georgia youth opportunities initiative

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We are a collaborative effort between public, private, and non-profit organizations, working to improve outcomes for youth transitioning out of foster care.

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Georgia Youth Opportunities Initiative
100 Edgewood Ave., Suite 810

Atlanta, GA 30303

Phone: (404) 880-9323
Fax: (404) 880-9325


Contact Details






GYOI uses five core strategies of Youth Engagement, Partnerships & Resources, Research Evaluation & Communications, Public Will & Policy, and Increased Opportunities to improve outcomes for youth in foster care especially in the areas of permanence, employment, financial capability, housing, physical & mental health, and social capital. These five strategies are described in detail below.


Objective: To prepare young people to be meaningfully involved as decision makers and self-advocates.

The GYOI Youth Engagement strategy is facilitated by EmpowerMEnt.  EmpowerMEnt began in 2002 as the Youth Engagement Strategy of the Metro-Atlanta Youth Opportunities Initiative (MAYOI), one of the original Jim Casey pilot sites.

EmpowerMEnt is comprised of regional leadership boards at varying stages of development, which the youth elected to call “Tribes” in order to signify a close familial bond and network of support. Tribes are led by a current or former foster youth who serves as the tribe coordinator, along with the help of community-based adult supporters.  Tribe coordinators are trained in the areas of: strategic sharing, consensus organizing, resiliency and public speaking and facilitate quarterly trainings within their regions to build youth capacity to be decision-makers and self-advocates. State-wide training and planning meetings are also held in the spring and fall.  

EmpowerMEnt is under contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts to conduct “Here are my Rights” trainings which educate youth on their legal rights and responsibilities, as well as effective advocacy strategies. These trainings are conducted with youth, community stakeholders, agencies, foster parents and government officials on the legal rights of youth. EmpowerMEnt also provides additional trainings to stakeholders and youth that are tailored to the audience but may include the topics of authentic youth engagement, adoption, encouraging youth advocacy and awareness of issues facing youth in care.

For more information please visit the Georgia EmpowerMEnt webpage at


Objective: To access resources of public and private systems and philanthropic organizations; expand & deepen community support; and cultivate community champions for young people transitioning from foster care.

The Community Partnership Group functions as Georgia’s Community Partnership Board.  Comprised of more than twenty-five public and private partners, the Community Partnership Group (CPG) meets quarterly to improve critical outcomes for youth in and transitioning from care, address urgent needs, receive foster care updates and engage in trainings.  Some results have included development of an emergency housing resource book and a post-secondary education partnership led by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia supported by the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) of the Board of Regents.  

The goals and priorities for the CPG sub-committees are evaluated and refined annually.  In the coming year, GYOI also plans to seed regional community partnership groups to identify local needs and resources. These community partnership groups will first be developed in areas with strong EmpowerMEnt and ILP support.

The Multi-Agency Alliance for Children serves as the lead agency for the Georgia Youth Opportunities Initiative and functions as the fiscal agent.  With their leadership and support, as well as the support of partners such as DFCS and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, sufficient dollars have been raised to continue the growth of the Georgia Youth Opportunities Initiative.  Most notably, in 2012, MAAC/GYOI received funding from the Whitehead Foundation to assist the sustainability and statewide growth of GYOI from 2013-2015.

Please see a complete list of our partners by clicking here.


Objective: To involve key stakeholders in using data to drive decision-making, communications, and in documenting results.

The Self-Evaluation Team is charged with supporting GYOI partners to engage in ongoing self-evaluation activities that use state/community and Jim Casey Initiative data to review progress in setting benchmarks and achieving outcomes. The Self-Evaluation Team helps GYOI leaders to routinely use data to drive planning and decision-making across all strategy and outcome areas. GYOI has contracted with the J.W. Fanning Institute to lead the self-evaluation team.   


Objective: To advance policy and practice that improves outcomes for young people transitioning from foster care.

GYOI’s Public Will and Policy core strategy is guided by EmpowerMEnt’s efforts to identify the needs of youth in care and where there may be gaps in practices and policies.  Over the past decade, Empowerment has developed policy and practice priority areas, and updated them as progress has been made. In early 2014, EmpowerMEnt published an updated list of their policy priority areas.

From these priorities, data will be reviewed and policy and practice goals will be updated. Advocacy strategies are developed together with community partners to influence public policies that address the needs of youth in and transitioning from care.   

Working with and guided by our partners at Voices for Children, JUST Georgia and the Barton Law Clinic, EmpowerMEnt advocates have worked to improve policy and practice affecting youth in care.  This has resulted in extending Medicaid to age 21 (2008) and helping parenting youth in care remain with their children (2011). Other policy and  practice wins that youth and adult partners have influenced include:

2009 – Funding received from the Administrative Office of the Courts/Court Improvement Project to strengthen the engagement of youth in Court Proceedings by developing and implementing a curriculum that informs young people in each region of their rights and the court process.  The “Hear My Rights” training is facilitated to youth, the courts, foster parents, CASA and other stakeholders by EmpowerMEnt.

2010- The Georgia State General Assembly passed legislation to implement mandated provisions of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

2011- The Runaway Youth Safety Act (SB 94) was passed by the Georgia General Assembly to allow shelters to provide time-limited assessments and services to youth that have run away from their families or from foster care.

2012- The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) issued a revised performance-based contract boiler plate and also an Independent Program Living Redesign and Policy Overhaul, both reflecting a close alignment with the Jim Casey Initiative outcomes.

Also in 2012, the Georgia Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Project, based at the Barton Law Center, released a report making recommendations regarding the over-utilization of psychotropic medications prescribed for children and youth in foster care, and the need for improved monitoring of these medications with the child welfare population.  

2013- Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation (HB 242) was passed with broad based support by the GA Legislature, the Governor’s Office and a coalition of diverse community partners, and includes necessary improvements in a forty year old juvenile code impacting both juvenile justice and dependency cases. One such improvement was the inclusion of CHINS (children in need of services), a provision in which young people that come to the attention of juvenile court for status offenses, such as truancy, running away and unruliness, will be referred to community based services/interventions over juvenile detention. Another provision offers a process in which a young person can approach the court to have their parents’ rights re-instated.


Objective: To create an array of opportunities and help young people gain access to them.

GYOI’s state partners facilitate GA IDA, a matched savings program supported by the Independent Living Program (ILP). Young people who are ILP eligible (have spent six months or more in care after the age of fourteen) can complete a financial capability curriculum and open an IDA account.  Participants can withdraw money once until their 21st birthday and receive a match for up to $1,000 towards the purchase of an asset in the areas of housing, vehicles education, credit repair, employment or training, microenterprise and investments. Over 100 young people are participating in the GA IDA program at any given point.

GYOI also continues to explore expanding the matched savings program to be in full alignment with the national Jim Casey model.  Full alignment includes qualifying participants will be between the ages of 14-26, will have to have been in care for at least one day past their 14th birthday and will be able to receive multiple matches totaling up to $3,000.

GYOI’s Five Core Strategies

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