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Overcoming the little things: TL gives support to focus on important matters of becoming an adult

May 1, 2012

TL Specialist Teresaann Fisher, left, with Amber

The little things can get the best of you.

That’s what happened with Amber, who admittedly stressed over little things so much, she was losing sight of larger duties.

It happens to teenagers as they approach adulthood, and for many, they have parents or mentors to guide them through those times, show them how to manage their time and money, keep their grades up and handle adult responsibilities.

Amber didn’t have that.

“I didn’t know what to do,” the 20-year-old said. “I was away from home and everyone. I was anxious because I didn’t know what to do.”

Amber was in a post-custody arrangement with foster parents who lived hours away. Her younger sister was at the home. She practically raised her younger sister on her own and was very protective of her. Then the foster parents began the adoption process for her sister. Detached from everything that was familiar, Amber’s grades began to suffer. Her college financial aid was threatened. Going into the summer months, she thought she’d lose her housing. Luckily, her case manager from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services contacted Youth Villages about Amber.

Amber is participating in Youth Villages’ transitional living clinical trial to measure the TL program’s effectiveness.

Conducted by MDRC through grants from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study will evaluate the difference between the TL program and usual services available in the community. Participants are interviewed periodically to track their progress.

The study involves about 1,300 young people randomly assigned to TL or other community resources during the next two years. TL services are available for young people ages 18-22 who are aging out of state custody and have little or no support.

TL specialists help young people secure housing; pursue educational and employment goals; access health and mental health services; learn such independent living skills as budgeting, cooking, cleaning and shopping; and create and maintain healthy relationships with family and others.

Teresaann Fisher, TL clinical supervisor, said Amber was motivated to succeed.

“She didn’t know where to start,” Fisher said. “We worked on building her resume and re-applying for health care.”

In addition, they found out about a work-study program and enrolled in classes that let her remain on campus during the summer. She got a job. She volunteered at a local recreation center.

“I volunteered more than 100 hours at the center,” Amber said. “I fell in love with the kids there and kept going back.”

Her grades turned around. Now a junior, Amber recently was selected to enter the social work program at the school. Through it all, she spoke regularly with Teresaann.

“We found a structure so I wouldn’t feel lost,” Amber said. “She helped me walk through things. I began to accomplish smaller goals, and it gave me confidence to move on to the larger ones.”

Amber has been a speaker at DCS functions to advocate for more support for teens in foster care. She plans to pursue a career in the social work and human development field.

“I’d like to advocate for youth in the system,” Amber said. “So often, kids are labeled when they enter state custody. They’re looked at as if they did something wrong. Many times, that’s not the case.”

Amber discharged from the TL program in January, but has made connections through school and the program that will help her continue her road to success.

“Amber is an extraordinary girl,” Teresaann said. “She’s a motivation for all of us at Youth Villages to help children, and she will be an asset to anyone she mentors in the future.”

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