OVI is happy to provide monthly YOUTH WHISPERER blogs to support our colleagues working with transition-age foster youth. These blogs include highlights of the most recent research on transition age foster youth, success stories from the field, and principles of youth engagement.
Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood can be difficult even in the best of circumstances. Youth “aging out” of the foster care system face even greater challenges without the support and guidance from a caring adult. So how do we, as professionals in the foster care system, help them bridge the gap from dependence to independence? We develop transition plans with our youth as required by federal and state statutes.
We can all agree that planning for the big step into “adulting” is crucial. But are transition-age foster youth emotionally and developmentally ready to plan for their future?
“I remember going to a transition staffing when I was 17. I did not pay attention to what they were saying because I was thinking about where I was going to sleep that night.”
Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Now think about the challenges our youth in care are facing — unstable placements, loss of family relationships, little sense of belonging, and feeling disempowered to control their environment and make decisions that impact their lives — how can we expect them to be emotionally ready to talk about their hopes and dreams?
We must consider the negative impact of abuse and neglect on adolescent brain development. We know that teenagers’ brains are still developing until age 25. We also know that trauma can negatively impact brain development.
The last portion of the brain to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex — the area responsible for executive brain functions. Functions such as working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control allow us to set goals, plan, and get things done. So how can we assume that they are developmentally ready to plan for their future?
I apologize to anyone who was hoping for an answer to the final question, “So, what do we do if transition-age foster youth are not emotionally and developmentally ready to plan for their future?”
I don’t believe that there is a simple answer, but I sure do want us to “think” about a youth’s “readiness” for transition planning.
Points to Ponder: How can we emotionally prepare youth for transition planning? How can we support the development of executive functioning skills? We love to share best practices, please email us at [email protected] and let us know your ideas.
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 organization 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 transform 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 IMPAACT (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.
OVI launched “Foster Youth Voice Month” in October 2021. This statewide campaign focused on shifting the perspective of how foster youth are viewed by the public and within the child welfare system. To learn more or to get engaged next year, www.YouthVoiceNation.org.