By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO
Edited by Lisa Gavitt
There are still several weeks left of summer, and you may be worrying that your children are losing some of the academic gains they made at school. While summer learning loss, a.k.a. the “summer slide,” is a real challenge, there are many things parents can do to promote ongoing learning disguised in a fun way. Here are some ideas from two of our staffers at Hillsides Education Center, therapist Jill Anderson and parent partner Georgie Norris. Some of them take a little planning; others you can do on the fly.
By Annika Lile
Two hundred dollars and a handshake. This is what welcomed Dennys Valle, at the age of 17, into “adulthood” when he left the foster care system.
“I felt like an alien out in this new world,” said Dennys, a peer partner housing liaison at Hillsides’ Youth Moving On (YMO) program for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Dennys also lived in YMO’s transitional housing program.
Emancipation typically has a positive connotation because by definition it means to free from restraint or influence. The word is also associated with the end of slavery, as Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was intended to help free slaves from the shackles of oppression and abuse.
Yet, the word has taken on a whole new meaning for individuals in the foster care system. Emancipation from the foster care system means that a young adult, between the ages of 16 and 21, depending on their situation, who was previously receiving foster care, is relinquished from the care of the government. While some may think it is important for these youth to be out on their own, this is the opposite of what they need. Individuals in the foster care system have dealt with loss, abuse and traumatic life experiences. While in the foster care system, they have often bounced around from home to home and fail to form attachments with adults. Once emancipated, because they don’t have a core support system, they often have no one to turn to and few resources.
Victor Pinzon, a former Youth Moving On youth and employee, also experienced emancipation first-hand. He describes the mix of emotions he felt during this time as “stress, fear, loneliness, confusion and lack of support.” Victor has since gone on to graduate from college and create a successful career for himself in the field of social work, however his personal experiences reveal the terrible vulnerability of emancipated youth.
Youth leaving the foster care system are at a high risk for homelessness and other challenges. According to Foster Focus magazine, “within 18 months of emancipation 40-50% of foster youth become homeless, [and] nationally, 50% of the homeless population spent time in foster care.”
Unemployment is also high in this population. According to Children’s Bureau’s most recent statistics, in 2016, 20,531 youths were emancipated in the nation, yet only 52% of these individuals were employed by age 21. And when they do find jobs, they are usually lower paying than other youth their age. In addition, other studies show that youth formerly in foster care face higher rates of pregnancy and incarceration.
Hillsides’ YMO program was created in 2006 as an anecdote to these issues. YMO provides youth formerly in foster care with affordable transitional and permanent housing. It also maintains a robust work force education program that provides youth who graduate from a workforce curriculum with paid internships and jobs. In addition, the YMO Peer Resource Center is a one-stop shop of resources and services for youth ages 16 through 25. The Center offers hygiene products, individual therapy and support groups, life skills training, bus tokens and coupons, school supplies and tutoring, food and cooking classes, and computer access. It also offers youth unique experiences such as walks around the Rose Bowl, cooking classes, movie days, yoga sessions, barbeques, and even salsa dancing (Victor himself used to teach the classes).
While YMO can’t solve all the problems that come with emancipation from the foster care system, it has helped hundreds of youth create independent lives. Dennys, for example, may have left the foster care system with only a little money and a good-luck handshake, but at YMO, his post foster-care life fell into place. “YMO gave me a safe space to live, taught me how to open a checking account and budget my money, and helped me get my first job,” he said. “Before, I didn’t know the meaning of the word support, but here, I finally received it and was able to discover strengths I didn’t even know I had.”
To learn more about the YMO Program, please visit www.youthmovingon.org or call 626-765-6010.
Annika is an intern in Hillsides’ advancement department. A graduate from Arcadia High School, she is majoring in integrated marketing communications at Pepperdine University. She intends to use her collegiate education to pursue a meaningful career that assists others in need.
When we measure success for our clients, we assess to what degree they have achieved a level of independence that would allow them to function well unencumbered by the issues that brought them into care in the first place. However, independence is more likely than not achieved because of a sense of connectedness. We sometimes think of independence as a sign of being on our own but the fact is that we are very reliant on others to achieve and maintain the kind of well-being and functioning that helps us to be independent.
The best example of this certainly is the reliance that family members have on one another. Those essential relationships are the building blocks for self-esteem and confidence that help to create a healthy sense of independence. Our goal is to treat the needs not only of the child but of the whole family, so that strengthened in their relationships they can support one another. For families’ independence is the fine line between healthy reliance on one another and the self-confidence needed to be independent. All parents know how challenging walking this fine line can be. This is even more so the case for families dealing with the challenges of addiction, emotional instability, violence, and trauma.
The role of the extended family and community is important in providing a supportive network that reinforces the good functioning of the family. What independence is achieved is the result of the interrelationship of many to support the well-being of the individual.
The 4th of July, Independence Day, is perhaps the greatest of all our holidays because it embodies not just our individual hope for freedom but the collective effort of our nation to be independent. It celebrates what is the quintessential character of America: freedom and liberty for all. It also recognizes that freedom is achieved through the efforts of many to safeguard it with great sacrifice, if necessary.
It is this desire for authentic freedom that draws so many to our borders. This is poignantly depicted by desperate families seeking refuge from the ravages and threats of violence in their native countries. The issue of authorized entry to the United States is a core concern that challenges people of good intention who represent any number of political points of view. Regardless of our particular position on this issue, the tragedy of families being separated at the border is heartbreaking and contrary to the sense of personal dignity that we cherish as a nation. More than anything else these families seek independence and freedom for themselves and their children. They recognize it will not be achieved without the assistance of those who enjoy the freedom they seek.
For them and indeed for all of us, independence is defined by interrelationship. Strengthening a sense of support and care nurtures independence and makes for a strong community. This is true for our clients, for all of us and especially true for those at our borders seeking assistance. Although our Independence Day celebrations emphasize our freedom, it is important to remember that the independence we enjoy is the result of the reliance we have on one another. This truth is at the center of how we treat our clients and it is worth keeping in mind as we care for one another and especially those who desperately seek freedom and liberty.
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