A Difficult Transition
While legally an adult at the age of 18, for most people, the transition to independence is a gradual one. During these transition years, young people’s families provide financial assistance, help them decide on a career and/or support them while they learn how to live on their own. Unfortunately, kids in the foster care system don’t have this luxury: one minute they are children (dependent on the state for food, clothing, shelter and health care), and the next minute they are on their own. Dr. Mark Courtney, the executive director of Partners for Our Children (a Washington-based child welfare group), found that youth in foster care face significantly higher risks of homelessness, drug addiction, unemployment, early pregnancy and jail time upon turning 18 than the general population. There are more than 43,000 kids in the Florida foster care system, and each year, more than 1,000 of them reach adulthood. Independent Living provides foster kids in our area with the tools they need to become stable and productive adults.
The Independent Living Program is designed to improve the transition into adulthood for children ages 13 to 18 in licensed out-of-home care. To be successful upon departure from care, each youth will have an opportunity to learn skills based on their individualized needs. The ultimate goal is for all youth, regardless of their personal plans, to be prepared to live independently.
While in this program, young people are taught life skills which includes daily living skills, training in budget and money management, nutrition, apartment locating/living, family planning, decision making/goal planning, employment/career planning, educational development, sexually transmitted diseases/AIDS awareness and homemaking. Counselors provide case management, support and advocacy for the children while in the program. Young adults up to age 23 may be eligible for STAIR and federal subsidies which help with post secondary educational efforts and/or services necessary to obtain employment.
The Florida Department of Children and Families in conjunction with the Partnership for Strong Families determines eligibility and makes the appropriate referrals. Children accepted into the program will receive monthly contacts including face-to-face visits. Case staffings to address individual progress are held on an as needed basis. All of the persons involved in the welfare of the child are invited to participate, including the assigned Family Services Counselor, partner family, Independent Living youth, school personnel, service providers and employer when appropriate.
When youth are first referred to Independent Living, counselors meet with them and their partner family (if applicable) to explain the program. The counselors help the youth complete assessments to identify specific skills the young people already possess and skills they must still learn in order to live on their own. The appropriate level of entry into the basic living skills training is based on these assessments. The training, tasks and services are discussed with the youth and target dates are then incorporated into a service plan. Periodic re-assessments are necessary to monitor progress and to take note of changes and achievements. Counselors will assist youth in re-assessing their skill level and updating the service plan accordingly. To be successful, it is critical that each young person feel and receive the support of those in their home and school environments. It is our goal to continually attend to and support these important relationships.