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Leaving Foster Care: Preparing foster youth for a successful transition to adult living

Take just one minute and think back to when you were 18 years old and you were moving out of your parents home for the first time. What feelings did you initially have? If you were like many 18 year old's, the only thing you were thinking about was the freedom you were about to experience away from your parents’ authority and likely not much else, such as rent, bills, health insurance, opening a bank account, investments, etc. And what did you do when a problem arose that you were not yet equipped to handle? Ring Ring “Mom? I need your help!”

What if there was no “Mom”, no “Dad”, no “Grandma” to call? What would you have done then? Would you have been ready to really be an adult at 18, 19, even 20 years old? Probably not. This month’s Quality Youth Services Blog will delve into the ways our Transition to Adult Living program aims to prepare foster youth for adulthood and the vital role foster parents play in preparing youth for a successful transition and future.

Quality Youth Services Transition to Adult Living Program

Every foster youth above 16 years old placed with Quality Youth Services foster parents will participate in our Transition to Adult Living program (TAL). Our TAL program consists of 3 phases of curriculum that foster teens will work through in order to prepare them for adulthood. As a part of the foster youth’s treatment team, foster parents are expected to be mentors to their youth and help teach and reinforce the skills taught through the TAL program.

Circles of Support

The old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” rings true for all human beings and especially true for foster youth. When foster youth no longer have access to biological parents/family due to incarceration, abuse, neglect, distance or general toxicity, it is necessary for them to start building their own family and friends that they can rely on when things get tough. Referred to as a Circle of Support, this is a group of people, organizations and social circles that support us in our lives. As shown in the graphic below, there are ranges of support each entity can offer. At it’s core, are those that are the closest and most consistent supporters. This group may consist of a few family members, the closest of friends, adult mentors, foster parents and other trusted adults who consistently have your best interest at heart.

The second layer is considered middle-level supporters which might consist of other individuals that are not as close or consistent, as well as organizations and social services that you may rely on such as food banks, Vocational Rehab, Department of Workforce Services, Social Security, etc. Lastly, the most outer layer of support are for distant and infrequent supporters such as out of state family and friends, teachers, and other acquaintances that might offer support.

While in foster care, foster teens will constantly be asked to try to broaden their circle of support so that when they are independent, they know who to turn to for help. This broadening of their circle could look like a youth having a visit or family therapy with a distant relative in their life with whom they could foster a parent-child type relationship, or it could look like a youth spending time with friends during their free time in order to foster closer relationships with their peers, or it could even look like introducing the foster youth to like minded people by joining a club they are interested in order to grow a new social circle of support.

Your Role in the Transition to Young Adulthood

There are three key facets that contribute to a successful transition to adult living by foster youth: 1. The desire for independence, 2. The acceptance of continued support, and 3. A stockpile of life skills. Your role as a foster parent is to attempt to boost all three areas in your foster teen’s life in order to prepare them for a successful transition.

The desire for independence is listed first because adulting is a hard task, and can only be achieved by those who really want it. Some foster youth may self-sabotage before leaving foster care in order to stay in custody longer. An internal desire to leave the system and become an independent adult is necessary when the going gets tough and helps build a person’s sense of resiliency.

The acceptance of continued support is also an important aspect because foster youth who “think they have it all figured out,” close themselves off from circles of support they may need down the line. Being willing and able to ask for help is sometimes just as important as knowing how to do things yourself because it allows for growth.

Lastly, a stockpile of life skills are essential for foster youth to be prepared for adulthood. When foster youth are asked, they most commonly say that the biggest flaw to foster care is the lack of preparation they received for the “real world” versus the limited world they experienced while in foster care. From small things like how to preheat an oven to big things like applying to jobs and interviewing skills in order to financially support themselves.

Foster parents can support successful transitions in their foster youth by:

  • Support building a sense of balance between acceptance of support and independence

  • Start building life skills any time

  • Seek additional adults as mentors for youth

  • Quality relationships improve outcomes in foster youth

  • Quality relationships improve outcomes into young adulthood

How to Create Learning Opportunities

Other than providing a safe, loving, and stable home for a foster youth, one of the most important jobs of a foster parent is to be a mentor and teacher to the foster teens they serve.

One way to consistently impart life skills into your foster youth is to be on the lookout for “Learning Opportunities” that you can engage your foster youth in during everyday activities. Are you running to the bank? Take your foster teen with you and explain how opening a bank account works, what personal documents you would need to have, and even have the foster youth practice talking to the teller on your behalf to get in the practice of talking with strangers in a professional setting. Does your foster youth need to go to the doctor? Think about discussing the process of making an appointment, how they would choose which doctor to see, and have them practice calling to schedule the appointment themselves.

