Gema, 16, aspires to become a model and someday open a beauty salon.
Christian, also 16, plans to study at the University of Colorado to become an aerospace engineer.
Although the two teens have different dreams, they have a few things in common: They are both in foster care, and they both are involved with a new program called Fostering Futures.
“It means a lot just knowing that someone out there cares about us,” Gema said. “I always liked the idea of owning a salon, but I never had anybody talk to me about the logistics of it.”
That is, until Fostering Futures brought in a group of local business professionals — all of whom started from the bottom and rose to the top — to speak to the youths about their journeys.
“I was really into that class,” Gema said. “Having that experience helped a lot.”
Both Gema and Christian asked that their last names not be used because both are still in the foster care system.
Fostering Futures is a program of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Jefferson and Gilpin Counties that started about a year ago. Its goal is to offer teens in foster care from the ages of 14 to 16 the resources, opportunities and tools to increase resiliency and build independent living skills. Fostering Futures is offered regardless of whether they will ultimately emancipate from foster care, return home or find other permanent guardians.
“Some of the kids have this support and guidance through their (foster care) placement,” said Lee Ann Robbins, the lead volunteer case coordinator for Jeffco/Gilpin CASA. “Fostering Futures is for those who need a little more support from the outside.”
A program for older teens called Chafee helps them transition out of foster care to become successful adults, Robbins said, but the younger teens sometimes aren’t quite prepared for Chafee.
Chafee is named after U.S. Senator John H. Chafee, who advocated for neglected and abused children and sponsored the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999.
The program is especially important because without the skills and training provided through Chafee, many of these teens would end up homeless and uenemployed, said Antowan Pickett, the independent living program manager in the Child Welfare Division of the City and County of Denver’s human services department.
CASA volunteers and the Department of Children, Youth and Families — also known as social services — work together to determine which youth Fostering Futures would most benefit. However, the program will not turn away anyone who is recommended, regardless of circumstance — including if the youth has a juvenile criminal record, Robbins said.
Teens are less likely than younger children to be adopted into a family, Robbins said.
Still, “teens are vulnerable and need support and attention, but there is not always somebody there for them,” Robbins said. These teens, in particular, are “high risk because of the way they grew up due to lack of direction and support from the adults in their life.”
Fostering Futures is about a year in duration with curriculum-based sessions that meet every other week. The curriculum covers all sorts of life skills, including how to access community and governmental resources, financial literacy such as balancing a checkbook or applying for a loan to buy a car, CPR and first aid, and sexual health education. It can even include basic household tasks such as preparing meals or doing laundry.
The youths also receive support with earning a high school diploma or GED and pursuing higher education, along with obtaining job skills, training and employment.
“We talk to them,” Robbins said, “and find out what they want and need, then we see how we can make it happen.”
“The journey to adulthood is a critical transition for youth in foster care,” he said.
And it’s important that they maintain significant relationships with people who will continue to support and encourage them beyond the transition to independence, Pickett added.
Christian is only two classes away from completing Fostering Futures. Because of the program, he has made new friends with the other youths in the program, as well as met a number of community members who have provided different perspectives and stories about how they got to be where they are.
On April 3, Christian had a job interview for a sales position, and for the first time, he said, he was prepared. A Fostering Futures session taught him how to prepare his resume and to know what to ask during the interview.
“Fostering Futures helped me see that there are a lot of things I can do if I put my mind to it,” Christian said. “It’s an awesome program.”