Title

Using the Wise Mind: Adapted Mindfulness Activities for At-Risk Teens to Enhance Relational Competency

Location

Ballroom E

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Mental & Physical Health

Relevance

Social & Emotional Skills: The Child Advocacy Institute reports that 65% of former foster youth emancipate without a place to live, less than 3% graduate college, 51% are unemployed and emancipated females are four times more likely to receive public assistance than the general population. This unique population shares characteristics with the broad spectrum of at-risk adolescents who are disconnected and at significant risk of living their entire lives marginalized and in poverty. Disconnected youth are those who have a limited capacity to identify and maintain healthy relationships and/or exhibit some form of high-risk behavior, such as self- harming, substance abuse, promiscuity, criminal activity, etc. Although most at-risk youth can access support surrounding hard skills (such as financial development, formal educational opportunities, or assistance with public resources), success in these areas relies on social-emotional and relational skills that are often found lacking amongst at-risk, disconnected youth who need additional support to achieve their personal goals and actively participate in their communities. Relationships are the key to success for this population and the Connections project teaches skills and strategies that youth can use to increase their relational competency. These skills can be easily applied by educators, social workers, parents and other adults that work with at-risk youth. The project measures outcomes of self-esteem, insight, resilience, empathy and other relational concepts among a specific subset of at-risk, disconnected, foster and former foster youth and has far reaching applications to other sub sets of the at-risk youth population. Mental & Physical Health: Brain development research supports the theory that “there is a second period of profound brain development that occurs during adolescence and continues until the mid-twenties.” The part of the brain that is redeveloping is associated with impulse control, empathy, insight and other relational skills, indicating the possibility for youth to re-integrate attachment bonds and change how they interact and relate to others (Hittleman, 2010). The Connections project is designed to intervene during this second period of development to teach youth the skills they need to improve their relational competency, successfully transition to adulthood and enhance their overall well-being. Outcomes measured by the project include the reduction of engagement in high risk behaviors such as substance use, risky sexual activity and criminal behavior.

Brief Program Description

Learn about the YMCA Connections project and how they have adapted Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for at-risk youth. Be among the first to see a newly developed tool to measure the level of disconnectedness among at-risk youth. Engage in hands-on activities you can use with youth and take away concrete ideas for incorporating relation-based practices into your current work.

Summary

The YMCA of San Diego County developed the Connections project, a federally funded five-year research study serving youth ages 17-21 transitioning out of foster care. Youth receive one-on-one coaching and attend biweekly classes that teach and practice skills based on mindful awareness and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to address their relational needs. The presenters are excited to share their findings around helping transition age foster youth (TAY) improve their relational competency through the utilization of a modified DBT model, a therapy proven effective in helping individuals manage overwhelming emotions by combining mindfulness with cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotional regulation. This presentation will describe how DBT can be adapted for this population and the project’s findings to date. The Connections project has adapted DBT in a way that can be easily utilized by anyone who works with youth, from educators to parents to social workers and parole officers. Presenters will engage the audience in hands-on mindfulness activities that are youth-focused and youth-designed. Presenters will also provide audience members with concrete ideas for incorporating mindfulness and DBT-based practices into their current work with any sub-set of at-risk youth to help them develop healthy authentic relationships and to successfully transition to adulthood. The Connections project will also share the recently developed tool designed to assess the level of connectedness of youth. The presentation will include lessons learned and the importance of including youth voice in the planning and ongoing evaluation of the intervention. Presenters include the Project Director, Clinical Coordinator, Evaluator, Connections Coach and Research Assistant who will share her experience as a former foster youth and with the Connections project.

Evidence

The Connections project was designed based on decades of experience working with the transition age foster youth and at-risk youth populations. The project curriculum is based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy, an evidence-based model proven effective in changing maladaptive behaviors with multiple populations. The project is currently in year four of a five-year research study selected and funded by the federal Children’s Bureau to determine the effectiveness of the “Connections-informed” approach which combines a relationship-focused adult with DBT-based tools to help transition age foster youth improve their relational competency. This presentation focuses on the initial findings on this promising practice which can be easily incorporated by all adults who work with at-risk youth.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Sophia Lee directs the evaluation and research component of the Connections project. She earned her Bachelor's in Sociology and her Masters in Social Work. She conducts research and consulting for local non-profit, government and philanthropic organizations with Harder+Company Community Research. Sophia developed the research plan, identified the outcome tools and works closely with the YMCA to guide the experimental design and research protocols, as well as analyze the results and disseminate the findings.

Krysta Esquivel developed the Connections project based on experience gained over a 14 year career serving foster youth. She has spent much of her career in residential settings, assisting youth in their quest for strong emotional and physical well-being. She obtained her Bachelor’s in Psychology and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work. Krysta is dedicated to enhancing the knowledge in the Child Welfare field in regards to relational competency development among foster youth.

Kristina Halmai oversees the clinical component of the Connections project and created the intervention curriculum based on the DBT model. She obtained her Master’s in Counseling and became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 2007. Prior to this project, Kristina worked for several years at an emergency shelter for teens and families in crisis and a transitional living program for former foster females. She has extensive knowledge and experience using evidence-based models and creating curriculum for organizations and staff.

Nick DeVico is the Connections Coach for the East and South regions of San Diego County. He graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Communications and History in 2009. Growing up 5 minutes outside of Boston, Nick volunteered with low income individuals and developed a strong desire to continue working with this population. After moving to San Diego at the beginning of 2011, Nick began working with transition age foster youth to help them achieve self-sufficiency. Nick was hired by the YMCA in June of 2012 to continue his career in this field of work.

Jazzmin Marquez is an alumni of the foster care system and serves as the Research Assistant on the Connections Project. She has experience working with runaway and homeless teens at a shelter group home and working with transition age youth at a local drop-in center. She is currently working on her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development. Jazzmin is committed to improving the lives of youth in foster care and plays a strong advisory role on this project through her personal understanding of the TAY perspective.

Keyword Descriptors

Relationships, Connections, Disconnected, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, Transition age foster youth

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-3-2015 8:30 AM

End Date

3-3-2015 9:45 AM

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Mar 3rd, 8:30 AM Mar 3rd, 9:45 AM

Using the Wise Mind: Adapted Mindfulness Activities for At-Risk Teens to Enhance Relational Competency

Ballroom E

Learn about the YMCA Connections project and how they have adapted Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for at-risk youth. Be among the first to see a newly developed tool to measure the level of disconnectedness among at-risk youth. Engage in hands-on activities you can use with youth and take away concrete ideas for incorporating relation-based practices into your current work.