Program supports foster youth into adulthood

Tulare County Child Welfare Services’ Independent Living Program continues to support foster youth after they turn 18

TULARE COUNTY –  Thirty-five foster youth students were honored with a graduation ceremony from the Tulare County Child Welfare Services’ Independent Living Program, with optimistic views for the future.

Although only 13 students were able to attend the graduation on Tuesday, June 21, the achievements of these students show promising results for foster youth programs going forward. The graduates represented Porterville Unified School District, Tulare Joint Union High School District, Visalia Unified School District and Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE), and all graduates plan to attend either College of the Sequoias or Porterville College, while three indicated a long term goal of transferring to a four-year institution. 

Kimberly Weeks, supervisor of Child Welfare Services, said the Independent Living Program (ILP) was created to assist children in foster care or in and out of home placement at any point between their 16 – 18th birthday. It provides additional support services in living skills, transportation, housing components, high education and sometimes high school education and employment.

“It was created to be a support system for kids once they’re out of foster care. They can choose to end foster care at age 18 and they lose their support systems,” she said. “So then in comes the Independent Living Program.”

Graduate Tristan Pritchett, 18, said he has been with ILP since he was 16 years old. He said he believes that the program benefits foster youth with its free services, and said it taught him a lot about preparing for adulthood.

“They taught me how to cook, manage [and save] money and what to use it on. They taught me about transportation, and taught me about business, like how to start a resume and how to dress,” he said.

Graduate Destiny Uranga, 19, shared similar sentiments. She said she has been with ILP for a year, which aided her in branching out and getting some work experience.

“I just feel like it [teaches] you how to be an adult,” she said, “because as foster kids, we never had that parental guidance. I felt like this program really made us feel how to be an adult itself, and take care of ourselves.”

Courtney Sallam, deputy director of Child Welfare Services, noted the importance of the state of California allowing counties like Tulare to provide this flexible range of services to foster youth. She also said that services provided are not cut off at age 18, since some students are still in high school at 19 years-old. She said the support ILP receives from Assembly Bill 12, which extends foster care services to California youth through age 21.

“Here in Tulare County we really try to focus on engagement with our youth, especially at this age, in preparation for reaching the age of majority [in the program], whether that be 18 or 19,” she said.

ILP manager Celeste Ortiz said another big goal of the program is to ensure students are able to connect with family.

“It doesn’t even have to be family that’s blood related, it could be a coach or a teacher. It’s going to be someone that shows support in their lives. So that’s nice for them, because they don’t have that [support] like most of us do,” she said.

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