Real Life Prep
There are thousands of foster children across the country that “age out” of foster care each year. That means their cases will be dismissed from court, there will no longer be a social worker supporting them, and they will be moving out of their foster home when funding for foster care ends.
By the year 2020, 72 million children will experience foster care.
30% of foster youth will be homeless within 12 months of leaving care.
65% of youth leaving foster care need immediate housing the day they leave care.
Only 50% of foster youth will graduate from high school.Less than 10% will enroll in college. Only 1% will graduate from college.
A former foster youth who emancipated from foster care was filling out a job application. He was asked to provide an emergency contact person. He wrote “911.” He had no one else. (Holtan, 2004, p. 35).
Transitioning to adulthood is a challenging stage for all youth. But youth in foster care often have already lost parents, siblings, familiar neighborhoods and schools. They may have have moved frequently and will have not developed the kinds of supportive, committed relationships that could sustain them during difficult times.
Real Life Prep provides foster youth with connections to resources in their community, education options, day care options, banking options, housing, and more to assist them with further planning towards self-sufficiency.
Aging Out of Foster Care
These young people will leave foster care this year and many will do so without the transitional assistance they need to get an education, a job, or a home. For most young people, there is a clear need for ongoing support during this period as they navigate their way to become financially independent, obtaining their own housing, becoming socially interdependent with other adults, and forming families of their own. Support from caring adults and the community during this time are extremely important.
For young adults that have experienced foster care, our programs help to ensure they have better access to caring adults, financial support, life skills, career and educational opportunities. Real Life Prep programs are designed to teach important life skills including: self-knowledge and decision making; the relationship between education and success in life; budgeting and purchasing decisions; the use of credit versus cash; and how to live a healthy life.
The Real Life Prep Program
Real Life Prep is a program developed by Gift for a Child. Program participants spend time with individuals from the business community representing one of the key life skill areas that we want to introduce the youth to. In June 2010, 25 businesses helped launch the first Annual Real Life Prep Program for youth in foster care. Close to 200 youth attended this inaugural event.
Why the Need?
In the United States, as many as one in five young people will become disconnected from school, work and family at some point between the ages of 14 and 24. Research shows that youth who become disconnected from their support systems or who are unable to finish their education are likely to carry social, emotional and physical scars. As a result, they are more likely to end up unemployed, in jail and having a difficult time surviving in life.
Studies show that foster youth aging out of the child welfare system are more likely than other youth to go on welfare, end up in jail, become homeless, and even have their own children removed by the same system that they came from.
Supporting Teens in Foster Care
Youth placed in foster care as teenagers are an especially vulnerable population. Most lack much-needed family and social support. These youth do not have adequate access to educational opportunities, or may suffer from mental and physical health problems or substance abuse. Without adequate transition assistance, many foster youth drop out of school and/or become involved in the justice system. In particular, they need:
Advocate and Support Educational Attainment – academic support programs to help them become lifelong learners, complete high school and complete either postsecondary education or a skills training program that will enable them to pursue careers in their chosen fields.
Career Development and Work Skills – develop skills, knowledge, and work habits that will make them employable, with access to programs that will help them get and retain stable jobs, advance beyond entry level positions, and pursue self-supporting careers.
Financial Literacy – access to instructional support programs that will help them acquire financial literacy and personal financial management skills.
Access to Education – programs that promote educational access, learning, high school graduation and flexible postsecondary options for all young people, especially those in public care.
Health and Well-Being Needs – support for the physical and mental health of young people as critical components of their ability to survive, thrive, and transition successfully to adulthood from school, foster care, the juvenile justice system and other institutions.
Lifelong Connection to Family and Caretakers – advocating on behalf of policies and strategies that facilitate and strengthen the connections between youth and their birth, foster or extended families.
The Critical Role of Foster Parents
Foster parents are encouraged to teach life skills appropriate to the developmental level of children throughout their lives. With constant guidance and support, children are better prepared to live independently when they move out on their own.
Independent living preparation does not begin or end at a specific age. It is a process that begins when children are very young and advances over time. When children aren’t taught the skills they need for a successful transition to adulthood, they are more likely to experience unemployment, homelessness, imprisonment, or victimization. Some children in foster care may need extra help to learn what it means to be independent and what skills they need to be successful on their own.
Life skills include personal skills such as exploring one’s values, making good decisions, working through problems, setting goals, communicating with others, managing time, dealing with anger, and developing self-esteem. Other skills include cooking, shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, being on time, and managing money.
Many daily tasks and things foster parents or other children seem to “just know” may be tasks or skills that a child in foster care needs to learn. Foster parents should work with the children in the foster home to help figure out what skills they already know and what skills you can work on together.