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“When I picked up “Tommy” for our therapy session last week, he was bursting to share his experience from Adulting 101 the previous evening. Tommy excitedly shared that he learned about different ways of communicating and how to deliver your message to others. “I hope the group never ends,” he said, “because it’s been great to learn so much grown-up stuff!” That this is coming from a 14-year-old young man speaks volumes!” – Heidi Kronenberg, LCSW 

Remember being a teenager? It’s an incredible time of life where the world is at your fingertips, you are brave, nothing can stand in your way, and you know EVERYTHING there is to possibly know…

… Just kidding!!! We all know that many teenagers feel invincible and wise beyond their years – especially teens who’ve experienced extraordinary situations like speaking to a judge directly in court and managing separation from family without a return date to look forward to. Teens in foster care frequently must rise to the occasion of maturity. Although they are extremely knowledgeable in many areas that most people will never have to face, these young people often find that moving to different homes and schools compromises the learning of foundational information that can lead to success later in life. 

Young adults who leave foster care enter a scary and intense world of projected outcomes.  Many of the children who leave foster care become extremely dependent on the services they’ve relied on and continue to become dependent on social services throughout their adulthood. Teens who’ve endured foster care also struggle with interpersonal relationships, trust, and communication. Foster care placement aside, being a teen is hard! Especially after two years impacted by COVID, socializing with peers who have similar experiences is more important than ever. 

In 2020 the Department of Health reports that within four years of aging out of Foster Care:

  • 70% will utilize government assistance.
  • 50% are projected to be unemployed.
  • 50% will experience homelessness.
  • ONLY 45.7% of youth in care will graduate from high school
  • Youth in care have a greater likelihood of having mental health problems, including ADHD, depression, anxiety, and behavioral or conduct problems.

A new initiative has been ignited in the KidsPeace Kingston New York office to offer Independent Living Skill workshops through weekly meetings for our teen population. The core of this programming is the support and engagement with the therapeutic foster care population in Ulster and the surrounding counties. We’ve named this program Adulting 101 to refer to first-year college courses and the foundational knowledge necessary to be successful in the future.

The program covers a variety of topics; money management, nutrition, home and personal safety, documentation keeping, bullying, self-care, housing and transportation, education planning, employment, study skills, communication, anger management, sexual development, permanency, online safety, and community resources. Each topic is explored from the angle of the experience of placement in the foster care system within a safe environment of shared experiences. We aim to provide a basis for all the independent living skills these young adults will need to develop. 

With this goal in mind, I evolved the concept of Adulting 101, and got the opportunity to bring it to reality through a grant from the KidsPeace SLT Vision Award program. The power of group therapy has always been moving and inspirational to me and I knew that it would be a helpful tool for KidsPeace clients. The grant meant we could provide meals to the teens every week, experiences in the community became more easily achievable, and the clients were empowered by having access to more resources and engagements. Along with the financial resources, the Senior Leadership Team also gave us the gift of collaboration, offering insights to some of the evidence-based programming other members of KidsPeace were using with their teen population. 

In my role as program leader, I encourage structure and prepare for the sessions through research and collection of clinical content.  But the Kingston office is a constantly expanding and growing team of dedicated individuals, and Adulting 101 would be nonexistent without my colleagues who make our program flourish.  Keep in mind that our curriculum is 10 months long and each week the group transitions from topic to topic, switching through facilitators and co-facilitators. Sessions are molded to make content approachable, fun and easy to digest. 

Each facilitator uses their own clinical flavor to relate to the team members, bringing their personality and life experience to the lessons. 

  • Mindfulness has a big part in centering the teens each week as they enter into their second classroom of the day. With Faathyma Clark’s background in mindfulness-based studies, she begins every group with a mindfulness moment practice. The teens have grown to enjoy this practice and have even began expressing how much they look forward to their meditation. Faathyma has also supported the group by organizing a large variety of guest speakers to join the group. Some of the guest speakers have included: a banker, a nutritionist, a sex trafficking expert, an entrepreneur, a firemen and firewoman. She’s also facilitated several of our field trips, such as trips to the grocery store, laundromat and yoga studio – offering the participants engaging educational and hands-on experiences in the community. 
  • Sometimes we have the chance to enhance our content with a relevant movie – and that’s where John Wolfe really shines.  A movie buff and naturally hilarious individual, John has run several movie nights in the program with selections that correlating to the content the clients are learning (think 1988’s Big with Tom Hanks, or The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith). John supports some of the members of the group who live farther away and have trouble with transportation getting to group consistently. (John is also an artist, and plans on organizing a group of teens to create a collaborative mural to serve as a lasting memory in our office for the members who have completed the first full year of Adulting 101.)
  • Every month the team takes a minute to assure that the content we are providing is sticking. We offer a clinical session each month hosted by one of our team’s clinicians, Heidi Kronenberg. These sessions can include games, prompted discussions, and journaling to increase awareness and to further develop newly learned skills. Heidi crafts her sessions with the teens to offer information while supporting the children’s emotional needs. She guides the group to see their shared connection through creative activities and pushes her clients to share how they have utilized these skills in their daily lives. Each year, teens in the program are evaluated on their skill development through the Casey Life Skills inventory. The group uses this guideline as a basis of where the members start, what goals they want to set for themselves, what content is most important to them, and a reevaluation at the end of the year to see their progress. Pre- and post-tests are offered throughout the curriculum to encourage individualistic “check-ins” and highlight gaps in knowledge and to empower clients to self-report their progress and goals. 

The Adulting 101 “class” has become very meaningful to those who run it as well as the clients who attend. We make sure that the content is developmentally appropriate and flexible for the group’s 13-21 age-range.  Beyond the content, the program offers clients an opportunity to be vulnerable and honest about their past, to be accepted by peers who are also attempting to fill gaps in their knowledge, and to forge a chance to break generational patterns and be successful in their future. In one short year, we have already seen the impact that this program can have in growing confidence and motivation. Our team hopes to build upon the strong foundation we have developed and is inspired for the second session in 2023. 

Ariel Helman

A licensed clinical social worker, Ariel Helman has worked for KidsPeace in the Kingston office since 2014. Ariel supports the outpatient Children and Family Treatment Support Services (CFTSS) program and the Article 29i foster care program. She loves the water, nature, seeing live music, cooking, and doing anything creative. Ariel is inspired by the incredibly resilient and brave teenagers she’s had the pleasure to work with. She is looking forward to another year of curriculum development and introducing other teens to new skills, and is grateful for the opportunity to introduce group work, one of the most powerful clinical tools, to the Kingston office.