Hey there fellow Californians! Want to know a few resources that are available to you as a foster youth? I hope the answer to that is yes! If the answer was not a yes, I still encourage you to keep reading, I promise it’ll still be a tad bit interesting. But then again, maybe I’m a little biased. Anyways, Happy reading!
So even though we all know that foster care is a nationwide thing, the resources can differ by each state. In my experience, California has quite a bit of different resources that are also sometimes broken up by counties because it is such a large state. Some of the resources that are in San Diego, which is where I live now are not the same resources that were available to me when I lived in Bakersfield.
Since I participated in the ILP program while I was living in Bakersfield, I will provide you all with the ILP supervisor for Kern County which is Kelley Fullerton. ILP is definitely something to take advantage of because a lot of times, living in foster homes you don’t always get to learn all of the life skills that you need when you age out. This is not always necessarily the fault of foster parents or anyone in particular; often times foster youth just get bounced around it makes it easy to assume that there those “life skills” have already been taught to us.
Another thing that not only Kern County has, but all of California is an Ombudsman Office. It is located in Sacramento. In 2000 they established a toll free hotline which is (1-877-846-1602). They also have an e-mail which is: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a great place to go with complaints and concerns because the people who work there put together a list and run it by legislators each year. Although it may seem like youth don’t get a voice, by simply calling them you can definitely play a part in not only helping yourself but potentially helping other foster youth out as well.
A third resource that I would like to talk about is CHAFEE. This is something that is all around the U.S. but it takes form in many different ways. Which may I add, I didn’t realize this until I met foster youth from different states. Specifically for California, youth in foster care are eligible for a grant of up to $5,000 each year towards their cost of school until their 23rd birthday. I will note though, that you must have been in foster care after your 16th birthday. If this is not the case, no worries, there are definitely other opportunities for foster youth to receive money for school. To be completely honest, I am amazed at how many different organizations are willing to help foster youth, you just have to look for it. What I always like to say (I know, I know, it’s cliche but) “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” So don’t let anything stop you from applying, I’ve heard way too many times that there are a lot of scholarships ins which only one or two people apply, so what does that sound like? That sounds like you can have a 50/50 chance at getting that scholarship!
A little bit of further advice when it comes to scholarships is to talk to your high school or community college counselors and figure out what they know. Trust me, even if they don’t know, they can definitely help in leading you in the right direction. I mean, I don’t want to lecture you all, but seriously, there is so much out there! Anyways, I also wanted to note that when applying to scholarships, there may be (more likely than not) an essay portion. What do you write about? Honestly, many prompts want you to write about your struggles. But it doesn’t stop there, they also want to know what you did to overcome those struggles. Yes, I know being in foster care can be tough but be prepared to write about what you have learned from your experiences. Make sure you share with them what you are going to do with what you have learned in order to become successful. That is what they are looking for, or so I’ve been told.
Another thing that California has, which to say the least I am very thankful of, is that each California State University is required to have a program that assists youth who are coming out of the system and into a university. Each program does things a little bit differently. Since I am most familiar with the program at SDSU, I will speak about that one. Each university’s name may differ, but the one that I am in is called the Guardian Scholars Program. They provide both financial and emotional assistance, which I have definitely been able to take advantage of. Because of programs like this, I feel like my transition was successful. I was also able to be around other youth who had exited the system as well. I know it may be difficult to want to be around other foster youth or associated with programs that focus on foster youth, but once you get past that, you may grow to see that, that is the very thing you might need.
As much as I would like to say that I would have gone to college and been fine without these different resources, I am not sure that would be completely honest. When I first got into some of these programs such as Guardian Scholars, it gave me anxiety to be around other foster youth and I wanted out faster than you can say “bye!” It took for me to take a step back to realize that I would greatly benefit from as much support as I could get.
I look back now at how hard headed I was about staying in those so called “foster care programs” and I feel a little silly at myself because believe me when I tell you, things are a lot easier and smoother if you allow others to help you. I know we probably hear this all the time, I know I did. But I think it’s important to realize how much of a difference, even just having other people to relate to, can make. So I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, look for the help you need. But don’t stop there, don’t run the first chance you get, accept the helping hand.