Steps to Creating Learning Opportunities:

1. Identify an opportunity

2. Teach the specific steps and thinking processes necessary to complete the task

3. Observe: Allow the youth to try the task themselves without you intervening. As you watch,

consider the following questions:

■ How well did they perform?

■ If applicable, were they socially appropriate (e.g. polite, eye contact, personal space)?

■ Did they miss any steps?

4. Check-In: After the youth completes the task, check-in with them about how it went. Remember

these key points:

■ Be brief - only 1-2 minutes

■ Engage the youth - What do they think went well? What do they want to improve next time?

■ Use a Praise Sandwich - Start off with something specific they did well, add one thing to improve, and close with something specific they did well.

■ Choose only one thing to improve. You will have more opportunities to provide suggestions.

Essential Life Skills for the Transition to Young Adulthood

Since foster parents are on the front lines when caring for foster teens, they take on a major role in teaching youth the necessary life skills they will need to be successful in the future. We will briefly outline 7 vital areas that foster parents can impart life skills into their foster teens BEFORE they leave your care.

1. Building Supportive Relationships and Connections

Permanent, supportive relationships and connections are critical to a young adult’s well-being. Research has shown that having ongoing support from at least one permanent, caring adult can make an enormous difference in the life of a vulnerable youth (Howard & Berzin, 2011). Foster youth often have not had the same opportunities as other youth to develop social skills and supportive, lasting relationships. Also, after leaving foster care, many youth will reconnect with biological family members and will need a way to navigate those relationships now as independent adults.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Ask youth to identify at least one reliable caring adult in their life who can serve as a stable, ongoing connection and provide support as the youth transitions.

  • When appropriate, support youth in exploring connections with their biological family members (siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles) and in maintaining healthy relationships with them.

  • Encourage the youth’s development of peer support networks through participation in group activities of youth with similar interests and experiences.

  • Hold a conversation about what your family’s long-term relationship with the youth will be after they leave care.

2. Managing Money

Many young adults have little experience managing money and have much to learn about developing and sticking to a budget, paying bills and taxes, obtaining credit and saving for the future. Managing money is a large portion of the TAL curriculum because it is closely connected to a person’s ability to have their basic needs met such as food and shelter.

After leaving foster care, alumni often struggle to make ends meet. One study found that by age 23 or 24, more than half of the young adults formerly in care had experienced financial hardships, including not having enough money to pay for food, rent, or utilities.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Young people often learn best about money management through first hand experience. Offer real life learning opportunities to your foster youth about smart shopping at the grocery store, paying bills and saving for long terms goals in everyday interactions.

  • Have youth develop a budget that will outline estimated living expenses and expected income after their leave care.

  • Advocate for the foster youth to open their own bank account with the proper permissions prior to leaving care.

  • Have frequent discussions about the cost of things the foster youth uses (such as brands and how to make the best decisions when comparing prices.)

3. Pursuing Education and Vocational Opportunities

Many youth in foster care are not prepared for college or trade school after high school or have a tough time even graduating high school. While in foster care, youth may experience frequent school changes coupled with existing learning and behavioral difficulties that interfere with educational achievement. Furthermore, foster youth may lack knowledge about educational opportunities available to them, financing to pay for schooling and housing and general encouragement from adults in their lives.

Educational achievements frequently open the door for success in many aspects of adult life. Benefits range from enhanced skills and self-confidence to increased earnings potential. While traditional college is not for everyone, other options such as certificate programs, Vocational or Technical Training or the military can be great ways to grow and pursue a career they are passionate about.

Quality Youth Services TAL Program exposes foster youth to a variety of options for secondary education after high school they might not have otherwise thought of as possible. The TAL curriculum helps the youth learn the vital skills necessary for applying to universities or other professional training programs, how to apply for scholarships and grants to pay for them, and how to balance school and other responsibilities.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Talk with your foster youth about their educational goals, what natural talents they may have, and some possible job interests for the future.

  • Encourage your foster youth when they express interest in a career, school subject or talent. A passion can be sparked by consistent praise.

  • Monitor grades and school progress reports and attend Parent Teacher Conferences to help support your foster youth in problem areas and praise them where they are doing well.

4. Finding and Maintaining Employment

Getting and keeping a job is critical to a young adult's ability to achieve economic security and independence. A job that fits with personal interests and talents also can contribute to greater satisfaction in life overall. Many former foster youth live in vulnerable financial situations and as a population exhibit high unemployment rates and earn low wages. Our job as the supportive adults in their lives is to encourage and support their interests and talents that relate to a future career and would enable them to maintain independence and create happy, successful lives.

