Pathways to Progress

Dare Family Services

Pathways to Progress:  Empowering Foster Care Alumni for Adulthood


Description of Program

Pathways to Progress is a program targeted towards former foster youth entering adulthood.  These individuals have aged out of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) covered services in Massachusetts.  Alumni advocates track former foster youth and provide coaching and referral sources that focus on 5 key areas:  education, employment, money management, housing, and establishment of at least one lifelong connection.  "Lifelong connection" refers to an individual in the foster youth's life who can serve as a mentor and provide ongoing guidance.  

Former foster youth often struggle to move forward from a history of abuse and neglect.  As a result, they abruptly find themselves entering adulthood without services, support, or advice. Other programs have historically attempted to develop similar programs, but Dare has found that the inclusion of lifelong connections creates a consistent, supportive presence that fosters a successful transition to adulthood.

Historical ContextPathways to Progress is the product of Dare’s tactical efforts to ensure that former foster youth have the tools, resources, and human connections needed to successfully transition into adulthood. Dare’s original Pathways program targeted youth who had turned 18 and had, therefore, been legally emancipated from DCF services.  Dare Alumni Advocates provided youth-directed emotional, educational, legal and vocational support through a network of community-based resources. This program was discontinued in 2005 when Massachusetts’ legislation was passed allowing these youth to return to DCF services, voluntarily, potentially up until the age of 22. While Dare was a strong advocate for the passage of this legislation, it recognized that former foster youth were still more at risk for dropping out of school, becoming parents before being ready, homelessness, and incarceration; these youth were missing a consistent human connection who could offer advice and relate to their needs, but not judge their choices.  This became a focused directive for the organization when, despite the extension of DCF coverage, a former Dare foster youth was discovered in Springfield living in a cardboard box under a bridge by a Dare staff member.  Shortly thereafter, Dare used funding from its Christmas appeal to hire and Alumni Advocate to begin a pilot program at its Worcester site. 

Dare’s Alumni Advocate has located former foster youth discharged from Dare’s Worcester site and assessed their current level of well being.  The Alumni Advocate’s role is to provide assistance and referral as needed to bridge the often-challenging road to adulthood for former foster youth.  Dare uses a database to track its findings, identify outstanding support needs, and build stronger programs. Dare is committed to ensuring that former foster youth have the skills and tools needed to successfully transition to adulthood, but also thrive in an adult environment by meeting the educational, vocational, personal and financial goals they have identified.


Organizational Overview:  Dare is a private, non-profit social services agency primarily providing comprehensive foster care to children and youth throughout the Commonwealth (plus one additional location in Connecticut).  With histories of trauma and behavioral disorders, these youth typically require intensive foster care services.  Dare also provides housing and support services to developmentally disabled adults as well as pregnant and parenting teens.  Additionally, it provides support and stabilization for at-risk families.  Dedicated to the belief that every child is entitled to the security and stability of a loving family, Dare has been committed to guiding and nourishing each individual in its care towards independence throughout its fifty years of service.


GoalsUnlike comprehensive foster care services provided to youth under the age of 18, youth emerging into adulthood must assume primary responsibility for setting their own goals based on their skills and interests.  Dare’s clinical staff understand that this is the best predictor of successful goal attainment. While each young adult’s objectives will be unique, each pathway to progress generally includes:


  • Assessment of well-being prior to intervention by Alumni Advocate
  • Identification of vocational interests, special skills
  • Review of educational attainment and outstanding educational needs for employment
  • Identification of social activities and interests (e.g., community service)
  • Assessment of life skills needed to successfully manage in home/work/recreational environments (e.g., money management, parenting skills, legal assistance)
  • Identification of personal connections that offer consistent support and guidance for the long-term
  • Reduction in the cycle of public dependency
  • Reduction in the number of incarcerations within this population
  • Increase in the number of youth completing educational degree or certificate programs
  • Increase in the rate of employment among the target population
  • Increase in the number of youth who identify a lifelong connection as a source of ongoing advice
  • Increase in the number of community partners associated with the program providing training, internships, and community service activities for the target population
  • Increase in the number of former foster youth affiliated with the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni


Expected OutcomesBased on baseline data from the start of the Pathways to Progress program, outcomes will be quantified, tracked and reported at least annually.  Outcomes are expected to include:

Target PopulationThis program will be targeted to former Dare foster youth statewide who have “aged out” of DCF services.  These youth fall within the 18-28 age cohort as youth can exit foster care at age 18.


Over 3,000 Former Dare Foster Youth (Age 18-28) Throughout Massachusetts

DCF Region



Central Region

Metro Region

Boston Region

Northeast Region

Southeast Region

Dare Site







Number of Targeted Youth

(Age 18-28)








A review of program data indicates that 46% of the 3,0321 targeted youth are Caucasian, 23% are Hispanic, 16% are African American, 9% are Bi-racial, and 6% classify themselves as “Other (e.g., Native American, Asian, Indian).”


What Makes This Program Unique?  Pathways to Progress is unique in that it 1) builds upon a relationship with the Massachusetts Foster Care Alumni Network to help youth connect with role models who share their foster care history, 2) hires community-based alumni advocates who understand the needs of the local youth,  3) offers intensive training programs in collaboration with community partners  (e.g., local banks, employment resources), and 4) provides a hands on, youth-driven approaches that meet each individual where he or she is and uses that as a starting point for adult goal-setting.  


Cost of Program:  Dare’s objective is to access sufficient funding to support an Alumni Advocate in each of its six locations to ensure that the skills developed by youth throughout the DCF coverage period are effectively utilized, and built upon, as he or she enters adulthood. Given that Dare will be able to service approximately 324 young adults each year with 6 Alumni Advocates, the total annual cost of $300,000 will average $926 per youth, or about $77 per month per youth annually.  For comparison purposes, a study issued in 2013 by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative showed that for each youth that ages out of foster care, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs over a lifetime, or over $97 million for 324 youth.  These costs are attributed to public assistance programs, incarceration, and lost wages.  Pathways to Progress reaches out to these youth and helps them prioritize their adult needs and creates a sustainability plan that may include housing, employment, social relationships, and service activities. 




Success Stories


Adam is a former foster youth with a mental health diagnosis. Having aged out of foster care, he had no stable home and no job. Approached by Dare's Alumni Advocate, he revealed that he was not accessing treatment services through the Department of Mental Health (DMH). While DMH had made several attempts to contact Adam via postal and electronic mail, Adam did not open those communications because he feared "the system." Dare's Alumni Advocate helped Adam understand what he needed to do and accompanied him to the state office to access services. Once in treatment through DMH, Adam was able to obtain and maintain a job. The Alumni Advocate then worked with a local bank to train Adam on budgeting and keeping a checkbook. As a result, Adam is able to make his monthly rent payments and no longer "couch surfs." Alumni advocates establish trust, make referrals, serve as role models, and help youth successfully transition to adulthood with dignity.