Better Futures

2  — Supported by Research Evidence
2  — Supported by Research Evidence

About This Program

Target Population: Youth and young adults in foster care, including youth with disabilities and/or mental health conditions, who are: 1) in their final year of high school or GED completion, 2) not opposed to the idea of participating in postsecondary education, and 3) permitted to go into the community with their Better Futures coach

For children/adolescents ages: 16 – 19

Program Overview

The purpose of Better Futures is to support young people in exploring their postsecondary interests and opportunities, and in preparing them to participate in postsecondary education, including college and vocational training programs. Grounded in self-determination promotion, and developed as a postsecondary-focused adaptation of the My Life program, Better Futures engages youth in a four-day postsecondary immersion experience along with the following supports that are provided for 9 months after that experience:

  • Youth-directed relationship support from a coach who is currently in postsecondary education and who has personal life experience in foster care
  • Coaching in applying achievement, partnership, and self-regulation skills to identify and reach postsecondary and related youth-chosen goals (e.g., dream, set goals, problem-solve, schmooze to reach out to allies, negotiate, appreciate accomplishments, hang tough against stress)
  • Support for experiential activities aimed at career and postsecondary exploration and preparation, along with related goal achievement
  • Workshops that bring together participants, coaches, and successful near peers (i.e., peers currently in postsecondary education and who have lived experience in foster care) for learning, peer support, and networking

Each youth identifies and works towards self-identified postsecondary and related goals. The youth is supported to carry out a series of postsecondary exploration and preparation activities (e.g., review high school transcript, interview/shadow someone in a career or with a degree of interest, visit a college or vocational program, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA], explore housing options) and to develop at least one individual plan for future support with a trusted adult ally.

Program Goals

The goals of Better Futures are:

  • Increased self-determination
  • Increased career and postsecondary preparation
  • Increased participation in postsecondary education
  • Increased hopefulness
  • Increased educational and transition planning knowledge and engagement
  • Reduced perceived barriers to educational goals
  • Increased mental health empowerment

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Better Futures.

Essential Components

The essential components of Better Futures include:

  • Youth participate in a three-day, two-night Summer Institute postsecondary immersion experience, including two nights in the dorms, two days on the University campus, and a half-day spent at a community college (if feasible).
  • Summer Institute programming include student and career panels, goal exploration activities, and resources for students in foster care pursing a range of postsecondary options (2- or 4-year college, trade school, vocational certificates, etc.)
  • Following the Summer Institute, youth are provided with a minimum of 27 hours of community-based coaching over 9-10 months, provided by a successful college student who also has personal experience in foster care (or by current college students with similar life experience of adversity, if coaches with foster care-specific experience are not available to hire).
  • Coaching focuses on providing an accepting, transparent, respectful, and reliable relationship presence in the context of:
    • Supporting youth to identify and strive toward postsecondary and related goals they value
    • Supporting youth in learning and applying 10 specific metacognitive self-determination skills, naturally integrated into their selection and pursuit of goals and activities including:
      • Highlighting steps in a skill the youth is already using
      • Introducing/supporting application of a skill such as negotiation when a youth is communicating with others who are blocking their goal
      • Asking the youth to help the coach problem solve a situation
    • Supporting youth during 16 required and youth-determined experiential activities as they carry out plans to achieve their goals including:
      • Visiting a college or vocational training program
      • Gathering college information on the Internet
      • Completing applications
      • Meeting with a supportive adult to discuss plans and support needs
    • Metacognitive skills that youth learn to apply are in the areas of:
      • Achievement (e.g., set goals, problem solve, make decisions)
      • Building allies (e.g., schmooze, negotiate)
      • Self-regulation (e.g., think positive, hang tough through stress)
    • During the coaching period, youth participate in 4-5 peer mentoring workshops, each lasting about 2.5 hours, during which they meet with other peers in the program and with near-peers (i.e., more experienced young adults who also have foster care experience and who are successfully participating in college or a vocational training program). Each workshop includes an informational session followed by an informal activity for food, fun, and networking. Workshop topics include finding employment, completing college essays, self-care during stressful times, etc. Transportation to workshops is provided as needed and desired by youth.
    • Better Futures is a positive youth development program that is accessible to youth with varying abilities and challenges (e.g., gifted and talented; learning, physical, or cognitive disabilities; mental health issues). However, the approach is not designed to provide treatment or crisis support. Once enrolled, coaches continue to work with youth regardless of changes in placement, school, or foster care status; arrest; going on the run; health crisis; etc., however the program's focus remains on the youth's postsecondary goals with support provided around accessing additional crisis, legal, health, or other supports.
    • Implementation of Better Futures requires a license agreement; delivery of coaching requires completion of 24 hours of certification training, followed by 30 hours of supervision during 10 months of coaching at least two youth. Coaching competencies are demonstrated through all of the following being met:
      • Completion of fidelity checklists that document engagement with youth in Better Futures experiences and skills, and relational, experiential and didactic support provided to youth
      • Completion of posttraining and postinternship questionnaires.
      • Submission of at least three videotapes of coaching for self-reflection and progress on coaching development goals (this is optional fidelity monitoring available to implementing sites)

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Better Futures directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • In foster care and not already on track for postsecondary participation
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: In the context of working toward their self-identified goals or managing barriers that arise, youth may be supported to communicate with, plan with, or seek support from bio or foster family members.

