Some youth in the child welfare system remain in care until they reach majority (age 18). Without adequate preparation, youth who leave care to begin independent living are not equipped for assuming the responsibilities of adult life. Services and programs to assist in preparation for adult life are a part of the continuum of services offered
to all children in care. Traditionally, the family provides the nurturing, teaching, cultural ties, heritage, experience in building relationships, development of morals and values, information and formal life skills training, and the financial and emotional support necessary for a youth to make a successful transition to adulthood. The process and experiences which provide all this preparation typically begin at birth and continue through the stages of development leading to adulthood.
When a child enters the child welfare system, for whatever period, this process and experiences are interrupted. Children in out-of-home care, particularly if they have more than one placement, may miss many of the experiences they need to prepare for independence and adult life. We must begin preparing children for adult life at the point of their entry into the system, not just a few months before they turn 18.
Services to prepare for adult life become the ultimate form of permanency planning. Whether the youth leaves care for reunification with the birth family, adoption, or independent living, the skills acquired in this preparation
will follow him or her. These skills can then be incorporated into a lifelong process of learning to live independently. As resource parents, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the youth who are entrusted to your care. Whether a youth resides in your home for days, weeks, or months, or even years the approach remains the same.
Resource parents are much more than just providers of a place to sleep and eat. Resource parents are teachers, mother or father figures, therapists, friends, and most important, role models. Every day is a learning experience for youth in care and resource parents are the individuals who have the greatest opportunity to teach and model the things youth need to learn.
It may be difficult for busy resource parents to focus on this work with the youth in your homes. The following list of goals and activities, which, while not all-inclusive, may be helpful:
- Assure that the youth has an educational screening to assess academic skills and need for academic remediation.
- Acknowledge the youth’s need to resolve emotional issues from his or her past
- Help the youth become aware of his or her self-identity, including goals, values, strengths, abilities, interests and history
- Assure that each youth who leaves your care has access to or is given his or her birth certificate, some form of ID, such as driver’s license, school and medical records, Social Security card, and any other documents necessary for independent living
- Complete a life skills assessment with the youth beginning at age 16, and provide opportunities for the youth to practice and learn more about daily living skills including, but not limited to, budgeting and financial management
- Expose youth to educational and vocational options, such as obtaining a high school diploma, vocational training, and preparation for post-secondary training and education
- Help the youth explore career opportunities by learning how to obtain employment, as well as learning job retention skills.
- Address health issues such as substance abuse prevention and preventive health activities.
- Use teamwork to develop a support system of mentors and dedicated adults available to assist and support the youth in the development of a written plan with individual objectives and goals to guide his or her preparation for adult living.
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