Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unique Struggles of Foster Youth

By Claire Morgan and Sharon Svec

More than 10,000 children are in foster care in the state of Washington. Each year, a number of them will turn 18 or graduate from high school, and begin living as independent adults. This process is known as “aging out” of foster care, and can be problematic for some people. Often, young people will go from having zero experience managing money or a budget to being expected to obtain an apartment, pay rent, provide food for themselves, and generally take on adult responsibilities.

YWCA’s Independent Living Skills Program (ILS) is dedicated to assisting young adults between the ages of 15 and 21 who are or were in foster care. This program helps young people develop the necessary skills for transitioning to independent life by providing assistance with housing, budgeting, and employment. Through advocacy, resources, and education, young adults aging out of foster care are given the tools and support that they need to become successful adults. ILS is also able to help young people obtain a GED, complete college applications, complex financial aid forms, and navigate the healthcare system.

From L-R: Tyler, Tyler, Shaylee, and Jaime

ILS hosted a panel on June 10th, featuring four admirable youth who shared their experiences with the program and the foster care system. Shaylee, Jaime, Tyler K. and Tyler H. fought against overwhelming adversity to become strong members of our community. Each story was unique. One youth shared her passionate journey of motherhood while she was a ward of the court. Another spoke on his struggles with staying in school and off drugs, and how ILS helped him outline and achieve goals such as getting his own apartment. After living in multiple homes for much of her life, one youth was adopted by her social worker and now is on a path to becoming a social worker herself. The final panelist shared his experiences of abuse and neglect and his drive for success.

The audience mostly comprised of CASA volunteers and YWCA staff had a number of questions for the panel of youth. Each shared thoughtful and varied responses regarding their perspectives on family; past and present, and on what kind of support they might have benefited from during their time in foster care. Jaime encouraged those who might be frustrated with the behavior of foster children to respond with empathy and to, “ask why” instead of making assumptions which could cripple a delicate relationship.
An engaged audience listens to ILS panelists

The panel discussion came to a close with the speakers sharing their value of CASAs and the ILS Program, with a couple shout-outs to program specialist Robbie Orr. Guests at the event shared their admiration and respect for these courageous youth who are overcoming a difficult past to achieve a bright and purposeful future.

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