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National Foster Care Awareness Month Join Children's Aid Society of Alabama in honoring Foster Care Awareness Month, and its relevance in our lives each day. Supporting Alabama’s Youth in Care, by Providing the Tools to Change their World Image: Mentor discussing things with a teenager

National Foster Care Awareness Month: Supporting Alabama’s Youth in Care by Providing the Tools to Change their World

American writer Lois Lowry once said, “Kids deserve the right to think they can change the world.” This statement rings true. Children and youth have the potential to change the world, and it is our responsibility to provide the spark, encouragement, and support to do so. At Children’s Aid Society of Alabama, our mission is to assist all youth aged fourteen to twenty-one in Alabama’s foster care system in changing the world by ensuring they have the resources necessary for a successful, independent adulthood. Kids can change the world, and it begins with providing the tools needed to change their lives and envision a brighter future, so let’s help them do it!

May marks National Foster Care Awareness Month, a time dedicated to highlighting the over 300,000 youth and children in foster care across the nation. In Alabama alone, there are nearly 2,000 youth aged fourteen to twenty-one in foster care. Unfortunately, not every youth exits care adequately prepared for adulthood. In 2021, an estimated 77 percent of eligible youth in foster care nationwide, aged fourteen to twenty-one years old, left care without receiving the federally funded services essential for preparing them for independent living. The Independent Living Program aims to bridge this gap in successful transitions from foster care by equipping youth, social workers, and caregivers with the knowledge and understanding of the various services available. Additionally, the program teaches independent living skills and celebrates the milestones of these stellar individuals.

This program extends well beyond a single month—it is a continuous effort requiring the dedication of committed youth, social workers, foster parents, caregivers, partners, providers, and community members. Below is a snapshot of the annual operations of the Independent Living Program.

Have you ever seen a youth truly shine when given the opportunity to speak on a subject they are passionate about? Our DREAM Ambassador program, allows current and former foster youth to advocate for change and represent all youth in care throughout Alabama. This group of Dedicated, Responsible, Empowered, and Motivated young leaders are making a lasting impact. Although progress takes time, giving youth a voice to speak out and effect change is powerful, demonstrating how one person can make a difference, and indeed change the world.

The Independent Living Program also focuses on advocacy and education through mediums that connect with and resonate with today’s youth. Our IL Connect Facebook and Instagram accounts share articles, graphics, and information about independent living skills, job fairs, events and more, allowing youth to learn and engage through communication tools that regularly connect with their generation.  Additionally, our new website offers resources for youth, social workers, and parents to continue learning daily. The IL Connect App includes articles related to independent living and allows IL-aged youth to upload government documents to a secure lockbox for safekeeping; which is imperative given the transient nature of foster care, our youth have a dedicated space for timely information, and community that is exclusively for their use.

On the first Saturday in May; IL hosts an annual Graduation Celebration. On May 4, 2024 graduates from counties across Alabama converged at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham, AL for this special event. There are many barriers standing between youth in foster care and their successful graduation from high school. Our graduates in foster care defy the odds they are confronted with, and it’s important for us to come together and support their achievement while encouraging them to keep setting goals and planning for a successful life upon exiting foster care. In the months leading up to this incredible celebration, Children’s Aid Society of Alabama raises funds to gift each graduate with a “Grad Bag.” These bags are filled with items to support them on the next leg of their life journey and a meaningful way for us to recognize Foster Care Awareness Month.

Another opportunity for youth engagement is through our annual Camp LIFE experiences. Each summer, we host two camps for up to 200 youth. At camp, the youth build self-confidence, teamwork skills, positive peer and adult connections, and independent living skills. The camp is held on a college campus, giving youth a taste of the college experience while having fun with their peers. This year, camps will be held on the beautiful campus of the University of West Alabama in Livingston, AL.

Beyond such events as Camp LIFE and monthly meetups, our team regularly visits youth at group homes to teach hands-on skills. Our team members have lived-experience in foster care. Their experience uniquely equips them to effectively help youth navigate various challenges, including budgeting, healthy decision-making, and meal planning. For example, in collaboration with Tuscaloosa County, AL: The Forgotten Initiative, and Capstone, our team will place nine air fryers in different group homes to teach teens about healthy living and practice the skill in real life! These efforts are made possible through community collaborations, and we are grateful for the many partners who support our mission. If you or your company are interested in partnering with us, please reach out.

The work of the Independent Living team is an unyielding commitment to ensure all youth are prepared for a successful, independent adulthood. While May is designated to highlight youth in foster care, this effort spans years. This loving and caring work could not be accomplished without the dedication of social workers, caregivers, and partners who work tirelessly to make sure all youth are provided for. It is a daily effort, but for each child and youth in foster care, it is worth it because each one has the potential to change the world. They too can change the world through love and support, one individual at a time.

 

 

 

Jeremiah Stone, Sr., MAYM

Independent Living Communications and Logistics Specialist

ilconnect@childrensaid.org

 

***NOTE***

Jeremiah Stone has served IL faithfully, and is moving on to a new venture. We are thankful for his time with us at CAS! Our new Communications and Logistics Specialist, effective June 7, 2024 is  Zaharia Payne.