Get to Know a TACFS Partner: The Texas A&M System
Meet David Halpern, Assistant General Counsel for the Texas A&M System. TACFS is proud to kick off our new series “Get to Know a TACFS Partner” with our friend and colleague David Halpern. The Texas A&M System has been a trailblazer with supporting youth in foster care transitioning to independent living. In less than two years, the Texas A&M System launched campus-based Supervised Independent Living (SIL) on campuses in central, south, and west Texas, as well as the Houston area. David’s years of personal commitment to disadvantaged youth put him in a position to help carry out Chancellor John Sharp’s Foster Student Initiative. Now, A&M is lending a helping hand to the other institutions of higher education around the State.
In June 2018, after surveying the work being done by Texas foster liaisons, Texas A&M in connection with the Chancellor Initiative, launched a pilot SIL program at A&M’s Corpus Christi and Kingsville campuses. The launch marked A&M becoming the state’s first post secondary educational system to establish a SIL partnership with DFPS.
Since the launch, SIL programs have been established to serve youth who have aged out of foster care at five more A&M schools. Together, these programs have worked to support students through various engagement activities including, counseling, mentoring, special community events (pie making, Friendsgiving, end of semester celebrations, etc) and more.
Through tailored supports, campus programs have experienced unique successes and experiences. To best serve the foster youth in their program, A&M’s SIL at TAMUSA established an emergency fund of $400 available to students via application to encourage responsibility when faced with an urgent situation. The same campus program created a specialized Foster Youth Task Force Committee for student growth and development.
To gather information on foster student needs beyond their SIL program’s participants, TAMU-COMMERCE conducted a needs assessment-type survey to 49 students that identified as youth formerly or currently in foster care. Later, TAMU-COMMERCE went on to administrate life skills lessons for students including filing taxes, purchasing/trading in a car and renting an apartment. TAMU-COMMERCE is also noteworthy for having hosted a statewide Preparation for Adult Living Conference with DFPS for a number of years. The conference engages as many as 75 youth currently or formerly in foster care.
The unique benefits and structures available to foster youth in Texas A&M System’s SILs encourage partnerships and strategic collaborations from community organizations as well. Investing time in these partnerships will be sure to increase the capacities and effectiveness of each program, so that Texas A&M’s SIL benefits are able to continue to expand. TAMUCC’s SIL program has grown from 2 to 10 participants in just one year and its partnership with Foster Angels of South Texas resulted in them building Island Harbor into their annual budget.
Partnership among Texas community partners is immensely encouraged and seen as necessary in order to implement future successes for foster youth seeking a college education across the state.
“It’s difficult for me to describe how fortunate I am to be part of a system that has not only been willing to blaze a new path aimed at better brighter futures for some of Texas’ most challenged young people, but also been so ready and willing to share what we’ve learned with anyone and everyone interested in saddling up with us.” David Halpern
To learn more about attaining a contract to partner with one of the SIL programs across Texas, David encourages you to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you a university stakeholder in Texas interested in starting up a Supervised Independent Living Program for foster youth at your college? Texas A&M has created templates to streamline the process of getting an SIL program off the ground running. Angelo State University and University of Texas in San Antonio are examples of universities who have taken this step. To learn more about starting an SIL in your school, contact David.
This SIL initiative would not have been possible without multiple state, community and family partners. David would like to thank Debra Emerson from DFPS’s Contract Team, Commissioner Hank Whitman, the Children’s Commission’s Jamie Bernstein, Tym Belsyth (who planted the SIL seed), A&M System Vice Chancellor, James Hallmark, the team at Chancellor Sharp’s Foster Student Initiative, and above all, his loving wife, Linda.