Young people from 17 to 22 who are leaving the foster care, juvenile justice or behavioral health systems are at a critical juncture, and a new effort in Central Washington aims to ensure they have the support they need.

The Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families awarded more than $500,000 in grant money to Catholic Charities Serving Central Washington for a program designed to give individualized support to young people transitioning out of foster care and other programs, according to an agency announcement.

The state hopes to reduce rates of homelessness and improve mental well-being through the program, the announcement said. A 2022 study by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services found that 17% of young people who exited systems of care were homeless within a year.

Through the grant, CCSCW will be among the first agencies on the east side of the state to try out LifeSet, youth and young adult services regional program manager Whitney Carlson said in an email.

LifeSet offers highly personalized and consistent care to young people, said Kaye Cantrell, the West Coast network director for Youth Villages, the nonprofit organization that developed LifeSet. The program is already in use in King County.

The program pairs each young person with a trained specialist available for round-the-clock support, said DCYF prevention program manager Cole Ketcherside. These specialists work with about 10 young people, a smaller caseload than a typical social worker.

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That smaller caseload allows specialists to better know their young clients, identify their needs and devise a plan to help them smoothly transition to independent living, Cantrell said.

CCSCW will oversee LifeSet services for young people, ages 17 to 22, in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties who are transitioning out of the foster care, juvenile justice or behavior health systems, the announcement said. Carlson anticipated the two specialists CCSCW will get can work with about 20 young people, each for six to 12 months.

“They will now have the support that other young people in their age group may have through their natural support networks,” Carlson wrote in an email. “Resulting in hopefully less housing instability, becoming and staying employed, remaining free from legal involvement, attaining mental health stability and developing the life skills necessary to become successful, productive adults.”

The grant is good through July 2023, though Carlson said more permanent funding may come from future legislative sessions.