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When a young person experiences foster care, they come into contact with a number of adults. Caseworkers, teachers, health care professionals, court advocates, mentors, and foster families all have a chance to make a difference. Being a supportive adult in a young person's life is a sizable undertaking - a job that calls you to think about all areas of a young person's life - from housing to financial matters, from health care to learning to drive. This toolkit is a beginning point with a number of resources to help you empower the young person in your life to gain the skills they need to be successful.
1. Use person-first language. Foster care is an experience, and not a defining characteristic for youth. Instead of using phrases like "foster child" or "foster kid", say "youth with experience in foster care". Check out FSM's student-created "words matter" video where youth express that they are much more than their experience in foster care...they are themselves!
2. Engage youth in a relationship! Spend time together doing things that are fun! Ask youth about their thoughts and opinions, then share your own. Have fun! Be inspired! But most importantly, be authentic!
3. Create an interdependent relationship, where you work with youth in determining their needs (not telling them what you think they need). Ask their opinion, and listen carefully to what they have to say.
4. Encourage youth to participate in extracurricular activities. MYOI, Foster Club, and TRIO programs are great programs that provide leadership and social opportunities. Show them examples of how youth stay connected, and talk to them about the benefits of extracurricular activities!
5. Make sure youth are signed up for health care. Upon aging out of foster care at age 18, youth are offered health care to age 26 under the Affordable Care Act. If for some reason, a young person did not sign up for health care, they may do so any time before turning 26.
6. Help young people establish stable housing. Youth with experience in foster care are more likely to experience gaps in stable housing. Even when living in a college dorm, housing may not be available over the summer or during holidays - talk to senior leadership at colleges and universities about making year-round housing a possibility.
8. Help youth understand the ins and outs of transportation. Driver's education is expensive! Take time to teach a young person to drive, save up for a car, and purchase insurance. Explore bus and train routes, as well as how to puchase and use tickets.
9. It's never too early to start talking about college! While 84% of youth ages 17-18 with experience in foster care report wanting to go to college (Courtney, et al., 2004), only 20% of youth who graduate from high school will attend college(Wolanin, 2005), and only 2-9% will graduate with at least a Bachelor's degree (Pecora, et al., 2006; Pecora, et al., 2005). You can help by encouraging youth, and talking to them about the available financial resources and campus support programs in Michigan.
10. Make sure students can stay in their school. On average, the placement of children in foster care is changed one to two times per year (US Dept of Health and Human Services). However more than one-quarter of youth in foster care experience five or more foster home placements (Courtney, Terao, Bost, 2004). Reducing the number of placement changes per year by one almost doubled the likelihood that children in foster care would graduate from high school before leaving care (Pecora, et al 2003)
11. Communicate with teachers and educational staff. Educators can work to provide youth with asssessments that can identify areas of need for students, as well as provide assistance. This webinar will help supportive adults understand what support and resources are available to youth.
Fostering Success Michigan is a statewide initiative that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation