The "My Life" Model

What is the My Life Self-Determination Model (MLM)?

The My Life Self-Determination Model (MLM) is an intensive youth coaching intervention to increase youth-directed engagement in transitional services and systems, including foster care, mental health, and post-secondary education. The MLM builds youth capacity to identify and achieve personal goals, lead service planning processes, and direct their own involvement in programs and institutions. In the MLM, youth are supported to identify and pursue transition goals that they prioritize as most important, and in the context of activities to pursue their goals, they learn and apply key self-determination skills relating to achievement (e.g., decision-making), building allies (e.g., negotiation), and self-regulation (e.g., managing stress):

  • Over the course of 9-12 months, young people meet weekly or bi-weekly with their coaches in a community-based setting. Coaching focuses on relationship development, support during community-based experiential activities to pursue goals, and instruction for self-determination skill development.
  • Young people also participate in 4-5 near-peer mentoring workshops co-led by older young adults with similar live experiences. Workshops focus on topics selected by youth and provide opportunities for learning (scavenger hunt to locate programs on a college campus), sharing experiences and ideas, and engaging in fun community activities.

These MLM elements support youth in expanding their information, skills, opportunities, and support to identify and pursue their goals, to establish and utilize partnerships with supportive adults and peers, and to appreciate and foster their strengths and confidence.

Why My Life?

My Life was developed for young people in foster care who have limited opportunities to practice typical self-determination in their lives, due to instability in where they live, where they go to school, or what’s going on with their child welfare case. When decisions are being made that affect them, youth are often not at the table or their preferences are not considered. Eventually, many transition out of foster care lacking support and resources, and not having had a chance to practice self-determination before they face the decisions of young adulthood: Where do I want to live? Do I want to go to college? What do I want to do with my life?

The MLM is designed to give young people in foster care (and similar service systems) a way to focus on identifying their own priorities, to practice skills they can apply to achieve goals, and to learn how to manage stress when challenges occur. My Life coaches walk youth through a flexible curriculum of self-determination skills (such as making decisions, narrowing down goals, problem-solving strategies, and working with allies) using experiential, instructional, and relationship-building approaches. The MLM is delivered over 9-12 months by coaches who are trained and supervised in using the model with fidelity to help them support youth by following a “recipe” of skill-building approaches that we know from research works with this population.

The MLM has specifically demonstrated effectiveness with youth with a range of disabilities. The MLM is based on a series of research studies that applied a structured coaching approach using an evidence-based skills guide with young people involved in various systems, including youth receiving foster care, special education, and mental health services. MLM coaching can be delivered by agency staff members and/or near-peers with similar lived experiences, depending on the context. Across studies, the MLM demonstrates effectiveness in increasing the application of targeted self-determination skills and improving related outcomes, such as youth involvement in transition planning and enrollment in post-secondary education.

My Life Models

My Life for Transition-Aged Youth (ML-TAY)

This program model is for agencies serving young people in foster care (or similar settings) who are planning for the transition to independence. This adaptation is rated by the California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare as being supported by promising evidence, with more evidence forthcoming. The program model includes:

  • Over the course of one year, youth meet weekly with their coaches for 60-90 minutes of community-based interaction. Coaching focuses on relationship development, support during community-based experiential activities to pursue goals, and instruction for self-determination skill development. For example, coaches may offer an empathetic and affirming ear around stressors a youth is facing, support youth to rehearse a skill (e.g., negotiating with a foster parent) and guide youth through activities tied to their goal achievement (e.g., call an agency for information, visit a college).
  • Young people in ML-TAY also participate in 4-5 near-peer mentoring workshops, co-led by older young adults having similar lived experiences. Workshops topics are selected by youth and provide opportunities for learning (e.g., scavenger hunt to locate programs on a college campus), sharing experiences and ideas, and engaging in fun activities.

My Life coaches are adults who have formal training and personal commitment around positive youth development (e.g., MSWs or graduate student interns with relevant youth work experience), and/or have a combination of training and lived experience managing challenges similar to the youth being served (e.g., foster care, juvenile justice, mental health).

Training and Certification in the ML-TAY Model

The MLM was developed by researchers at Portland State University, and we have certified coaches and supervisors in multiple community-based agencies. For example, New Avenues for Youth has the largest Independent Living Program (ILP) for foster youth in Oregon. New Avenues trained their ILP staff in the MLM to enhance service delivery with higher-needs youth. New Avenues is now fully-certified to train and supervise their own staff in MLM, with ongoing PSU consultation and evaluation to maintain certification.

We currently offer two approaches for agencies interested in training their staff in the model:

1. We offer training and supervision to fully certify your agency staff in delivering the My Life model to fidelity as an evidence-based practice (EBP). This includes implementation support, on-site staff training, supervising any staff delivering the model to youth, and over the course of two years, certifying an in-house trainer/supervisor to ensuring ongoing model fidelity at your site. Full certification involves:

  • Training your staff on-site over 3-4 days at start-up
  • Providing monthly individual and group supervision to any staff delivering the coaching model to youth for one year:
    • Coaches document fidelity and also videotape one meeting with each of their youth for supervisors to assess the use of key practice techniques.
    • Supervision focuses on highlighting youth accomplishments or strengths; naming and discussing the application of key skills; supporting youth to carry out an activity; and collaboratively identifying next steps.
    • First-year certification includes training a staff member at your site to become the in-house trainer/supervisor for any staff using the model to fidelity in the second year (and beyond).
  • For this approach, there are start-up costs to train, supervise, and implement the model over the first two years, and then ongoing annual licensing costs to continue to use the model as an EBP. Depending on context, needs, and the number of staff being trained, estimated start-up costs are $5000-9000 for the first year (including all travel and materials), $2500-6000 for the second year, and ongoing annual licensing costs to use the model as an EBP between $1500-3000.

2. We also offer staff training in the model for agencies interested in implementing selected youth skill-building components as an enhancement to ongoing service delivery:

  • This involves one in-person training and ongoing technical assistance (quarterly webinars/check-ins for staff, and optional monthly staff supervisor support) for one year as your staff implement selected model skills and coaching strategies.
  • This approach is delivered over one year and includes a one-time training and licensing cost. Depending on context, needs, and the number of staff being trained, estimated costs for this option are $4500-6500 (US) for one year.
  • Compared to the certification option described above, this approach does not include formal certification of staff, and does not enable an agency to say they are delivering My Life Model as an EBP for funding or promotional purposes.

Please inquire with information about your agency’s needs and the type of MLM training you are interested in, and we will be happy to discuss estimated cost for your specific resources and context.