Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood

Transition to Adulthood for A Child With Loving, Supportive Parents

All I Want for Christmas is a Better System of Support for Emancipated Foster Youth

When former foster youth return for help to the agencies that formerly served "in loco parentis," they aren't treated like college students coming home for the holidays, or the way we might treat our young adult children coming home for help. The only door for them to access services is the same door that their biological parents might have chosen - the same door that any adult "in need of services" might choose: To open a FINS case. 

FINS is agency-speak; the initials stand for "Family In Need of Services." Being a former foster child doesn't make a positive difference. It doesn't mean that the agency feels any extra responsibility for them. If anything, it can work against them, because their past mistakes during their teenage years are still on their file.

There doesn't tend to be a lot of "hand-holding" or support during the process, despite the fact that mentorship, guidance and someone sitting by their side is exactly what these young people need the most.

For a recently emancipated foster youth, having someone who cares about you sit beside you while you wait in a dehumanizing waiting room would contribute greatly towards:

  • feeling reassured that you are doing the right thing and waiting in the right place
  • having their maturity to balance out your anxiety and lack of adult experience
  • feeling less ALONE
Throughout the nation, this is a problem:

  • Foster youth go from the restrictive experience of foster care to the total freedom of adulthood, and experience magnified consequences whenever they make a misstep. 
  • During their time in care, they don't get to experience normal teen experiences like spending the night at a friend's house. 
  • They often don't have their own bank account, and don't get opportunities to handle money. 
  • But after that magical day when they "age out," they are expected to know how to navigate complex systems, emotional relationships, financial challenges, etc. 
If and when they struggle, they can open a FINS case. But this doesn't mean extra parenting. Nope, it means having a case plan, being expected to make and keep appointments, and if they struggle with that, it is written in their file that they are "not complying with their case plan" -- which can be cause for termination of services.

Community volunteers could help by:

  • Serving as a mentor to one or two emancipated foster youth
  • Being willing to accompany young people to appointments and/or assist with transportation
  • Phone calls and meetings with a young person to talk through next steps in their lives
  • Celebrating their accomplishments and encouraging them during moments of discouragement
  • Believing in them and their ability to succeed