Preparing Foster Children For Adulthood - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/18/04 - Commerce, TX

Preparing Foster Children For Adulthood

When a child goes off to college, it can be bitter sweet for parents. Now, they can only hope they have prepared their teenager for life after graduation. But who prepares foster children? A program was implemented in 1986 in Texas that does just that, and an East Texas University is using it to bridge the gap into the real world.

Texas A & M University at Commerce holds a college weekend once a year for Texas foster children. It's part of a program called Preparation For Adult Living, or the PAL program. "Most foster kids don't have anybody to fall back on. I had no idea what college was about or how anything worked. I had no idea and this conference explained everything," says Donna, who's been in foster care since age three.

It teaches them skills like money management, how to find housing and transportation, how to make good decisions and set goals; skills usually taught by a child's biological parents. Donna says, "Kids will say, 'Well my dad didn't get me this.' It's like well, at least you have a dad to get you something. Foster kids have to work for what they want and be independent."

Foster children want people to know they have dreams, too. "They're the same. They're just like their kids except they had a bad childhood," says Shilda, who's been in a foster home since age ten. Crystal, who's been in foster care since she was 11, adds, "My biggest challenge is basically what all foster children face. You try to forget the past, move on, experience new things, prove everybody wrong that because you had a hard past and people judged you a certain way that you can make a difference and make something of yourself." And Cedric, who's been in care since he was five years old says, "Times get hard, but eventually it gets good."

This conference also teaches foster children some intangible skills. "Like self confidence, leadership, problem solving, just getting along with people," explains Janet Luft, the state PAL coordinator. She adds, "Coming to college is not about working alone. Coming to college is about experiencing, sharing, developing, and achieving."

"Now, I'm more confident about walking into a college. You know, taking a test and going to classes. I'm really looking forward to it," says Donna.

Despite a rocky start in life, these foster children are now looking to their future, thanks to this PAL conference. "Man, if we made it this far, we can make it all the way through," says Crystal to a group of foster children. Janet says, "The conference helped give them some incentive and motivation to keep pushing toward their dream, whatever their dream is."

Shilda says, "If I didn't have free tuition, I'd make a way to go to college cause it's not an option, it's a requirement for me." A requirement that will bring their dreams that much closer.

If you are a foster child and you'd like more information on the PAL program or attending college in Texas, there's an event coming up you may be interested in. Texas A & M University at Commerce is holding an open house on campus. It is February 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also call the Gift of Love hotline at 1-888-kids-275 to learn more.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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