A Vital Records Win for Hawaii’s Young People in Foster Care

Posted January 4, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The image depicts side-by-side headshots of two young women, both smiling: the one on the left is brunette and wearing a blue shirt; on the right, is a young Brown woman wearing glasses and a red shirt. A flower is nestled behind her ear.

From left: Melissa Mayo and Delia Ulima

Young advo­cates have been lead­ing the way as Hawaii takes steps to deliv­er vital records to 18-year-olds in fos­ter care.

Too often, young peo­ple have aged out of fos­ter care and into adult inde­pen­dence with­out essen­tial records — a cer­ti­fied copy of a birth cer­tifi­cate, a social secu­ri­ty card and a state ID card — need­ed to get a job or rent an apart­ment, says Melis­sa Mayo, a youth advi­so­ry board leader in Hawaii. 

It’s not fair to them,” says Mayo, age 22, who lives on the island of Hawaii and whose expe­ri­ence in fos­ter care informs her work. It’s just sim­ple. Why isn’t it happening?”

The Advanced Youth Lead­er­ship Institute

The Advanced Youth Lead­er­ship Insti­tute (AYLI), cre­at­ed in 2020 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive®, gave Mayo a chance to find answers.

From Octo­ber 2020 through June 2021, AYLI tapped Jim Casey Young Fel­lows from across the coun­try to address chal­lenges in their com­mu­ni­ties. Each par­tic­i­pant con­ceived and led a project while coached by a sea­soned advo­cate. The pro­gram com­pen­sat­ed them, and in some cas­es, their work led to employ­ment for them or grants at their host sites.

Cre­at­ing Change in Hawaii

Mayo steered a project to cut red tape in Hawaii’s child wel­fare sys­tem so that 18-year-olds would be bet­ter pre­pared to live on their own. She led fact-find­ing dis­cus­sions with child wel­fare work­ers, agency admin­is­tra­tors, court rep­re­sen­ta­tives and young adults.

The chal­lenges, she says, opened her eyes. It was everyone’s respon­si­bil­i­ty but no one’s job to apply for and assem­ble all the records in a time­ly fash­ion. The young adults live on dif­fer­ent islands with­in the state. Case­work­ers feel over­whelmed. Mul­ti­ple fed­er­al and state agen­cies gen­er­ate vital records, includ­ing immi­gra­tion papers, state iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards and med­ical records.

As col­lab­o­ra­tors in the project, Hawaii’s Child Wel­fare Ser­vices brought on a part­ner through Fam­i­ly Court to exam­ine and update the files of all 18-year-olds who would age out of care with­in six months. The part­ner, like Mayo, had expe­ri­ence with the sys­tem. The records clean-up demon­strat­ed what was possible.

Impressed with the effort, Child Wel­fare Ser­vices offi­cials insti­tut­ed month­ly record checks. The goal, going for­ward, is to ensure that all 18-year-olds receive their legal doc­u­ments, whether they will be liv­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, join­ing fam­i­lies through per­ma­nen­cy options or stay­ing in extend­ed fos­ter care.

The Ben­e­fits of Advo­ca­cy for Young People

This is ongo­ing now, and there’s no going back,” Mayo says. I’m grate­ful to have the under­stand­ing of how to do the work, and how to work with the branch admin­is­tra­tor and oth­er part­ners. I was able to see that there is a lot of effort, and there are many hands that work togeth­er to get things done.”

Mayo’s project part­ner and coach wit­nessed her matur­ing into her role.

She devel­oped skills to facil­i­tate the meet­ings and the abil­i­ty to think through a strat­e­gy,” says part­ner Delia Uli­ma, statewide ini­tia­tive man­ag­er for HI H.O.P.E.S., one of 17 Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive sites nation­wide. It takes a high­er lev­el of engage­ment, back and forth, and to see her rise to the lev­el of fol­low­ing through on a huge project like that was won­der­ful. I’m proud of her.”

AYLI imparts new skills, fos­ters men­tor­ing part­ner­ships and pro­vides many young advo­cates their first lead­er­ship role. The train­ing was a lead­er­ship boost­er” and many projects ben­e­fit­ed youth cur­rent­ly in fos­ter care, says Alexan­dra Lohrbach, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foundation.

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