessment of the youth's strengths as well as their needs for further information and training. The assessment is completed by the youth and his or her caregiver.
2. A plan that is based on the assessment and which includes the youth/young adult's interests and goals as well as their responsibilities for fulfilling the plan.
3. Services outlined in the plan, which are directed at achieving good outcomes with that youth/young adult. Desired outcomes for all young adults from the foster care system are:
- Sufficient income to meet daily needs;
- A safe and stable place to live
- Sufficient academic and/or vocational training that is in keeping with the youth's goals, interests and abilities
- Connections to and emotional support from a variety of adults outside of the public child welfare system
- Avoidance of High Risk Behaviors
- Postponement of parenthood until emotionally and financially capable of parenting
- Access to routine mental health, health and dental health care
Services are individualized but usually include group activities; participation in community activities that promote maturity; one-on-one instruction; volunteer activities; employment; specific life skills training; exposure to educational and vocational resources, etc.