If you are under the impression that care for foster youth ends promptly at the age of 18, and then they are asked to leave their foster homes, please know this is not the case. This is something that has been incorrectly publicized, and Indiana DCS is doing its utmost through the Older Youth Services program to make sure it is not the reality for any of the current older youth.
True confession: I had zero experience with this program. Honestly, for a long time, even after I became a foster parent, I was under the impression that foster children had no support (or even the option of support) once they were 18. But once I found out I was in the wrong, I did some research on it. Let me share what I learned.
The Older Youth Services program is only 8 years old. A good deal of what they do is educate DCS case workers and foster families about the available services, so that they can be in place to help older youth have the best opportunity to launch well into the real world.
This program is contracted out by DCS and covers the entire state of Indiana. Children’s Bureau has contracts in 4 of the 18 regions, and within those regions they provide services to approximately 400 current/former foster youth, ranging in age from 16-23. The actual number of young adults served ebbs and flows, due to youth coming in and out of the program.
Basically, in a span of at most 7 years (and that’s if a youth enters the program at age 16), the Older Youth Services case workers are doing many of the things a parent who has a child from birth has the full span of time to work on. But more often than not, the case workers have much less than 7 years to teach these skills that prepare older youth for adulthood.
Now for kids that have come into care previously, or those who are wards of DCS for several years, I am certain most of those foster homes who have cared for them have done a good job of preparing the kids to live independently. As an aside, it is actually a DCS requirement that foster homes begin working with a foster child at the age of 14 on independent living skills, because no one knows what the future holds for each child and DCS is trying to get out ahead of things as best they can. It is not until age 16 when Older Youth Services can begin adding on to the training that the foster homes are providing.
However, there are many children who do not enter the system until later on and their neglect may have included a lack of knowledge about how to take care of themselves independently. For instance, some case workers in Older Youth Services begin by teaching teens how to set an alarm clock and how to get themselves up by a certain time. Then the case workers move on to other skills from that point. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but can include such things as laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, how to open a checking account, filing taxes, reading and using a bus schedule, applying for college or trade school, etc.
Now knowing what I know, I can’t even express how thankful I am for the team who make up Older Youth Services at Children’s Bureau. Without them, many youth would be floundering in life without a safety net to help catch them, or resources to point them in the right direction.
Final note: if you or someone you know own a business or provide a service which could offer a training session for a group of young adults in Older Youth services, please consider reaching out to Chris Gendron, Director of OYS, at Children’s Bureau. These youth need, and deserve, a village.