Adulting is hard. Becoming an adult is often both an exciting and scary time for any of us. We may be thinking about where we want to live, what job we hope to have, or what future family we want to grow. We may also be thinking about all the responsibilities that adulthood brings. Things like paying bills, scheduling doctors appointments, and taking care of our homes and families. Adulting is challenging, but for youth aging out of foster care, the challenges and uncertainties are much greater.
In 2021, almost 20,000 youth aged out of foster care. That means they became adults and left the system without returning to their parents or being connected with another permanent family. Youth who age out of foster care have a potential to experience homelessness, incarceration, become early parents themselves, or struggle with gaining employment or further education. In North Carolina, as in many other states, these individuals often lack the necessary support and resources to navigate the complexities of independent living.
The Role of Independent Living Programs
Independent Living Programs play a vital role in providing essential support and resources for youth in foster care. At Crossnore, we recognize that adulting is difficult. Especially for those who have more barriers and fewer natural supports. We believe in providing both the support and guidance we all need as young adults, so each youth can navigate their future well. Our passion for youth aging out led us to develop a sustainable program called Youth Independent Living (YIL). This program offers housing, life skill development, and educational opportunities for young adults. We also offer continuous connection for those youth who want to stay connected once they are on their own.
Crossnore’s YIL Components
Our Youth Independent Living Program provides the following components:
- Life Skills Training: Training in various life skills, such as budgeting, cooking, and time management, to help youth become self-sufficient
- Education and Employment Assistance: Educational support, including assistance with college applications, financial aid, and job training, to help young adults secure stable employment
- Mental Health and Wellness Support: Access to mental health services, ensuring that the emotional needs of youth are addressed
- Housing Assistance: Housing for those who live on one of our campuses, as well as guidance on securing safe and stable housing beyond Crossnore
The aspects of our program are designed to help our youth navigate those life decisions with confidence. However, what really helps a youth succeed is much beyond our program. Youth aging out of foster care need individuals to support them beyond those who work as staff or caretaker.
How to support youth
Supporting youth aging into adulthood can take many forms. Below are some general ideas to keep in mind that anyone can do to support youth in these situations:
- Offer support, a listening ear, or mentorship.
- Some of the best mentorship connections happen organically. They may develop from a volunteer connection or a workplace opportunity. Sometimes teaching a youth a skill, giving guidance about career options, or even just simple advice about tasks related to car repair, license renewals, or grocery shopping can go a long way.
- Share how to access resources.
- We don’t know what we don’t know. Often times youth aging out may not be aware of the resources available to them in their local community. Someone with those connections and information can be a valuable resource connection.
- Provide educational, job, and career guidance.
- We love when we are able to connect a youth with someone who is in a trade or career that interests that young adult. We have seen connections develop that helped youth make decisions about their professional development.
- Respect youth independence and autonomy.
- It’s important to recognize that even though we may want to help youth in foster care, we must ensure we don’t take over decision-making or take away their own agency. It is important to support youth as they navigate their own decisions by giving guidance and support, but not control.
- Advocate for our youth.
- Not everyone is aware of the extra challenges youth in care face as they enter adulthood. It’s important that we continue to share about these challenges they have and ways we can support them.
Providing the “Little” Things
Supporting youth as they age out of the foster care system requires patience, empathy, and commitment. Even small acts of kindness and support can have a profound impact on these young adults. These seemingly little things help them build a brighter and more stable future. By becoming a positive influence and a reliable source of support, we can all play a vital role in their successful transition into adulthood.