In the TAL curriculum, foster youth will create a resume and practice interviewing skills before they start searching for their first job. Youth will be coached on how to keep a job and discuss employer expectations for things such as arriving on time and appropriate attire. Furthermore, foster youth will be taught skills to advocate for themselves in employment such as how to request time off, obtaining their paycheck or paycheck stubs, and handling workplace conflict or harassment. Graduated foster youth who are not interested in educational opportunities are expected to obtain full time employment in order to gain vital experience in the work field and to be able to support themselves after they leave care.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Help your foster youth find mentors in career fields they might be interested in who could provide support and guidance.

  • Support youth in gaining firsthand experience through volunteer activities or job shadowing

  • Help youth understand and practice important processes for obtaining a job-creating resume, finding job listings, completing applications and interviewing.

  • Assist youth in exploring various career paths by researching online, setting up school counselor appointments and attending career fairs.

5. Securing Housing

While many of their peers will still be living at home, most youth aging out of foster care must face the difficult challenge of finding stable and affordable housing– something that is hard to do for anyone right now. Former foster youth are more likely to experience homelessness than the general population with 1 in 5 former foster youth homeless within the first year of leaving care.

In the TAL curriculum, foster youth will learn about federal/state/ and local funding available to them to assist in housing costs as well as educate them about emergency shelters should they ever need them in the future. QYS Foster Youth who are transitioning to adult living will obtain their first apartment prior to leaving care which includes making the deposit and first month’s rent.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Support youth in finding and looking at available housing and completing required applications.

  • Prepare your youth for household responsibilities such as a cleaning schedule and how often certain areas/things need to be cleaned.

  • Educate your youth about their responsibilities and rights as a tenant.

  • Ask youth to create a backup plan through their circles of support if their housing plans fall through (friends, family, homeless shelters)

6. Maintaining Health and Wellness

Youth leaving foster care need to learn how to maintain good health habits, secure health insurance and access needed health and mental health services on their own. While in foster care, youth are provided free health care through Medicaid that may extend for a certain period of time after they leave. Through the TAL Program, foster youth will participate in their own care, learn how to find in-network providers, fill prescriptions, schedule appointments and manage their protected health information.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Promote a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle in your home by example

  • Attend scheduled doctor’s appointments with your youth to stay up to date on their status and any services recommended.

  • Help youth understand when to seek medical attention and how to find low cost health, dental and mental health services.

7. Exploring Identity and Culture

The teenage years in a person’s life are an important period of learning about the world and of self-discovery. While most teens struggle with identity, foster youth might find it especially difficult after being removed from their families and sometimes their culture. In addition to concrete daily living skills, foster youth need help in building a positive sense of self and a deeper understanding of their identity.

Things Foster Parents Can Do to Help:

  • Expose youth to experiences and interests that will build self-confidence

  • Help youth collect memories of their life and keep them in a safe place for when they leave: pictures, postcards, letters, report cards, art, etc.

  • Support youth in building an understanding of their cultural, ethnic, or spiritual background and connect them with similar activities.

Preparing Foster Youth for Dynamic Problem-Solving

The better skilled that a child is at problem-solving the more likely they will make good

choices when confronted with problem situations. By guiding them through a consistent set

of problem-solving steps they will begin to learn this important process.

Problem Solving Steps:

▪ Define the problem

▪ Generate all of the possible solutions

▪ Consider the potential consequences of each of the possible solutions

▪ Assess each choice and its related consequences to prioritize the solutions

▪ Implement the top priority choice and keep the others available if this solution fails

Monitoring Progress

As you work with your therapeutic foster youth on building skills for adulthood and navigating

the challenges of adolescence through goal-setting and problem-solving, it will be important

to support them in creating a structure for monitoring their progress over time.

■ Create a specific monitoring system, such as checking in at family meetings or daily check-in

■ Support youth to evaluate their progress using the following steps:

▪ Celebrate the little milestones!

▪ Use a praise sandwich - let them know what is going well, give them a suggestion, and

praise again

▪ Allow the youth to create their own praise sandwich

▪ Repeat the goal-setting and problem-solving steps as frequently as needed

▪ Ask youth how it is going, if they need help or if anything is confusing them

How to Get Involved

Every facet of Quality Youth Services Treatment Foster Care model is designed to make Foster Parents feel confident in their ability to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for all family members including the foster youth.

Quality Youth Services provides short term foster care through our dedicated foster parents in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, please complete the foster parent application on our website at this link,, and our Program Director will call to schedule an interview within two days.

Or if you would like more information before applying, check out our website page dedicated to Foster Parents at this link,

You may also request more information or get answers to specific questions prior to applying at this link

Quality Youth Services Foster Parents play a vital role in the mental health, well-being and future success of the vulnerable youth they serve in their homes. Please join us in being catalysts of positive change in our community by deciding to foster today!

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