The developmental tasks of adolescence present hurdles for all youths and their parents. The youngsters who grow up away from their families face particular difficulties. In addition to the typical tasks of adolescence, young persons in foster care face a variety of unique challenges, including coping with the impact of separation from their biological families, especially their feelings of loss and grief; making peace with their biological families coming to terms with a personal history different from the norms that society defines; relating to diverse families (biological parents, foster parents, and possibly adoptive parents); establishing connections with other significant figures in their social environment without the usual family supports; and preparing for independence from public support at a time when youngsters living with their biological families may not need to achieve financial independence so quickly.
As adolescents in care approach the age when they will be on their own, preparation for life after foster care and eventual self-sufficiency becomes a major concern. As a result, agencies are giving increasing attention to independent-living programs (Barth 1986; Sims 1988; Stone 1987). In this study there were differences in the perceptions of the social workers and foster parents about preparation for independence; social workers felt that one-half of the youths were prepared, whereas foster parents felt that about one-third were. Those adolescents considered prepared for emancipation by their foster parents had higher levels of self-esteem, and were more sociable, open, and mature, and less rebellious, than the unprepared adolescents. The foster parents of those considered better prepared said they had helped by teaching the adolescents about reality and responsibility; setting realistic expectations; budgeting; and other activities of daily living, such as how to cook or shop.
For the two-thirds of adolescents whom they did not consider prepared for independent living, foster parents identified a range of needs. Over two-thirds of unprepared adolescents needed job skill training and help with planning a budget, handling money, and finding housing. Additional needs reported for at least half the adolescents included parenting skills; obtaining income assistance; finding a job; and maintaining a household. Other needs mentioned by foster parents were learning how to shop; help with social skills; finding mental health services; sex education; finding recreation services; and using public transportation.
The social workers’ reports were similar to those of the foster parents, although in nearly all areas social workers perceived relatively greater needs on the part of the unprepared youths. Sex education, in particular, was identified by two-thirds of the social workers compared to one-third of the foster parents. One need noted in a number of cases by social workers, but not by foster parents, was counseling to gain more psychological and emotional stability. In essence, however, foster parents and social workers agreed that adolescents in care have a variety of needs in tangible as well as intangible life skills.
Barth, R. P. (1986). Emancipation Services for Adolescents in Foster Care. Social Work. 31,3 (May-June): 165-171
Sims, A. R. (1988). Independent Living Services for Youths in Foster Care. Social Work 33,6 (Nov.-Dec.) 539-542
Stone, H. D. (1987). Ready, Steady, Go – An Agency Guide to Independent Living. Washington DC: CWLA
Fein, E.; Maluccio, A. N. & Kluger, M. P.(1990). Functioning of Youngsters. No More Partings: An Examination of Long-term Foster Family Care. Washington, DC: CWLA pp 35-37