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Rutgers program provides homes to foster children

<p>Courtesy of Stephanie Pena |&nbsp;The Summer Housing and Internship Program helps 400 college students who are also part of the state foster-care system, some of whom are transitioning out.</p>

Courtesy of Stephanie Pena | The Summer Housing and Internship Program helps 400 college students who are also part of the state foster-care system, some of whom are transitioning out.

A Rutgers program is helping students in the child welfare system who do not have a home during the summer by providing a number of summer housing and internships opportunities.

The Summer Housing and Internship Program is a subset of Project MYSELF, which works with 400 college-enrolled youths attending 110 different schools from Mahwah Township to Cape May, said Maureen Braun-Scalera, director of the Office of Child Welfare Initiatives in the Rutgers School of Social Work.

“We have support coaches who are all masters in social work graduates,” she said. "They provide support coaching to these youths."

Qualifying students are participating or transitioning out of the child welfare system. The system works with families facing problems such as abuse, neglect, substance abuse and poverty, she said.

“All of the youths we work with are in that situation,” she said. “At some point in time, they were placed in out-of-home care because they were not safe in their homes, and they are now either currently involved in foster care or they were formally involved.”

Legally, children can age out of the system as soon as they turn 18, but can stay until they are 21, Braun-Scalera said. Some youths cannot wait to get out, regardless of the system's benefits. Others do not withdraw until they turn 21.

Staff members are assigned to different campuses where the students participate in the program. Support coaches meet with students individually or as a group two to three times a month to provide support and help connect them with resources.

“(They help) purchase textbooks, get them food donations. They made need some tutoring, they made need some help to advocate for financial assistance,” Braun-Scalera said. “The support coaches also teach them life skills like financial literacy and emotional resiliency.”

The housing program that provides housing for students who do not have a home to go to during the summer has 40 slots, she said.

“We put 10 students on the Camden campus, 10 on New Brunswick and 10 on Newark, and we contract with Montclair to have 10 live there,” Braun-Scalera said. “So from the end of May through middle August they live on campus for 12 weeks.”

Many of these students take a 3-credit class during the summer. The students are placed in a paid internship matching as closely as possible to a career interest. The students also have the opportunity to attend various educational, cultural, social and recreational activities, such as a Broadway show or a trip to Dorney Park.

The program began in 2007 and originally had only 10 slots on the New Brunswick campus, Braun-Scalera said. The office quickly realized that more slots were needed, and by 2013, the program had expanded to its current size.

The Summer Internship Program provides 20 slots to students that have their own housing, she added. These students have access to the paid internship and can take a 3-credit class, as well as attend all the trips and activities with everybody else.

The program reaches out to the Rutgers community and those that surround the campuses, such as the Newark community, the New Brunswick community and Montclair community.

“Once the students state-wide are identified, their support coach then meets with them to really try and teeth out a career interest that matches an opportunity that we have,” Braun-Scalera said. “We’ve had students who are interested in business and accounting who work in a Rutgers business office somewhere on campus.”

The program also conducts a survey every year, where the students anonymously give commentary on their experiences.

“We really work hard to match it, not just give them some random job,” she said. “We had somebody who was interested in community organizing work at the Camden community development corporation."


Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.

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