V.I. Teens Prepare for Life After Foster Care

VING Sgt. Wendy Green spoke to the teens about careers in the National Guard.Looking toward the future of teenagers who will be "ageing out" of the Foster Care Program, social workers at the Department of Human Services hosted a transitioning workshop on Thursday to help prepare them for success.
Around 30 children from ages 15 to 18 attended the third annual Career and Transitional Fair at UVI’s Cooperative Extension Services building on St. Croix. The fair is designed to equip adolescents with needed information and resources in preparation for life after foster care.
“The workshop is important because kids who age out of foster care have a lot of challenges,” said Elizabeth Mueller, DHS district manager for foster care. “They may have emotional challenges due to neglect or abuse. They don’t always have examples of responsible adults in action.”
She said national statistics show 80 percent of adults who were in foster care and age out on their own end up homeless or in jail. She added that many have “pie-in-the-sky” dreams of being the perfect child and going back to the perfect family.
DHS social worker Diane Brown implemented the fair to help the children make a smooth transition to life after foster care.
“We decided to be proactive and do something for the future of our clients,” Brown said.
According to Mueller, DHS Commissioner Chris Finch is behind the fair 110 percent and even wants to continue to provide services past the age of 18.
FirstBank’s Norma Cruz talked to the teens about the importance of saving and investing, while VING recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Wendy L. Green told the teens about careers in the National Guard, and Basil Williams spoke about the opportunities in the Job Corps.
Wendy Wheeler, director of recruitment at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, was on hand to tell the students about all the possibilities for employment at the hospital; while Denise Lake, from the UVI College Access Challenge grant program, encouraging the children to stay in school and prepare themselves for higher education. “The more you learn the more you earn,” she said.
The departments of Labor and Housing were also at the fair to talk about services available to the children once they transition.
One anonymous 17-year-old girl who has been in foster care since the age of 3, said the fair helped her realize how the decisions she makes now will affect the outcome of her life.
Mueller said a pilot program to offer wrap-around services territory-wide to children graduating out of foster care was implemented this year through the Family Resource Center and a federal stimulus grant. Program developers will use the fair to gain insight on best practices to foster relationships between the adolescents and entities to ensure success through the transition process.

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