Winston-Salem Journal (North Carolina; IDA)
By: Scott F. Wierman
September 30, 2012
Imagine you are an 18-year-old freshman moving onto one of the college campuses in our community. You're excited to begin life on your own. Your parents have provided you with a strong foundation built on life lessons and you know they are there if you need them.
Now, imagine you are an 18-year-old who has spent the last six years of your life in foster care. While you can extend your foster care support network, you think you're ready to go out on your own. What you haven't realized is that you will have few, if any, resources and that you will be facing life challenges without the guidance of a stable family or the networks that can support healthy development.
National studies indicate that young people transitioning from foster care without a support network are 20 percent more likely to become homeless and face higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance and single parenthood. Those national statistics also reflect what has been seen in Forsyth County.
When the Forsyth County Department of Social Services approached The Winston-Salem Foundation in 2009 and explained the plight of these young adults who age out of foster care, we determined that this was a community issue that needed to be addressed. We know that Forsyth County has resources that can positively impact the outcomes for these young adults and the group identified -- 149 youth who turned 18 between 2002 and 2008 -- was small enough that making a meaningful difference in their lives was more manageable.
The Winston-Salem Foundation agreed to serve as the convener of a group to focus on identifying the challenges facing these young adults, finding the resources currently available, and determining the gaps that needed to be filled. Representatives from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, The Children's Home, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina and individuals with expertise in developing programs for young people or who were connected to local resources joined with young adults who had been or were in foster care to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the chances of success for these youth.
That was how the Youth in Transition Initiative of Forsyth County (YIT) was born. Technical support has been provided by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national nonprofit organization that works in a number of sites across the country focusing on improving the lives of young people aging out of foster care. Substantial funding has been provided by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and The Duke Endowment.
With Goodwill Industries serving as the lead agency, YIT began its work in the community in 2011. A key element has been the inclusion of young people in further developing the plan to make the transition from foster care more successful. LYFE, Leading Youth for Empowerment, is the youth leadership board that has given them a voice and the opportunity to impact their own personal development.
Not surprisingly, the LYFE group's first priority was employment, followed closely by housing. These young adults who are on their own need an income and a stable place to live in order to take advantage of opportunities the community can provide.
Now, organizations with some of the necessary resources are stepping up to form partnerships with YIT. Forsyth Technical Community College is working to provide educational opportunities as well as mentoring and the YMCA will hire YIT participants as counselors. Goodwill Industries' eLink program is providing job-readiness training and the N.C. Housing Foundation is helping to identify temporary and long-term housing. A partnership created by Consumer Credit Counseling Services and Allegacy Credit Union is providing financial-literacy classes and enrolling participants in the Individual Development Account Program that provides matching funds for savings to support education, housing, transportation and other necessities.
YIT is still in the early phase of its work, but significant progress has been made during the past year, with 65 young people now having some type of involvement with the initiative.
For example, 23 young adults have completed financial-literacy training while the YIT staff has assisted nine youth with housing and 10 with transportation needs.
Working as a community collaborative, YIT is bringing together organizations and people to work hand-in-hand with the young adults themselves to make a difference for those aging out of foster care -- having a positive impact on the entire community.