Youth in Foster Care Learn What It Takes to Live Independently

Youth in foster care and IFC social workers inspect a car and learn how to check oil.

Youth in foster care and IFC social workers inspect a car and learn how to check oil.

Over the past year, our Intensive Foster Care team has been working hard to ensure every youth in our program has a realistic and achievable goal for permanency and supportive adults ready to help. Our staff has been thinking outside the box for creative ways to include safe and appropriate relatives and other supportive adults in the lives of the youth we serve.

However, when youth in foster care grow from kids to teens, it’s just as important for them to learn new life skills (such as preparing for college or learning how to drive) as it is for teens in more traditional family situations. The older teens we serve in IFC face intense challenges in their transition from leaving foster care to entering the world independently. While we work hard to ensure permanency and a network of supportive adults for every youth, we also work to ensure our teens are building the skills they need to enter adulthood successfully.

That’s why the quarterly PAYA (Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood) classes we provide to the older teens in our IFC program are so important to us. These classes ensure that the youth in our care have the opportunity to learn about vital skills for living independently, such as attaining and maintaining a job, assessing their options for higher education and how to manage their money.

At the most recent PAYA class, our teens learned about transportation: how to use the T, how to buy a car and how to get a license. The biggest part of the class was showing the youth what a commitment owning a car is. We taught them about price scales, the responsibilities that come with various financing options and additional expenses like maintenance and car insurance. We also showed them a car engine and talked about what it takes to maintain a car.

It was a detailed session, but the students were very motivated to learn. Their biggest takeaway from this particular PAYA class was that no matter what, they need to start saving money now so they can manage having a car more easily in the future. We were very proud to see these youth taking responsibility for their financial and transportation futures.

At the end of the PAYA module, our young adults wrote letters explaining what they learned and advocating for additional funding from DCF to help cover some of the costs of driver’s education classes. One of our youth wrote, “I thank you all for all that you have shared with me. I’ve learned so much and now understand the responsibilities and steps to actually owning a car.”

Sometimes, supporting the older teens in our IFC program seems like the most daunting part of our job – there is so much we want to do for them, and we rarely feel like we have enough time to do all of it. But offering opportunities like PAYA classes is an effective way to make sure that, in the middle of everything else, our teens can enter the adult world a little more prepared, a little more supported and a little more informed.

If you would like to support our teens as they transition from foster care to living independently, please email our Intensive Foster Care Program Director Jillian Nebesar at jnebesar@helpfamilies.org. We’re currently looking for mentors to help with all sorts of steps leading to independence, such as learning to drive, thinking about and applying to college, opportunities for internships and networking experience related to specific career fields and general ongoing guidance and mentoring.