By Libby Smith
LAKEWOOD, Colo (CBS4) – For teens in foster care making the transition to adulthood can be fraught with peril. Many of these young people will face living completely on their own at the age of 18. The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program is a key component to preparing these teens for life outside the system. The voluntary classes offer information on continuing education, employment, financial management, housing, among other things. And each teen works one-on-one with a counselor on achieving specific life goals. The life skills they learn often come with some surprises.READ MORE: 'A Lot Of Damage Can Be Prevented': Volunteers Prepare CalWood Fire Burn Area In Boulder County For Another Fire Season
“I also didn’t realize how much I was going to eat, so that also was a big change,” said Tialynn, a 21-year-old former foster care youth.
A bowl of cereal takes on new meaning when you’re paying for it yourself. It’s one of the many life lessons that Tailynn learned, largely on her own.
“I had thought that rent was $300, so that was a major reality check,” she told CBS4.
CBS4 SPECIAL REPORTS: Aging Out
Tailynn moved into her one-bedroom apartment a year ago.
“This is, by far, the best place I’ve been,” she said.
She’s working and getting ready to go back to school. She wants to be a senator someday.
“With my lived experience… past experience, I want to be able to put that forth for other youth who have had similar experiences. And I want to be able to make that change and advocate for them, that they don’t always have a voice and I want to help them, create that voice for them,” Tailynn explained.
She wants to speak for kids in foster care. Tailynn spent most of her teen years in the system, hoping to be adopted, but preparing to live alone.
“I want people to really understand how detrimental it is,” she said.
Tailynn made a successful transition out of foster care, in part, because she had the help of Brenda Redding, a counselor with the Chafee Program in Adams County.
“That was always consistent and it took me a while to be able to trust that…to trust her… that she follows through on her word,” Tailynn said.
Redding has been a Chafee counselor for nearly 20 years. She shared with CBS4 that when she was 18, she aged out of the foster care system with little to no support.
“The day I graduated, by the end of that month, they closed me, with no planning. Nobody ever came to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you want to do in your future? Have you thought about this?’” Redding recalled.
Now she’s thrilled to change the experience of current foster care youth. She said Chafee is a model she believe in.
“I think it’s really effective because it allows the young person, without being on the spot, to get information that makes sense to them and use it to move forward,” Redding explained.READ MORE: Concessionaires Looking To Fill Thousands Of Open Positions At Denver International Airport
A standard case load for Redding is 25 teens, but she is currently handling 37 cases because the county opened the program up to 14 and 15 year olds. Chafee services can extend to the age of 21. It’s one way foster care youth can get support beyond the age of 18.
“Being able to extend out After-Care Services would do leaps and bounds, because it just takes time to get kids on their feet,” Redding said.
Those After-Care Services that made all the difference for Tailynn. She’s building her own family with her two cats and a mentor she can count on, but she hasn’t given up hope.
“It’s definitely on the forefront of my mind pretty much daily. I have always wanted to be adopted, that’s my number one thing,” she said.
The Chafee program is paid for with federal funding and administered on the county level. Colorado gets $2 million to serve the entire state. Everyone CBS4 talked to agreed that this program could do more for these teens if it had more money.
The following are helpful resources for people who are aging out of foster care and for the people who care for them.
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Public Awareness Campaign
Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline
Learn more about foster care and adoption in Colorado.
United Way Bridging the Gap
helping teens live on their own after foster care
Dream Makers Project
making dreams come true for former foster care youth
life skills program provided through human services dept. of each county
CBS4 Wednesday’s Child Section
The Adoption Exchange
promoting adoption for foster care youth
Adoption Exchange’s Birthday Wishes Program
Office of the Lt. Governor
SOAR! Youth & Adult Choir
soaryouthandadultchoir.org 720-218-1433 (Youth)
Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you’d like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.