It seems like most teens in foster care are ready to get out of the system, and are ready to age out, no matter what it may mean for their future. However, most people at the age of eighteen are not ready to be out on their own and have not fully considered all of the things they need to think about before aging out of care. That is why in my opinion, it is our job as social workers or foster parents to work with these young people and help them think through all of their options and prepare them to be out on their own.
If your foster teens is leaving foster care soon, here are twelve ideas on how to help prepare him for life outside of care. I would suggest beginning these ideas at least six months in advance of their eighteenth birthday or the age of aging out in your area. If the teen is interested in various programs such as independent living, it may be better to start the conversation earlier as there may be waiting lists for some options.
Ask if the teen can stay in foster care a bit longer. Talk with the teen’s social worker about the possibilities of the teen staying in care until after she graduates from high school. It may be possible to petition the judge to allow the child to remain in care. Too many teens are getting displaced and missing graduating and earning their diploma by a few months. We all know how important an education is for a person's success and the lack of an high school diploma will keep the child from certain jobs and advancements.
Help youth understand how to access medical care. Make sure the teen understands how to continue accessing their state medical card after aging out. If the child does leave care, make sure the child has their medical card in their possession. This is especially important for teens who need to manage their medications. Also, make sure that the teen knows the information for their medical doctor and dentist - include names, phone numbers, and addresses.
Look into independent living programs. Start asking about independent living programs where the child can have a place to stay, be supervised, and continue learning independent living skills.
See if the youth can remain with foster parents. Ask the foster parents if the child can remain in their home. A child aging out of foster care doesn’t necessarily have to move from the foster home, if the foster parents and child believe that it’s in everyone’s best interest for the child to remain in the foster home. The foster parents must also understand that this means that the foster care subsidy for the teen will also stop. This placement will not be financially supported by the state.
Ask about college programs for foster youth. Help the child investigate college grant programs that are available for foster children. In some states a foster teen’s college education may be paid in full. This may also include access to dorm living and the cost of books. Don't forget other programs for foster youth such as, Foster Care to Success (FC2S).
Make sure the youth knows how to get around town. Teach the child about the city transportation options that are available in their area. Will they need a bus pass to get back and forth to school or work?
Help the youth explore the cost of getting their own place. Help the teen explore different living options. Make sure they understand the cost of rent and the process that is involved with renting an apartment or small home such as the application process, references, deposit, and rent payment. The teen should also know where to find utilities in their community and how to get these services activated.
Assist the youth in exploring community supports. Explore various resources in the community that offer help and lower priced items such as The Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Goodwill, and other community centers. The location of food banks may also be helpful to the youth.
Help the foster youth find employment. Help your teen fill out job applications and find employment that will teach them needed life skills - like being on time and responsibility for actions. Prepare your teen for the job interview with information on how to dress and what to expect with practice interview questions.
Teach the youth about financial matters. Take the time to teach them about the use of debit cards and credit cards and how to avoid getting into debt. Encourage the foster teen to open a savings account and start a savings program. Teach him the importance of always having savings and the definition of an emergency and when the need to withdraw money from the account is appropriate.
Help the foster teen create a support group. Help the teen develop a list of supportive people they can call upon as needed. Think of the different, positive influences already in the teen's life that are willing to remain in their lives post foster care.
Praise the youth and help them see that they can help themselves. Finally it's important that the teen feels empowered. Help the teen see that there are things they can do to prepare for life after aging out of foster care.