The Truth Behind Alabama's Transitional & Independent Living Program: Hair Weave, Tampons & Calling Cards?

An inside look into Alabama's Transitional & Independent Living Program's request for proposal to organizations wishing to contract with them to provide case management services. 

Here's their program description...

"Transitional Living Programs (TLP) provide foster youth (ages 16-21) with opportunities to practice independent living skills in a variety of congregate settings with decreasing degrees of care and supervision.

Independent Living Programs (ILP) are offered in an alternative living arrangement whereby youth live in community-based housing rather than in a foster home or a group home setting. 

This living arrangement allows youth the opportunity to continue the decreased care and supervision needed so that they will ultimately be responsible for their own care and be prepared to live on their own in the same location, when the Department of Human Resources no longer holds custody."

Uh huh. Okay. I'm following you.

But you can always tell much about an agency or organization by their requests for proposals. It gives you an unapologetic insight into what is most important to them.

Let's dig in.

Here are some mandatory requirements for organizations who wish to contract and provide services to adult youth in Alabama in foster care and/or transitioning to adulthood:

1. "Ensure that all youth and the provider agency shall adhere to DHR’s Telephone and Mail Contacts policy. The telephone may be limited to local calling if a “calling plan” or “calling card” is provided for youth to contact parents, relatives, siblings, and other pertinent individuals who live outside the local calling area."

A telephone and mail contacts policy? And a calling card? They still have calling cards in Alabama? And 70% of adult youth already have access to cell phones. I suppose they take them away upon entry.

2. "The following supervisory schedule, at a minimum, shall be followed during the first eight (8) weeks in placement:

1st Week -  Daily Supervision
2nd through 4th Weeks - Twice A Week Supervision
5th through 8th Week - Once A Week

After the eighth (8th) week, supervision must occur no less often than once a month, and the team will reconvene to determine the level of on-going supervision that is needed."

Hmmm. This is sounding more and more like prison. No wonder most foster kids leave these agencies/organizations at the first crack of legal adulthood. 

Let's keep going.

3. "Provide up to $50 per month for special needs and occasions, e.g. haircuts, feminine hygiene products, oral and body hygiene products, over-the-counter medications, gifts for birthdays, Christmas or other special occasions, etc. 

Anything above $50 per month must be paid by the county DHR."

Ok, let me make sure I got this straight. $50 for haircuts. 

Obviously these people don't plan on having any young black women in their independent living programs. Because the price of getting your hair done as a young black woman is almost the cost of a student loan payment. 

You think I'm joking. [puts laptop down; googles black hair salons in Alabama; finds Natural Locs & Gifts in Mobile, AL; very nice lady; when presented with an inquiry about getting a basic individual braids appointment for a young lady in foster care, she priced it at the low point - $160].

Thank you very much.

End of discussion on the realistic expectations of decent hair appointments for young black ladies in foster care in the state of Alabama. 

And it's gets better. 

These items above in #2 are listed as "special occasions". Yep. Special occasions. 

Feminine hygiene products are categorized as special occasions. So a young lady in Alabama's independent living programs starts bleeding profusely from the vagina and we call that a special occasion.

Which most likely will need supervisory approval from a contract manager 150 miles away in order for a staff member to go buy some tampons. Because these kinds of purchases are listed in the budget as ancillary items. 

I'm sorry. I thought young women having their menstrual cycle was a biological, natural phenomenon. Not in Alabama. It's a special occasion. Like the damn prom.

For the love of everything that is sacred and holy.

4. "Make at a minimum, quarterly contact with the therapist of the child or family to monitor progress or outcomes in counseling."

This is exactly the fundamental problem with our independent living programs in this nation. The "bare minimum" standard. 

Four times a year. To check on the progress of the very individuals you are charged with helping to become productive, self-reliant members of society. Doesn't look like that is much of a priority on this agency's list.

And if you want to excel at helping these youth become independent, self-reliant and responsible adults....

5. "All services provided above and beyond the core services listed, must be authorized by the ISP and on a DHR-1878 to authorize payment of such services."

Most agencies and organizations in this country who take federal funding (your tax dollars)  to provide independent living services to our youth leaving foster care do so to oversee compliance. Not actual performance of helping youth become independent. 

