Program helps foster kids in transition to adulthood

An area program is helping former foster children make the transition to adulthood.

There are 7,300 kids in foster care in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

As teens age out of the system when they turn 18, they often have a hard time adjusting to living on their own.

The Family & Children’s Center in La Crosse has a program called Independent Living Services, which helps teens who grew up in foster care.

The center pairs them with a specialist, who helps them begin adulthood on the right foot.

“I got put into foster care when I turned 4 years old,” former foster youth Ashley Foth said.

Foth, who turns 19 Monday, spent most of her childhood in foster care.

“It was hard,” she said.

As she got closer to aging out of the system, things didn’t get any easier.

“It was actually really scary to be honest,” Foth said. “I was having a hard time figuring out where I was going to go or my plans for my future.”

“These youths are young adults transitioning into adulthood, and they don’t have the means and the finances to purchase services for themselves,” said Vanessa Southworth, Family & Children’s Center director of program services.

That’s why the center offers its independent living program to foster youths free of cost, to help with big things, such as clothing, housing and food, and also things one might not think of.

“Anything from how to apply for a job, to how do you get a checking account, to how do I get my driver’s license — these youths are faced with trying to figure that out, in many ways on their own,” Southworth said.

“It’s helped me out in a lot of ways,” Foth said.

From helping with gas cards and meals, to graduation and a security deposit on an apartment, Foth said Independent Living Services has changed her life.

“I’ve never been able to be like, ‘Oh wow, this is my own, this is the key to my apartment,'” she said. “I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to go, or where I’m going to find my next meal, or what I’m going to do.”

The program has given her a solid footing into adulthood and a message for teens who follow in her footsteps.

“I would say just to have hope that there will be change,” Foth said. “You can put your dreams out there, and you can strive for those to happen.”

Southworth said the independent living program helped 95 young adults in its 15-county service area last year.

She said youths can get involved as early as age 17 1/2, and in most cases, they can use the program’s services until age 21.

The Family & Children’s Center is always on the lookout for more respite care and foster care parents in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

For more information, visit its website here.