When I was growing up, I can remember my parents taking every opportunity they could to provide me with “teaching moments.” Some occurred after a mistake was made and often concluded with the “what did you learn from this” speech, and other moments were much more subtle in nature – just exposing me to things so that I would someday understand them.  That’s what parents do; they teach, they guide, they mold, they love, and they prepare their children to become responsible, productive adults. Sometimes they do it by showing their kids how to complete chores like laundry or cooking. Other times, they may teach them how to drive a car or change a tire. Perhaps they take them to open their first savings account or help them fill out their first job application. The point is, when I look back at my childhood, I was a sponge soaking up whatever information I could – constantly learning, building skills, and discovering my independence – all without realizing it. My parents were there to support me and help me develop into the successful woman I’ve become. But what if they weren’t?

     Unfortunately, that is far too often the case for youth in foster care. For many of them, they haven’t had the support system or positive role models in their lives to help build them up and prepare them to function on their own. Being removed from your family and moved into various homes or living situations doesn’t always present the best atmosphere for learning. When these youth reach the age of adulthood there are gaps in knowledge and skill sets that you would typically find in an 18 year old. The lack of an ongoing support system combined with the lack of understanding as it relates to basic skills, are the primary reasons that the rates of unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration are so high among former foster care youth. It is not that they don’t want to succeed it is that they lack the understanding of how to make it happen. That is where The Community Partnership’s Chafee Independent Living Program (ILP) comes in. The ILP program is designed to help provide the skills, knowledge, and support to older youth in foster care that they may not receive otherwise. The goal is to give the youth we work with the opportunity to become successful, independent adults upon exiting care. We do this in a variety of ways. First, we identify gaps in the youth’s knowledge as it relates to basic life skills – things such as money management, employment, housing, daily living tasks, etc. and teach them the basic tools they need to have in those areas.  Next, we help the youth identify caring adults in their lives, such as coaches, parents of friends, pastors, etc.  that they can turn to for support when they need guidance. Finally, we try to get them engaged in their own lives and the community. We help financially support their involvement in extracurricular activities, encourage leadership opportunities, and build their self-esteem. The more these youth feel engaged, capable, and encouraged to pursue their goals, the more likely they are to make it happen.

     A primary example of the impact our program can make lies in the story of one of our participants. Erica* is twenty years old and has been in foster care for years. Initially, she lived in an independent foster home, but when they discovered her IQ was 70, she was moved to an ISL (Independent Supported Living) group home. At the time she was referred to our program three years ago, it was believed by her team that she would probably never live on her own. However, since entering the program, Erica* has shown enormous determination to make sure she proved them wrong. Our ILP coordinators have worked with her on budgeting, housing, education, and employment. During that time, this young lady has held a job for two years, opened her own bank account, has saved enough money to get her own place, and is now in her second year at Drury University! It proves that with exposure to the right to opportunities, knowledge, and support anything can happen for these youth. Being in foster care is something they have gone through, but it does not define or limit what they can become.

     Would you like to learn more about The Community Partnership and this program? We hold regular one-hour Welcome Tours and would love to have you as our guest. Give Mark Long a call to schedule your tour! 573.368.2849