These organizations are structured in a way that prevents the use of federal dollars that go above and beyond the bare minimum. Why? The bare minimum is all that is expected in these contracts between our states and private organizations who administer their program activities.

Is this sinking in yet? Let me continue then....

6. "Provide an example of the program’s process for moving children through the goals and objectives outlined in an ISP, to include provisions of “step down” to a less restrictive placement."

This is a very important element in how these agencies and organizations approach and treat our adult youth in these programs.

Youth are primarily approached and treated based on their "placement level". High-end placements are expensive and reserved for those who have independent, verbal, aggressive behaviors. Are inquisitive & confrontational which are commonly diagnosed as ADHD, OCD and bi-polar disorder in the mental health community within foster care programs.

Nevermind that they could just be very bright and frustrated with all the bureaucratic nonsense about a unrealistic $50 haircut, tampons as a special occasion and the actual discussions on whether or not I should live with a person of the opposite sex. 

At age 19. as an adult.  But still being treated like they're 9. Being told who they can live with, where to sleep and it all depends on whether or not the preferred roommate has a penis or a vagina. 

To which they could give Alabama the proverbial finger and go make a life for themselves. 

7. "Describe the process that vendor will use to assess the proposed services to determine if the expected benefits and their impact have occurred. Include on-going plans to continuously assess and modify services to better meet the needs of the target population. The assessment methodology should provide the Department with meaningful indicators that funded projects are making satisfactory progress toward desired goals."

Finally, we get to the performance standards. A short 3-sentence token statement to describe how they will assess whether or not the organizational activities are actually doing their job. 

And key word: "satisfactory progress". Not meeting stated goals and objectives.

There's a difference.

It's not setup to keep adult youth leaving foster care off the street. As long as these organizations are "making satisfactory progress", then their performance is regarded as a success.

Horse-choy. 

When was the last time "satisfactory progress" kept an adult youth from trading sex for a place to sleep at night. Or kept an adult youth from having to couch-surf, sleep in their car or under a highway.

Tell me one way that "satisfactory progress" keeps these adult youth leaving foster care from having to forgo an education. Shack up with a physically abusive jerk of ex-boyfriend to have a roof over their head.

Or figure out a way to get child care, for the baby she had, while in the custody of the very people who were supposed to ensure the exact opposite for her life. 

Tell me. I'm listening. You can't do it.

And this is the contract proposal from the state of Alabama to private organizations in the community. 

This is nauseating. And I still have 2 more points to make. 

8. "The maximum daily rate for providing transitional living services for children shall be no more than $80.00. The maximum daily rate for providing independent living services for children shall be no more than $70.00. Vendors must submit a fixed rate outlining the proposed daily rate for the program. Any proposal with a cost above this rate will not be considered for selection."

Now, we're talking gravy. Let's get into it. The cost proposal section.

No more than $80/day huh. Let's say I have a project proposal that has proven to be effective, efficient and above-average performing, but it costs $90/day. 

My project proposal would automatically be thrown in the shred bin.

The closed-minded, bureaucratic approach to helping youth transition from foster care to adulthood is stupid. It's pathetic. Over the savings cost of $10?

And let me remind you again. There is no federal, state or local law that is requiring these agencies and organizations to operate in this fashion. None. It is all orchestrated by choice. 

9. "The evaluation committee will review and evaluate the proposals according to the following criteria based on a maximum possible value of 1,000 points."

Guess the top 3 weighted criteria...

a) Vendor profile and experience
b) Service delivery approach
c) Cost proposal

Who's been around the longest. Who can adhere to compliance requirements the best. And who can we get on the cheap.

The Alabama Transitional/Independent Living Program is nothing but a futile exercise in implementing stupidity. And Alabama isn't the only state in this nation who doctoring up these contracts like this one. 

There's a plethora of mediocre, status quo and inept agencies and organizations who are in the independent living program industry for the monetary benefits. 

Not to help change the lives of those coming out of their foster care programs. 

So there you have it. Another multi-million dollar waste. 

Thank God they have a good college football team. Because their independent living program stinks. 

Enjoy the weekend folks!!!