Moving from foster care to independence

Sonya Leathers,  Jane Addams College of Social Work

“Illinois has generous services in terms of older youth,” says social work scholar Sonya Leathers. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Making the transition from foster care to adulthood can be overwhelming.

But a new program being studied at UIC in partnership with Children’s Home + Aid may help young adults facing this transition succeed in independent living, college or vocational placement.

Youth who “age out” of foster care without having been adopted are at high risk for homelessness, poverty, unemployment and incarceration, as well as physical and mental health issues.

“Illinois is a pretty progressive state” in the way that it administers foster care, says Sonya Leathers, associate professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work and principal investigator for the project.

Youth can stay in foster care until age 21, she said, “so, compared to many other states, Illinois has generous services in terms of older youth.”

“But at 21, they are often on their own and without support — and they may find it difficult, both financially and emotionally,” she said.

The five-year program, called Adult Connections, will provide 200 young adults in foster care in Cook County with access to mentors, internships, job skills training and peer support. The project’s lead agency is Children’s Home + Aid, a child and family service agency in Illinois. UIC is the program evaluator.

“Foster youth deserve the opportunity to achieve full and healthy lives as they transition to adulthood,” said Melissa Ludington, vice president of family-centered services at Children’s Home + Aid.

“They need resources their peers often take for granted, like stable relationships with caring adults who can offer youth guidance and emotional support.”

The program is supported by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children and Families. UIC will receive $200,000 for its research role.

Other service agencies that helped to develop the program — including UCAN, Kaleidoscope Inc., and One Hope United — will join in operating the program after the initial year.

Volunteers interested in becoming mentors can call 312-424-6808.

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