Every year over 20,000 foster care youth are released from care to go out on their own and start a new life as a productive adult in society, or at least that’s the hopeful result when the state releases youth from care. Across the nation, the youth that are being released from care are being released without the knowledge and skills necessary to be a working productive adult in the real world. These youth are given slim to no guidance upon being released and following release.
In result, they are quickly faced with a multitude of challenges that the typical teenager is not faced with after turning eighteen. When aging out of care youth are confronted with challenges such as educational, mental, financial, and many others, in response the state child welfare systems across the nation have worked to provide programs to help youth in their process as they learn true independence. So how are youth aging out of foster care truly being helped in combating the challenges of entering adulthood and gaining self-sufficiency through independent living programs? With increasing rates of homelessness among aged out foster care youth the federal government initiated the Title IV-E Independent Living Initiative of 1986. This provided states with the funds to prepare teenage youth from the age of sixteen and up in foster care for the shift into adulthood. Since 1986 states have developed these programs that provide great training and teach the youth many useful skills for entering adulthood, though these programs and the types and quality vary widely across the country (Fowler).
Evidence expressing the effectiveness following the implementation of Independent Living Programs though was far and few. Because of this, the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence program of 1999 was put into action for more flexible funding so that states could create a multitude of various programs to help educate and teach youth that were soon to age out and youth that have left care but were under the age of twenty-one. Since the enactment of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence program there has been a renewed effort to address the challenges foster care youth are faced with, since most outcomes are still showing horrible results (Scannapieco).
There are many Independent living programs all over the United States and the quality of the programs can differ from state to state and county to county. In the state of Georgia one of the most successful Independent Living Programs is the New Beginnings program from Goshen valley. The goal of the program is to empower and emotionally support adult youth to help make the transition from foster care to independence (Independent Living Youth Handbook). This program helps youth become responsible and goal oriented and provides 24-hour support to the adult youth. All the youth in the program live in apartments with other youth and go to weekly life skills meetings where they meet with their life coaches and therapist. These life coaches provide help through teaching life skills such as communication, decision making, and conflict management. In addition, life coaches help youth obtain educational, vocational, and employment opportunities and even help find and provide transportation for all. The new beginnings program not only helps provide youth with a roof over their head, but also provides them with an unlimited phone service plan and a monthly food allowance of $200 which is split up over four weeks.
In addition to the food allowance and service plan, the program also helps the youth obtain a driver’s license, which is otherwise a hard task to get done for many youths while in foster care. After obtaining a license the youth can then use program vehicles as allotted for school, work, and personal life. The program also teaches the youths the importance of saving and helps them in the process of obtaining their own vehicles. The program has its rules as well to administer necessary discipline the youth need instilled. The way the program works is through a carefully developed Individual learning plan, which determines the advancement through the three-tier system the youth advance through over time and by exemplifying maturity.
Each tier allots for a later curfew, less supervision, and less required saving percentages from your paychecks. With such a program providing such services for youth that are aging out of care or have aged out of care might have you asking why the results of aged out youth are still so heartbreaking. Well programs as successful as new beginnings are very rare and cost a lot of money to run and require the right people running it. In 2017 alone, the new beginnings program was able to serve 34 young women and men, allowing for six new young adults the opportunity to start college, and discharged five young adults into independently living in the community (2017 annual report). Through the new beginnings program the average savings account balance for youth was around $20,349.28, with over 25 youths having six months or more of steady employment.
The total driver’s license achieved by youth was 15, with a total of 17 cars purchased by youth. Thanks to the program nine youths were able to graduate from high school and five from college (PQI report). All great accomplishments but coming at a cost of just over one million dollars. With over 20,000 youth branching out of care every year the cost can be astounding.
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