Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy

Children, Youth and Families

Cutler Institute Director works to improve international child welfare practices

Kris Sahonchik

In March 2014, Kris Sahonchik, Director of the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at the University of Southern Maine, returned from several weeks in Russia on an exchange program to enhance child protection, foster care and adoption. The purpose of the trip, which followed visits to the United States from Russian child welfare professionals, was to exchange information and ideas to improve child welfare practices in both countries.

Ms. Sahonchik, one of three Fellows focused on permanency for children for the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE), met with human services professionals and toured orphanages and other child welfare facilities in St. Petersburg, Perm, and Moscow. She then made presentations to faculty and students at Moscow State University and social service professionals at the International Conference for the Deinstitutionalization of Orphans, hosted by the Moscow City Government Department of Social Welfare and the Social Project Development Center.  

Kris Sahonchik at SEE ExchangeBased on the available numbers, Russia has a significantly higher number of children in government care than the United States and it has a large majority of those children in orphanages, rather than in foster care as they are in the US. In Russia, as in the United States, Ms. Sahonchik recommends a stronger and continuing emphasis on gathering and analyzing empirical information to determine the kinds of policies and procedures that are effective and consistent with the cultural norms of the region. 

For more information:
http://www.usrussiasocialexpertise.org/

Cutler Institute awarded $600,000 to help youth raised in foster system

Marty Zanghi

USM's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy has been awarded a $600,000 grant to help young people raised in Maine's foster system to prepare for college and the workforce.

The money comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of a $5.4 million national effort aimed at youth who are homeless or in either the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

"Many of these young people have suffered abuse or trauma and were raised in poverty and neglect," said Marty Zanghi, the Cutler Center's youth development director.

The money -- including an expected $400,000 more in matching funds -- will pay for contracted work with agencies in the target areas, starting with the greater Portland area and Penobscot, Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Nationally and in Maine, only about 3 percent of people who grow up in the foster care system achieve a college degree, he said.

"It's dramatically lower than the rate for the general population," Zanghi said. "It's a horrible outcome."

It doesn't have to be that way, though.

"There are young people that overcome these circumstances," he said. "I know people who have master's degrees and Ph.Ds."

The Casey Foundation's national effort is being called the "Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential" (LEAP) initiative.

The initiative is working on partnerships in Maine and nine other areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York. In each case, people will adapt two evidence-based models to meet the needs of these youth, including support to address the trauma they may have experienced in their lives.

In Maine, the work will include a pair of successful programs, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) and Jobs for the Future. Results will be carefully tracked, Zanghi said.

After the first year, the program is expected to grow.

"Eventually, the additional help will be available to all children, 14 and over, in the foster care system in the state of Maine," Zanghi said.

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