Life can be demoralizing for all foster youth, what trauma they experience before state intervention only preceding an ordeal of dislocation. Weeks, months or even years can be spent shuffled around multiple foster homes or group homes within or without one’s home county.
For 90,000 California youth within foster care, what little security is granted under life in the system will be short lived as those not reunited with family are released from state custody upon turning 18, with few provisions.
In response to the adversity that emancipation often entails for foster youth who reach adulthood, Yuba College is part of a statewide effort to prepare foster youth for the transition to independent living.
Established 12 years ago at Yuba, the Yuba College Independent Living Program (ILP) provides classroom training on matters like budgeting, education resources, living and interpersonal skills and employment to youth who may otherwise lack support in these areas.
“Throughout California there are 52 different Independent Living Programs, from Siskiyou to Southern California,” said Program Director Laurie Scheuermann. The California Community Colleges Foundation implements each program.
Funds from the 1987 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act support the ILP, and are provided to states according to their population of foster youth between ages16 and 19.
“This is a wonderful program for youth,” said Scheuermann, who noted that attendance has increased at weekly meetings during her time as director. “I started out with two youths five years ago. There were 33 this week.”
The ILP is open to foster youth and youth in out-of-home placement, as well as emancipated youth who may be as young as 15. ILP participants meet weekly at Yuba College in the presence of local county social workers, probation officers, group home staff and staff from the Office of Education.
Korena Hazen, a social worker with the Sutter County Department of Social Services, said the ILP is one of the only activities in which foster youth can meet and interact with each other for support. “Here, they’re not the one foster kid in the group—everyone is the same,” said Hazen.
Outside of its weekly class sessions, ILP organizes crafts workshops, sporting activities, as well as valuable first aid training courses and youth discussion groups on subjects ranging from drugs and gangs to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.”
ILP students also have the opportunity to exercise time and money management by joining weekend and daylong excursions to camps or amusement parks, financed by the ILP. A team building “ropes course” was held near Chico, California from September 14 to 16.
“ILP is great. It teaches me a lot,” said one participant, who suggested that “more freedom” would improve the program.
“I feel it has been very successful providing kids with a lot of exposure and opportunity they might not have had yet,” said Leah Eneix, a foster parent for 21 years who helped initiate the ILP at Yuba. Eneix noted that few such life-skills programs exist outside of ILP, other than some provided by private individuals and group homes or at selected public high schools.
Yuba College students now assist the ILP, serving as mentors to participants through the Yuba College AmeriCorps Foster Youth Mentoring Program, founded in January of 2001.
Bettye Ann Stephens, AmeriCorps mentoring program coordinator, said Yuba student mentors act as “big brothers or big sisters for the foster youth.”
“They’re like the only people in the foster kids’ lives who are not paid to be there,” said Stephens.
Stephens suggested that Yuba College is an ample site for the ILP, as participants can “become familiar with the college layout and diversity of the campus.”
“These students need an opportunity to experience the higher education that so many of their foster families and natural families didn’t,” said Stephens.
The AmeriCorps mentoring program is still accepting applications for membership slots open since the beginning of the Fall Semester, and is open to anyone over 18 interested in helping local foster youth.
“We are here to provide role modeling for ILP kids and help with socialization,” said Gayle Barrett, a mentor since the AmeriCorps program was first inaugurated at Yuba. Barrett said ILP could benefit from “more classes during the week for ILP so the big group can be separated for more one-on-one attention.”
Those interested in joining the mentoring program should expect to work with foster youth and feel “frustration for foster youth having to live under the expectations of the social system, and their loss of individuality,” said Stephens.
AmeriCorps participants are eligible for a scholarship of over $1,000 after completing 450 hours of service. Applications or information regarding the AmeriCorps Foster Youth Mentoring Program can be obtained by calling Bettye Ann Stephens at 749-3850.