Transitional Living Programs Promote Success for Young Adults Aging Out of Foster Care

Huram-JosephSitting in the front row at Riverside Church during a foster parent conference in April, Huram Joseph nodded in agreement as Dr. Karyn Purvis, director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, cautioned against harsh parenting.

“You can’t punish self-regulation into a child,” she said. “You have to mentor it in.”

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By the time Joseph had entered foster care at age eight, he longed for that type of consistent and nurturing guidance. Fortunately, the foster mother who opened her arms to him was a willing mentor.

“I came to the knowledge of Christ through foster care as my foster mom was a faithful believer, always taking me to church,” Joseph said. “As I kept hearing the gospel and the teachings of Jesus, I felt the Lord tug on my heart at the age of 13, so I answered it and accepted Christ.”

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Now 24, Joseph is an example of what can happen when a faith community makes a commitment to look after the “fatherless,” even when they are no longer children.

Joseph lived with his biological brother and foster mother until he graduated from high school. Then he moved into the Spirit of Success Institute (SOSI), one of only two faith-based transitional living programs in Broward and Palm Beach counties. SOSI is run by 4KIDS of South Florida, a foster care agency supported by nearly 300 churches, said Ken Lacy, director of independent living for 4KIDS.

Although quiet at first, Joseph grew in confidence and leadership skills at SOSI. He earned an associate of arts degree from Broward College and expects to complete his bachelor’s degree at Florida Atlantic
University soon.

Housing
Most young people from foster care don’t reach those milestones. One of the biggest challenges for the 28,000 who age out of foster care each year in the U.S. is finding safe, stable and affordable housing, according to research conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. A 2014 National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) survey conducted in Florida found that 24 percent of 18-22 year olds had lived in three or more places during the previous 12 months.

Joseph is one of a few dozen who are fortunate to live in faith-based transitional housing programs like SOSI, which currently has 16 residents in four homes.
Although it is a small program, SOSI has provided stable transitional housing for 155 young adults since 2005, said Lacy.

Life skills
SOSI residents receive support to complete their education, personalized learning plans, and training in job skills, life skills and money management. But what makes SOSI unique is its live-in resident advisors (RAs), adults often in their 30s, who have full-time jobs and commit to mentor SOSI residents as volunteers. Joseph is an RA in a SOSI residence for three other young men.

“The RA provides a level of accountability and sets the standard for the house,” Lacy said. “Huram does a great job.”

Programs like SOSI are important because it is an ongoing challenge to find housing for the more than 1,000 18-22 year olds from foster care in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Alexis (Lexi) Leutzinger, 21, who also lived at SOSI for two years. Leutzinger now works at the Fort Lauderdale Independence Training and Education (FLITE) Center in Fort Lauderdale. FLITE is responsible for coordinating housing for emerging adults from foster care in Broward County.

Stability
Leutzinger came to a knowledge of Jesus at 16, when she moved into 4KIDS of South Florida’s Girl’s Place group home.

“My faith has helped me in every way because with the challenges that adult life puts in my path, my faith in Christ brings peace and stability when everything else around me feels like it’s falling apart,” she said. “My faith gives me a sense of purpose and the hope that I can be better.”

Providing young adults with essential life skills and hope are key ingredients to the success of faith-based programs for emerging adults, said Charles Bender, executive director of Place of Hope in Palm Beach County. Eight years ago, Place of Hope opened Villages of Hope, which serves about 20 adults from foster care, ages 18 to 25. In the apartments, residents pay a maximum of $300 a month rent while they complete their education, become established in jobs and adjust to life on their own.

In May, during Foster Care Month, Place of Hope will open the Extended Foster Care Alumni Impact Cottage, a dormitory-style residence for eight young adult women at the Leighan and David Rinker Campus in Boca Raton.

Villages of Hope provides emerging adults from foster care with access to apartments where they can learn to be self-sufficient. In addition to quality, affordable housing, they provide life skills training, mentors, emotional and spiritual guidance and employment and education-related services.

Guidance
“The young people we serve gain their independence at 18 yet still have oversight so they can learn self-reliance,” Bender said. “This is an in-between stage between total dependence on the state and total independence, and it has really worked.”

Cartianna Auguste, 20, a resident of Villages of Hope, agrees. Auguste came into foster care at age 16 and moved into Villages last year after being involved in three other programs. She said she is especially grateful for the life skills classes, where she has learned the importance of budgeting and paying bills on time. She appreciates the supportive adults involved in the program.

“It is important to have as many people around as possible who can have a positive influence on your life,” Auguste said.

Papa Bear
Back at Riverside church, Joseph smiled when he heard the foster care expert emphasize the positive influence that stable and trustworthy “papa bears or mama bears” can have on foster children.

Joseph now works full-time as a 4KIDS house parent, where he is a “papa bear” for four boys ages 10-16, during the day. He is grateful for SOSI, which is helping him make a smoother transition to life as an adult.
“SOSI provided me with an opportunity, which is the same one all residents get when they arrive here,” he said. “Some people pray and want that one last chance to turn things around and SOSI has it.”

In Broward County, there are nearly 200 “beds” dedicated to housing emerging adults from foster care. There is always a need for additional beds for this population. For more information, visit www.4kidsofsfl.org/4KIDSsosi or www.villagesofhope.net.

Dr. Steve J. Rios, a long-time advocate for youth in and from foster care, owns Rios Research & Evaluation and co-founded Florida Reach, a state-wide network of education and child welfare professionals that promotes post-secondary success for emerging adults from foster care. He can be reached at [email protected]

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