TOPEKA - Leaving home and entering college, the workplace, the military or some other endeavor as a young adult can be an intimidating transition. But for youth who don’t have the support of a family, facing realities of being an adult can be especially difficult. This week, at Washburn University in Topeka, dozens of youth in foster care took part in a summer conference to learn how to become independent. The conference wrapped up this afternoon.
“This is an event I look forward to every year,” said Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. “It’s a great opportunity for our staff to connect with older youth, learn their stories, find out how we can help them and encourage them on their journey to independence.”
Secretary Gilmore spoke to approximately 100 older youth on Wednesday, July 26. She recognized the recent high school graduates, asking each about their goals for the future. The Secretary also offered an inspirational message about how, despite their difficult starts in life, they are of value and full of potential.
Every year, approximately 350 youth age out of the Kansas foster care system. They are offered a wide range of services through DCF’s Independent Living program. Most recently, many older youth attended computer camps throughout the state, where they each received a day of instruction and computers and printers to prepare them for school and employment.
Older youth who age out of foster care are also encouraged to participate in the Kansas Youth Advisory Council (KYAC), which is a partner to DCF to advise on issues of concern related to foster care. KYAC members include youth currently in care and those who have recently aged out of the system. The summer conference, this week, was largely designed by KYAC members, and is held each July at Washburn University. The conference is sponsored by DCF, and included this year, workshops and speakers, as well as games, crafts and activities.
“This conference is beneficial to those who come. We received hygiene bags, pillows and blankets and I know people who don’t have that,” said Shaileigh Piepmeier, a conference attendee who has aged out of foster care. “The conference also provides structure, not only for those in foster care, but people my age too. They can know that this is solid and that it’s going to be here and that they can look forward to it every summer.”
Some of the workshops that the youth could attend included instructions on filing incoming taxes, financial budgeting, interviewing for jobs, completing college and scholarship applications, self-defense, cooking and sewing.
To learn more about the services offered to youth from foster care, visit www.dcf.ks.gov.