NAU receives grant to develop novel program that provides services to youth transitioning out of foster care

an OT student helps a patient learn kitchen skills.

Northern Arizona University’s Department of Occupational Therapy has been awarded a $175,000 grant from Vitalyst Health Foundation to develop a first-of-its-kind model of Medicaid reimbursement and implementation to provide occupational therapy (OT) services to youth transitioning out of foster care.

The NAU Department of Occupational Therapy will work in partnership with Arizona Department of Child Safety, Arizona Council of Human Service Providers and Foster Arizona to develop the model.

“Youth transitioning out of foster care are provided with very little support and preparation to be fully independent adults when they turn 18, and yet that is what we expect of them,” said Amy Armstrong-Heimsoth, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and associate clinical professor at Northern Arizona University. “These young people face a long history of disparities and inequity, exacerbated by a history of trauma and instability. This new model for Medicaid reimbursement will ensure their occupational therapy needs, such as independence in self-care, family care, and in caring for their home and work environments, can be affordably addressed by highly trained health care professionals.”

As youth transition out of foster care, an estimated 31-46 percent experience homelessness at least once before the age of 26, compared to 4 percent of their peers. They are twice as likely not to have earned a GED or high school diploma by age 21. At age 24, only about 60 percent report obtaining gainful employment, and on average, they earn less than half of their same-aged peers. NAU’s Department of Occupational Therapy aims to change this by ensuring these youth leave foster care with the abilities necessary to fully participate in any meaningful activities that they want to accomplish.

“The Department of Child Safety looks forward to working with Northern Arizona University to help support youth in foster care transition into adulthood. We share in Dr. Armstrong’s vision that occupational therapy can help young people build their cognitive and social-emotional skills to help set them up for success in their adult lives,” said Megan Conrad, permanency and youth services supervisor and statewide independent living coordinator with Arizona Department of Child Safety.

Through this grant, occupational therapy services will be provided to 100 youth transitioning from foster care, including assessment and participation in life skills training, mental health and wellness support, transitioning in life roles and maximizing functional cognitive skills. The OT assessment and intervention provided will be part of a pilot study program in which OTs would utilize objective, subjective and observational measures, as well as focus groups, to identify individual and systemic needs, build individualized interventions and track progress throughout the study. Those participating in the program may receive OT services related to self-care, health and safety, money management, employment, leisure and social participation and other vital life skills. This model will serve as an example that may be replicated across the country.

NAU Communications