Evaluation of a Health Navigator Pilot Program for Youth in Foster Care
Keywords:youth aging out of foster care, health navigator, program evaluation, marginalized youth, child welfare organizations/systems
The Health Navigator Program (HNP) was a pilot health mentor intervention program for youth in British Columbia, Canada, with connections to the provincial child welfare system. In this article, youth participants are referred to as “independent youth” as they are independent of traditional familial care. Children and youth in the foster care system face increased prevalence and risk of physical and mental health challenges with lasting implications throughout adulthood. The cumulative effect of childhood trauma, lack of connections to supportive adults, and structural obstacles such as poverty, racism, and sexism all contribute to creating significant barriers for independent youth navigating the health care system. The HNP was created to address these obstacles and facilitate improved health outcomes for independent youth. Youth from 2 program sites were paired with medical student volunteers who provided advocacy and mentorship. A qualitative process evaluation was undertaken to assess the effectiveness of the HNP in achieving the intended program outcomes. Findings revealed that the independent youth participants increased awareness of their own health needs, gained confidence in navigating the health care system, and had improved short-term health outcomes. Relationship building with a caring adult, outside of a paid professional role, was shown to be the most significant factor in achieving these positive outcomes.
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