Strategy for independence
The New York Times recently had a great exposé on former foster youth and their challenges to get a college degree. The article featured numerous youth in Los Angeles and the Guardian Scholars program that supports former foster youth with tuition assistance, housing, and supportive services while pursuing their education.
The challenges are enormous, considering that only, “six percent of former foster youth…earn a two or four year degree by the age of 24” while “34 percent have been arrested by age 19.” The odds are in favor of incarceration over education. Failure at such an early stage in their efforts to achieve independence can negatively influence their ability to be successful. The amount of perseverance required is extraordinary. Is it any wonder that only six percent of the youth graduate from college?
The challenge is only made greater because often these young people have had a very inconsistent education. The movement from placement to placement let alone dealing with any specific learning challenges they may have is very daunting.
And what about the other 94 percent of former foster youth, what happens to them? If the education system is not the pathway to independence, then what will help them to succeed?
Our experience at Youth Moving On has taught us a number of lessons with regard to what are good strategies for achieving independence. In addition to encouraging and supporting youth to achieve a good education, we have also found that equally important is to prepare youth for employment. With the proper orientation and coaching many youth are able to experience the gratification that comes from employment. A good job validates skills that often have been underestimated and provides the financial rewards that are essential for true independence.
On any given year YMO graduates several youth who although they may not have attained a college degree have secured a good job that rewards them with a career path, medical benefits, and financial resources. In the process, these young people experience the kind of success that bolsters their self-esteem and strengthens them to address other challenges. Among our recent graduates we have youth now employed in teaching, counseling, and the medical field. In order to assure their permanent place in these fields, further education will be required. Knowing they have successfully been employed, they pursue that education with some confidence and may be better equipped to get a degree.
Like anything else, there is no one sure strategy to achieve independence. More often than not, what breeds success is success itself. If achievement on the job front opens the door to future education, then we just might have a chance at increasing the odds in favor of independence over incarceration.