Blog Topic: Preparing Youth for Independence
A home begins with the necessities: food, clothing, love, shelter, & education. Once these necessities are intact, we can think about what this person needs so that they can think about their future rather than stressful life events. Respect must be modeled to be learned. Be the example by considering situations from their perspective. It can be difficult to let go of our own egos during a situation, however it is imperative to change how you approach one another, therefore they will learn to function with other adults. When we change our own behaviour, their behaviour will change. It is hard to be a teen! Especially if their past circumstances have been traumatic, and if they are in foster care, it has been. They will need their caregivers to try to put some pieces back together as best they can, to prepare them for the next stages of life, and the next challenge that is sure to come.
Asking open-ended rather than yes or no questions, opens up more discussion and relationship building. To see an example of open-ended questions to ask youth see this link: https://www.care.com/c/stories/778/100-questions-to-get-to-know-your-teenager/. For youth to be better prepared for independence, they need to understand themselves. For example, if a youth is an introvert, they need to understand that this is normal and that they are not weird because they need more alone-time than others or prefer to stay away from crowds. There are some great books out there for many different personality types. If a youth has a diagnosis, it is important that they understand their diagnosis and learn how to manage their challenges as best they can. When we understand who we are, we are more likely to create a life for ourselves that harness our strengths and make us happier adults.
Communication no matter what your personality type is key to success within social circles, in school, and in the workplace. Forward thinking language when talking with youth, helps them begin to consider their future. Future speak could include how they will decorate their future living space, where they want to live, desired behaviours in the workplace, financial skills (credit cards, minimum payment misunderstanding, monthly bill prep, food costs, etc.). Talk positively about their future! Show them and expose them to mentors, and examples of people who have struggled with similar situations to theirs, and who overcame. You may be surprised that many youth are not aware of their strengths. Pointing out the attributes that you know will be valuable as an adult will build their confidence and perhaps help them believe that they will succeed, however that looks for them.
Helping youth research universities, financial aid support, transportation, showing them places to search for employment, and helping them in other practical ways is important to streamline their future plans. The less amount of road blocks while trying to navigate different systems the better.
Issues around consent should be taught to children of all ages including youth transitioning out of care. Here is a link to guide Foster Caregivers through these conversations https://childmind.org/article/how-talk-kids-sex-consent-boundaries/.
Preparing youth for independence involves having them keep a reasonable daily routine (not easy I know!). This can be very difficult with social media keeping them up, and then the walking-zombie effect come morning! I totally get it. But if we set reasonable expectations for our younger teens, and they are a little less tired, this is progress. Curfews are also particularly challenging depending on the specific person and their situation. We strive as parents to ensure their safety and deter aimless street life activities, so that these do not become patterns of behaviour. This is something that you can plan with your teen, to reach an agreement on what time they need to be home and what the consequences will be if they are unacceptably late. Some care homes have it the youths responsibility (depending on their age), to manage their own routines and to plan consequences in advance. There may be no set curfew, but a certain time the house goes to bed. This means wifi might be shut off.
Routines should include healthy activities so that they have a community of people around them who are involved in sports and other recreation activities, for skill building and positive relationships.
Lastly, reach out to your community for support. You can ask your Resource Team for local youth resources as well as other Foster Caregivers. Their (your) knowledge is invaluable to navigate transitions.
Foster Parent Coordinator
Okanagan Foster Parents Association