Innovative Support for Youth in Foster Care

In its first year as a program at Children’s Aid and Family Services, Peer2Peer (NJP2P) has matched over 20 youths ages 14-21 in the care of the state’s foster care with trained peer navigators who themselves have lived experience in the child welfare system. And the results have been successful. “At an important time in these young peoples’ lives, navigators understand where they are coming from and can be a great resource and source of support,” says Marcia Fisher, Administrator of Adoption and Permanency.

Developed as a pilot program with agencies throughout New Jersey, Children’s Aid and Family Services’ program serves Essex, Union and Middlesex counties. “The navigators are called ‘credible messengers’ because they have been through similar situations as the youths they are working with,” says Marcia. “And that can create an invaluable relationship as they use their first-hand knowledge to offer advice and guidance and give them tools to advocate for themselves.”

“The ultimate goal of the Peer2Peer navigators is to help youths advocate for themselves and for their own futures.”

Javier Argueta, Program Coordinator Manager for Peer2Peer, works to match youths with navigators by speaking with the youths and connecting them with peers who can best assist them. “It’s personality, gender, interests, shared experiences, all of that is taken into account,” he says. The navigators work with the mentees where they are in life, such as helping them get a driver’s license, job hunt, find housing and open a bank account.

On average the peer navigators and youths connect twice a month, though some meet more frequently, building trust, resiliency, and empathy through shared life stories. “Having someone available for emotional support can be so valuable,” says Javier. “We had a youth recently who needed someone to accompany him to a court date, just to sit with him. Another young person was aided by a navigator to foster a reconnection with her biological parents. The navigator got her access to a phone and that started them communicating.” A young man wanted to become a truck driver so his navigator helped him get a commercial driver’s license. “Many of the things we take for granted the navigators can help them work toward achieving,” says Javier.

“The ultimate goal of the Peer2Peer navigators is to help youths advocate for themselves and for their own futures,” says Marcia. “To say ‘I’m teaching you so that you’ll have the skills to do it yourself.’”

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