In Pursuit of “Independence”

Jul 03 2017

In Pursuit of “Independence”

By Steven Olender

We like to think of ourselves as independent. We wake ourselves up, drive ourselves to our grown-up jobs and do our own laundry. We floss, or if we don’t floss we make our own appointments at the dentist. This weekend some of us even managed to go grocery shopping before our cupboards were entirely bare. In short, we are “independent” adults.

It’s not until something goes wrong that we realize just how very interdependent we are. This morning I helped a colleague whose email stopped syncing to her phone. I emailed a friend to ask for advice on buying a new laptop. When situations get particularly dire, I call my dad. And heaven forbid I get a flat tire, because I might as well just abandon the car and start over. Still, I’m “independent.”

When I first started calling myself “independent,” I was 18. I was off on my own at college, doing my own grocery shopping, getting myself to class on time and making a valiant, but ultimately futile, effort to remember to floss. I was “independent.” I still relied on my parents for support, though. My friends and I helped each other study and my professors provided way more emotional support than was ever outlined in their job descriptions. Though I was “independent,” I relied heavily on a network of people for my success, and this was after my loving, capable, and very patient parents spent 18 years trying to ensure I would be prepared.

Children aging out of foster care tend to be forced into a different standard of independence. Growing up in the child welfare system, they don’t have their parents to help them open a bank account or teach them about budgeting. Bouncing between foster homes means they likely won’t have a large network to rely on for advice or support. The independence that is thrust upon them is near absolute. It’s not difficult to see why outcomes for youth who age out of care are abysmal, with nearly 20% ending up homeless and one in three living in poverty.

The TAPP program at CASA has always strived to provide these youth with the knowledge, networks and resources they need to thrive in independent adulthood. One way we’ve accomplished this is through monthly meetups designed to supplement the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program offered by Child Protective Services. PAL works to help prepare youth aging out of care by contracting with community organizations to provide training on independent living. These programs are effective, but we have found that some youth were not able to attend their PAL sessions and that others needed more help than PAL can provide.

For these youth, TAPP Meet-Ups cover a wide variety of issue areas, by connecting youth to different resources in our community. In May, the Meet-Up centered around a cooking demonstration. June offered a college fair and in July we are bringing together trade schools to present options for youth for whom college isn’t a good fit. Other meetups have involved art or music, with the understanding that emotional outlets are vital to healthy independence.

This year, the structure of TAPP Meet-Ups has shifted to allow a more personalized experience, with smaller group sizes so kids can connect more closely with the community partners. In the new structure, youth attend the Meet-Ups with their CASA volunteers, allowing them more opportunity to bond, which is important for teens and which allows volunteers to better advocate for them. “Not only are we advocating in court, we’re advocating in the community,” explains Alejandro Victoria, TAPP’s Team Leader. “Connecting kids to these resources is important.”

By giving youth more opportunities to learn vital skills for adulthood and connecting them to community resources, we can help prepare them in some of the same ways that a parent ideally would. By helping them build bonds with people who can be a part of their network of support, we offer them an opportunity for the same interdependence we experience in our own lives. With these factors in place, youth aging out of care can truly be “independent” adults, too.