Growing up is a challenging journey for any young person, but the path can be even more arduous for those in foster care. Despite our nation’s value on independence, research and experience indicate that the expectation of self-sufficiency for young people who age out of the foster care system is a myth at best and unhealthy at worst.
No one can flourish in isolation. Therefore, we need to shift our focus from self-sufficiency to interdependence. We must recognize that we are all connected and that collaboration and cooperation are fundamental to personal success. Teaching interdependence to young people in foster care will not only help them develop essential life skills but also instill a sense of belonging and build their self-esteem.
Trust and connection are the foundation of fostering interdependence. Young people in foster care often experience multiple transitions, making it challenging for them to build meaningful relationships. Foster parents, caregivers, and support staff must prioritize creating a safe and nurturing environment, allowing youth to establish trust and form healthy connections. The next step is encouraging youth to build their support networks to help alleviate feelings of isolation and create a sense of belonging. This may involve connecting with mentors, teachers, and counselors who can provide guidance, encouragement, and emotional support. Interactions with peers will provide space to share experiences.
Interdependence also requires learning effective collaboration and communication. Young people in foster care need opportunities to develop these skills through group activities, team exercises, and community projects. Learning how to express their thoughts, actively listen, negotiate, and problem-solve will equip youth with invaluable tools to be successful in their future relationships and endeavors.
While interdependence is the goal, it is crucial to recognize independence as a stepping stone to achieving it. Individuals in foster care can develop their independence and become active contributors within their support systems by managing personal tasks, participating in decision-making, and advocating for themselves. Supportive guidance during this process is essential to ensure youth feel secure and capable.
Equipping young people in foster care with essential life skills is pivotal for their interdependent growth. Access to educational resources, vocational training, financial literacy programs, and career guidance fosters self-sufficiency in practical areas of life which gives young adults the self-confidence to navigate the challenges that lie ahead.
By prioritizing these steps, we can empower youth in care to build meaningful relationships, understand their value within a wider community, and gain the confidence to meet life’s challenges head-on. Our commitment to nurturing interdependence will boost their resilience and help them unlock their full potential.
Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is a rainmaker for transition-age foster youth. Wynter’s work in this arena has helped launch a statewide youth voice movement, drive policy and practice improvements, and better equip system professionals and foster youth with tools and knowledge to achieve self-sufficiency.
Wynter believes that foster youth should be valued as organizational assets. By using a pluralistic approach in which youth and systems professionals share control in decision-making, program planning and implementation, and advocacy, a dual impact of improved outcomes for transitioning youth and a more responsive child welfare system can be realized.
As the Executive Director of the Selfless Love Foundation, Wynter has led the state of Florida in making youth engagement a centerpiece of conversation. With over two decades of child welfare experience, an unwavering commitment to transforming the system, and an ineffable capacity to challenge the status quo, Wynter is a catalyst for change.
Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative, One Voice Impact (OVI), provides current and former foster youth opportunities to develop skills for leadership and life, advocate for changes to policy and join a network of youth leaders across the state of Florida.