Brunswick County Social Services wins Best Practice Award for Empowering Clients to Self Sufficiency

BOLIVIA, NC – Brunswick County Social Services was awarded the Best Practice Award for Empowering Clients to Self Sufficiency at the Social Services Institute for changes it made to a program that helps youth in foster care transition as they age out of the system.

Each year, counties submit ideas and programs for the award. This year, Brunswick County was recognized for the way the County facilitates the LINKS program.

Social Services Team

Left to right: Cathy Lytch, Director of Social Services; Tanya Madden, Social Work Supervisor; Kristin Van Ormer, Social Worker/LINKS; Nikki Mears, Social Worker/LINKS; Valarie Price, Social Work Supervisor; Daphne Green, Social Work Program Administrator.

N.C. LINKS is a state-wide program that helps children ages 13 – 18 years old who are in foster care and those who have aged out of the system, providing assistance as the youth transition from foster care to being adults.

Two years ago, Brunswick County Social Services changed the way the program was administered. Previously, one social worker had worked with teenagers in foster care, and a second social worker had worked with youth as they aged out. Youth who have been in foster care after age 13 remain eligible for certain programs until age 21.

“There was a disconnect as they aged out,” said Social Services Director Cathy Lytch, adding that the youth would move to a new social worker in the middle of that transition.

Now, the cases are split between two social workers, and each social worker works with her clients from age 13 to age 21, throughout that transition. One social worker works with girls, and one with boys.

“They stay with the kids as they age through,” Lytch said of the social workers. “There is support and continuity as they transition from being a teenager to an adult.”

As part of their work with the LINKS program, the two social workers lead group classes for the youth, focusing on life skills like cooking, banking and internet safety. Working with boys and girls separately allows them to better address topics like relationships, and working with the same youth throughout as they get older helps the social workers when they select class topics. The classes are a joint effort with the foster parents, and the social workers try to build on what the teens learn in their foster homes.

In one upcoming class, hosted by one teen’s foster parents, the teens will all cook a Thanksgiving meal together, learning and practicing cooking skills.

And the changes to the program are paying off, Lytch said.

The program has seen an increase in the number of foster youth signing CARS agreements, which allow foster youth 18-21 years old to stay in foster care while working or going to school. Participation in other LINKS services, which help the youth access health care, training and resources after they turn 18, has also increased.

At one point, none of the teenagers in Brunswick County’s foster care system went to college. Last year, four went to college, and a fifth is preparing to start.

The change did not have a financial impact on the budget, simply utilizing the same number of staff in a different way, providing more consistency for the youth.

“I was proud of the program before, but it’s great that the State is recognizing it,” Lytch added.

“We are very proud of Social Services Director Cathy Lytch and her team, who provide excellent care to our children,” said David Stanley, Health and Human Services Executive Director.

“Thank you to Cathy and her staff for diligently supporting and empowering our foster care youth,” added County Manager Ann Hardy. “It is wonderful that their innovations have received this recognition. We are proud of their hard work.”