Recommended Intensity:

Two 60- to 90-minute contacts per month on average; distribution of time may vary with activity focus. It is common for youth and their coaches to meet more intensively when the youth is actively exploring postsecondary programs, preparing applications, or dealing with barriers that arise. Likewise, there may be less active periods when youth and their coaches may meet monthly (e.g., applications have been submitted and youth is busy with high school).

Recommended Duration:

10 months

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Community Daily Living Setting
  • Foster / Kinship Care
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


Better Futures includes a homework component:

Youth typically have activities to perform in between coaching meetings and coaches are available through phone and text, as needed.

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

Youth-facing program materials, certification program participation, and license agreement

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Current successful participation in college or vocational training and lived experience in foster care preferred (coaches may share lived experience of adversity if coaches with foster care-specific lived experience are not available in the area, due to being in a more rural location or similar)

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Program Manual(s)

A program delivery manual is provided as part of initial training and technical assistance.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

On-site certification training is followed by local or distance supervision with a technical assistance arrangement. This arrangement is put into place to offer organizational consultation to compliment the coach training. An agency administrator is typically invited to attend the coaching training as well, to facilitate integration of the approach with other agency services.

Number of days/hours:

24 hours on-site, 30 hours supervision

Implementation Information

Pre-Implementation Materials

There are no pre-implementation materials to measure organizational or provider readiness for Better Futures.

Formal Support for Implementation

There is formal support available for implementation of Better Futures as listed below:

Two years of formal implementation support is required to deliver Better Futures as conducted in the research studies. This primarily involves fidelity monitoring and implementation technical assistance provided by Portland State University staff. During this time, the implementation lead will schedule videoconferences with site supervisors and any coaches delivering the Better Futures model to clients; these meetings are provided at least monthly, with additional support available by email and phone as needed. In the second year, the primary aim of training and technical assistance is to train the trainer to prepare the site to lead implementation, deliver their own training, and monitor their own program fidelity at the site. After this two-year period, limited support is available as part of ongoing licensure of the Better Futures name and materials.

Fidelity Measures

There are fidelity measures for Better Futures as listed below:

For sites implementing Better Futures as conducted in the research studies, there is a single self-report fidelity checklist that is completed by coaches after every meeting with youth. Coaches are trained to complete this as part of coach training. Support for fidelity monitoring through observation or video/audio recordings is available upon request. Sites that do not track and monitor fidelity would not be considered to be implementing Better Futures correctly.

Implementation Guides or Manuals

There are implementation guides or manuals for Better Futures as listed below:

There is an implementation manual that is provided to sites as part of start-up. The manual covers program-level topics like staffing considerations, coach qualifications, delivery of program components (e.g., the Summer Institute), and program phases.

Implementation Cost

There are no studies of the costs of Better Futures.

Research on How to Implement the Program

Research has not been conducted on how to implement Better Futures.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Child Welfare Outcome: Child/Family Well-Being

Geenen, S., Powers, L. E., Phillips, L. A., Nelson, M., McKenna, J., Winges-Yanez, N., Blanchette, L., Croskey, A., Dalton, L. D., Salazar, A., & Swank, P. (2015). Better Futures: A randomized field-test of a model for supporting young people in foster care with mental health challenges to participate in higher education. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 42(2), 150–171.

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 67


  • Age — Mean=16.76 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 42% White, 24% Native American, 19% African American, 9% Multiethnic, 5% Hispanic, and 2% Asian
  • Gender — 52% Female
  • Status — Participants were youth in the child welfare system.

Location/Institution: Oregon

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to conduct a preliminary efficacy evaluation of the Better Futures model, which is focused on improving the postsecondary preparation and participation of youth in foster care with mental health challenges. Participants were randomized to either a control group that received typical services or Better Futures. Measures utilized include the Arc Self-Determination Scale, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) Self-Determination Scale, the Youth Empowerment Scale-Mental Health, the Quality of Life Questionnaire, the Career Decision Self-Efficacy Scale, the Assessing Barriers to Education Scale, Transition Planning Assessment Scale, and the Hopelessness Scale. Results indicate that there were significant gains for the Better Futures group on measures of postsecondary participation, postsecondary and transition preparation, hope, self-determination, and mental health empowerment as compared to the control group. Youth in the Better Futures group also showed positive trends in the areas of mental health recovery, quality of life, and high school completion as compared to those in the control group. Limitations include small sample size, study’s placement in a single midsized urban setting on the west coast also limits generalizability of the findings to youth in other locales, and length of follow-up.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: 6 months.

Additional References

Geenen, S., Powers, L. E., Powers, J, Swank, P., Cunningham, M., Fullerton, A., & Consortium to Increase the Success of Youth in Foster Care. (2013). Experimental study of a self-determination intervention for youth in foster care. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36(2), 84-95.

Powers, L. E., Geenen, S., Powers, J., Satya, S., Turner, A., Dalton, L. D., Drummond, D., Swank, P., & The Research Consortium to Increase the Success of Youth in Foster Care. (2012). My Life: Effects of a longitudinal, randomized study of self-determination enhancement on the transition outcomes of youth in foster care and special education. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(11), 2179-2187.

Quest, A. D., Fullerton, A., Geenen, S., Powers, L. E., & The Research Consortium to Increase the Success of Youth in Foster Care. (2012). Voices of youth in foster care and special education regarding their educational experiences and transition to adulthood. Children and Youth Services, 34(9), 1604-1615.

Contact Information

Jennifer Blakeslee
Agency/Affiliation: Regional Research Institute, Portland State University
Phone: (503) 725-8389
Fax: (503) 725-4180

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2022

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: July 2023

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: December 2016