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A large number of these youth are not prepared to be independent, regardless of their maturity level; they do not have the skills and services in place to do so. Having to live on one's own maximizes the stresses and personal challenges and requires skills that are even difficult for those who have never been in foster care. Not only are these young adults moving to independence without positive support, they have rarely been given the safety net needed. Nor has it ever been clearly recognized and resolved that these youths are facing the trauma of losing a family twice in their short lives -- both times forcefully. This is a syndrome now given the term called "remourn," since so many foster youths experience this second loss of family support and care.
The Chafee Act is a start in the right direction, but it is not enough given the number of youths and their diverse needs. Several programs and services have been put into place to help across the country, attempting to use these funds in the most productive way possible. The goal is to help youth in transition become independent self sufficient adults. The delivery of these programs and financing varies considerably among the states, because of the different funding. The Chafee Act allows flexibility to decide what services will be provided with the funds received and how they are specifically allocated. According to Massinga and Pecora (2004), 36 states provide college scholarships to youths in transition, because the Chafee Education and Training Vouchers Program allots eligible youth up to $5,000 annually. The grant may be used for fees, books, tuition, computers, supplies, uniforms, housing, internships, and school-related travel.
Some states also take advantage of the TRIO (a collection of eight federal programs authorized by Congress to provide support to student populations typically underserved that aim to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). The TRIO programs, which stem as far back as President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, were the country's first college access and retention program to address the serious social and cultural barriers to education in America. TRIO began as part of the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964, established as an experimental program known as Upward Bound. Then, in 1965, the Higher Education Act created Talent Search. Later, in 1968, came the launch of another program, Special Services for Disadvantaged Students, or subsequently called Student Support Services. Together, this "trio" of federally-funded programs was put into effect to encourage accessibility to higher education for low-income students. By 1998, the TRIO programs had become an essential support system, serving traditional students, displaced workers, and veterans. The original three programs had grown to eight, adding Educational Opportunity Centers in 1972, Training Program for Federal TRIO programs in 1976, the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program in 1986, Upward Bound Math/Science in 1990, and the TRIO Dissemination Partnership in 1998.
Many times the services for aged-out foster care youth are linked to other programs already in place. For example, Larkin Street Youth Services serves all youth between the ages of 12 to 23 years old with the agency's 17 programs that operate out of 8 locations in San Francisco. In total, it provides services to more than 3,000 youth (Child Welfare League, nd). The goal of the program is to face present needs and establish long-term opportunities for stable housing. Larkin Street Youth Services consists of four distinct types of services that guide homeless young adults and youths to support, such as housing, healthcare, and educational and employment services. The program offers a wide variety of housing services to stabilize young people according to their various circumstances. One of its programs, called LEASE, is specifically designed as a residence for youth emancipated from San Francisco's foster care system. It includes apartments and participant-linked services such as employment, education, and life skills training services. Approximately 80% of youths completing the Larkin Street counseling programs leave street life permanently. More than 85% of graduates from Avenues to Independence, a unique transitional-living program for young adults, secure and retain permanent housing and career-track employment. Of the 84 young people served by the Aftercare Program, which helps young adults ages living with HIV / AIDS achieve self-sufficiency, and 92% successfully stabilize their lives off the streets (Child Welfare League, nd).
Another example of services in place for these displaced youth is in Peirce County, Washington. The Foster Care to College Mentoring Program is a collaborative of communities, private parties and government that act together to improve the quality of life for foster youth. Foster Care to College mentors work closely with foster youth ages 14 to 21 to define their ongoing educational goals. Regular meetings with educational mentors provide support with identifying and fine tuning direction for students to develop academic skills, visit colleges and learn about financial aid. Similarly, San Diego County's Emancipated Foster Youth Transitional Housing Program provides rental assistance to former foster youth between 18 and 21, giving them the chance to live in housing units for two years. It funds support services, housing assistance and a safe environment while the young adults find employment, develop rental histories and work towards self sufficiency (Child Welfare League)
Involvement of Social Workers
Social workers have long been part of the supportive staff for the foster care program and aging out process. Depending on the state and county, they play different roles in the schools and social service agencies to help these youth. Many times, they work in collaborative programs with other agencies, the city and school systems. The work that is done by the social workers, however, often depends on the money available for this special needs population of youth. Many times, as noted above, the foster care youths are asked to participate in the same programs as their peers who have been living with their biological families but may be facing similar challenges. Although these foster care youth receive support, it is not specifically aimed at their individual needs. For example, foster care youths have to deal with feelings of abandonment or have perhaps suffered extensive abuse in different living situations. Social workers and others employed in social service agencies and public programs that collaborate to ease the youths' transition from foster care to independent living have an especially difficult mandate relative to the continuum of services. They have to launch these young adults into their future adult life against all odds, and must also help them cope with unresolved emotional injuries and accumulated experiences of loss. Many times, programs are not in place that provide these unique provisions, and social workers must make do with the services in place for a general population.
It is necessary that additional programs be put into place to help this unique population. Chipungu and Bent-Goodley (2004) recommend what they call the "One-Stop Solution: Engaging Youth Through Concrete Services" to help foster care youth make a successful transition from foster care to adulthood and independence. Chipungu and Bent-Goodley recognize that young people who have been involved with foster care must have the necessary preparation, support and guidance before, during and after discharge from the system. Specifically, they require customized services in career counseling and job development, health and mental health care, housing support, educational guidance, legal advocacy, mentoring and practical life skills training, which are particularly designed for young adults, ages 14-21, at various levels of their individual development and maturity. In addition, services for these youth need to be co-located in one all-purpose center and open outside of the usual office hours to accommodate work and school schedules.
This "one-stop program" would provide a united group of highly effective, customized services at one central location (Chipungu & Bent-Goodley,2004). Specifically, it would offer the following: (1) Career services center that offers ongoing job counseling and support, access to any initiated employment readiness programs, available internships and apprenticeships, regularly updated listing of job openings, and assistance with resumes, interviews and professional etiquette; (2) Housing assistance with rental listing, applications and brokers, in addition to Section 8 and ACS housing subsidy applications; (3) Financial management training with hands-on coursework about budgeting, financial services, bill-paying, borrowing and managing debt, and credit; (4) Educational consulting, such as guidance counseling, pre-college examination preparation, counseling and assistance for college-bound high school students and college students, and critical information required to locate scholarship money and financial aid; (5) Health services that include screening for health insurance and an overview of community-based healthcare support; (6) Civil legal services, such as public assistance advocacy, Supplemental Security Income and survivor's benefits, Medicaid, housing and immigration; (7) Hard & soft life skills instruction consisting of an understanding of available supportive technology, finding and keeping employment, becoming aware of community-based resources, and eating nutritional meals and being able to handle stress; (8) Mentoring services by foster care graduates, job mentors, independent living mentors, and guest mentors.…[continue]
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