Preparing Youth for Adulthood
Preparing our youth for adulthood has become an increasingly difficult task in today’s society and it seems like many teenagers are ill prepared for that momentous step in life. Foster children seem to have an even more difficult time making that transition.Because of that I think the foster care agencies should focus more attention on preparing children for that transition.
Unfortunately, some of the foster children under my counsel flounder. Part of the problem is that there is no safety net for these former foster children because when they came of age medical insurance is no longer available. As a result they lose all their medical benefi ts as well as their mental health services.
To make it worse most of these youngsters have poor job skills and their social skills aren’t very good either. Then there are the young people who have criminal records and the possibility of them getting employment is almost nil. Most have struggled just to get through high school, they have little concept of how to handle money, and they usually have no place to live and no one to turn to when they are in trouble. Add all their mental health issues to this mix and the whole situation can turn into serious trouble, not only for the young person, but also for society as a whole.
To prevent or at least minimize these problems, it is imperative to begin working early with youngsters who are in foster care to help them learn what to expect when they are older. Fortunately, many foster parents do that and they are to be commended for their foresight.
However, preparing youngsters for adulthood is especially difficult with foster children because they already live in a “different world”. They usually find it diffi cult to focus and survive in the present, let alone think about their future. Many of them have no idea where they will be in a month, let alone in years, and as a result they have no interest in looking toward the more distant future.
One way to help children in foster care make the transition as easily as possible is for foster care agencies to provide life skills classes to their clients. These classes should include such things as how to find a job, handling money, budgeting, grocery shopping, buying clothes, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, how to use public transportation, how to find a place to live, continuing their education, and how to fi nd medical and mental health services.
There are already some great programs in place that teach some of these things and, interestingly enough, some of these programs are in the high schools. But if something like that isn’t available, it falls to the foster parents to teach the children these life skills and I have a couple of suggestions on how to do that.
The first thing that is important to impart to the youth is the concept of respect. Respect for others as well as for themselves is a prerequisite to being successful in life. Many of the youngsters I work with either don’t have or can’t show respect to their elders or to their peers, and that kind of an attitude won’t take them far in the working world. Teaching respect is a difficult task and too complex to discuss here, but just having the foster parents model respectful behaviors to others is better than nothing.
Another important thing is encouraging the young people to get a job while they are still in high school. This is vital to teaching them how the world works so they will be better prepared for the realities of the adult world. But a job entails much more than just earning a wage because it also teaches the youngster to be respectful, to listen to instructions, to be on time, to work as a team with other employees, and to learn the value of a dollar.
For the more mundane, but still important, life skills, foster parents can involve the youngsters in their own care. For example, to teach grocery shopping skills, give the young person a short list of things to buy at the store and give them enough money to cover those items. Then have them pick out the items and pay for them. To make it more fun and educational, have a night once a week or so, where the youngster would make dinner for the family and their grocery list would include the ingredients needed for making the dinner. It doesn’t matter if it is a simple tuna fi sh casserole or a “Hamburger Helper” type of dinner; the important thing is that they are learning how to take care of themselves.
The same thing can be done for clothes shopping. Make up a list of the less important clothes that they need, like underwear and socks, and give them enough money to cover those purchases. It will be their decision to decide which brands and prices they will chose in order to come in on-budget.
Reprinted with the permission of the NFPA. © 2008 by NFPA. All Rights Reserved.
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