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 has specifically demonstrated effectiveness with youth with a range of disabilities."

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 Approaches

There are two categories of programs based on the My Life Model:

  • My Life for Transition-Aged Youth (ML-TAY). This approach is for agencies serving young people in foster care (or similar settings) who are planning for the transition to independence.
  • My Life for College (ML-C). This coaching approach is for agencies or schools serving young people in foster care (or similar settings) who are either interested in or already attending college or postsecondary training programs. The Better Futures program was tested with high school seniors who were in foster care and had mental health stressors. Project FUTURES uses the same coaching approach with freshmen and sophomore college students with foster care histories who are already enrolled in college and experiencing mental health stressors.

Please contact Jennifer Blakeslee ( 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.