Living Advantage Inc., a 2011 USC Neighborhood Outreach (UNO) grant recipient, plans to make life easier for youth exiting the foster care system at Foshay Learning Center by implementing its Virtual Assistant Living and Educational (VALE) program at the school, which is part of the USC Family of Schools.
As part of a partnership between Living Advantage, Foshay, USC Department of Psychology faculty and USC’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), the program also will provide life-skills workshops and link youth to resources and services that will be vital once they leave foster care.
JEP, one of the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the country, offers USC students the opportunity to combine academic coursework with experiences in the community surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. It collaborated with Living Advantage to write the UNO grant and will recruit undergraduate service-learning students to serve as mentors and tutors for the Foshay foster youth.
“This partnership helps us to identify foster children at a critical point in their development and at a time when they are likely to benefit from the support of a slightly older mentor,” said Susan Harris, JEP associate director for research and academic affairs.
“In turn, USC students will learn about the challenges facing the child welfare system and will be able to make a difference in the lives of foster children.”
Foshay principal Yvonne Edwards said: “We are very grateful to have this new resource for our foster care children, especially with the loss of psychiatric social workers due to budget cuts. The stress and strain on society at this point is astronomical, and it’s extremely important that these children have someone to support them.”
Within two years of emancipation, half of Los Angeles County’s foster youth will be unemployed, one fifth will be homeless and a quarter will have been to prison, according to the Children’s Law Center.
Stanley Huey, associate professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said youth who exit the foster care system often experience significant social problems that complicate the transition to adulthood.
“Particularly troubling is their high incidence of involvement with the criminal justice system,” Huey said. “This level of involvement is linked to the high rate of unemployment among these youth.”
VALE will be implemented as part of Living Advantage’s Supporting Foster Youth in the Transition to Adulthood (SFYTA) program, which is designed to address the problems facing youth aging out of the foster care system by using technology, social networking and media to reduce the disconnect of services to foster care and homeless youth in Los Angeles County.
“Thanks to the collaboration with USC, the UNO grant will provide additional resources and staffing that will enable Living Advantage to begin providing these necessary services to foster children at Foshay Learning Center and other inner city schools,” said Eugenia Wilson, program director of Living Advantage.
With support from UNO, SFYTA will help to bring about positive changes in students’ attitudes – particularly with regard to self-esteem – and lead to other changes in behavior and academic outcomes, including improvements in school attendance and grades – increasing a student’s chance of success outside of the foster care system.
“Providing life-skill training, many times sorely lacking due to their living situation, will allow these children the opportunity to keep their academic lives on track for college or career,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, USC Family of Schools director. “Living Advantage’s invaluable reinforcement will provide this vulnerable population with the tools to eventually self-advocate once they age out.”
For more information about VALE or SFYTA, visit LivingAdvantageInc.org
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