What is ILYA all about?

ILYA (Independent Living for Young Adults) is a volunteer social action program that serves Delaware young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. In collaboration with the Delaware Division of Family Services and their contracting agencies, volunteers strive to provide these young adults with some material support, encouragement, and a sense that their community cares about them. At the present time, ILYA coordinates with social service agencies in both New Castle and Kent Counties to supplement state provided resources.

Our ILYA News page is an archive of Enews blurbs about ILYA over the years. Learn more at this link.

 

Why are teens in foster care?

How and Why…

Those unfamiliar with ILYA (Independent Living for Young Adults) since its beginning may ask why we focus on youth ‘aging out’ of foster care. Here are some basic foster care facts to help answer that question. In a subsequent issue, we’ll talk about the special issues faced by young adults as they exit the foster care system — and what ILYA does to help.

The term ‘foster care’ often brings to mind an image of a baby, toddler, or a sad-looking school-age child. Not everyone is aware that teenagers, too, must sometimes enter foster care. In fact, approximately 40% of Delaware youth in foster care are ages 13-18. This percentage is consistent with national figures.

Older youth come into foster care for many of the same reasons that younger children do: abuse or neglect in their homes. When such concerns are reported to the child protection officials at the Division of Family Services (DFS) by teachers, school nurses or staff, neighbors, relatives, caring friends or the youths themselves, placement in a foster home is often the only option.

Some of these concerns include:

Children of all ages can be subjected to undue physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse by their caregiver.
A caregiver may fail to protect their teenager from sexual abuse or exploitation, either because they do not believe the youth or because the caregiver is dependent on the alleged abuser.
Teens’ families can become serially homeless and there may be no safe place for a teen to live other than foster care.
The drug epidemic has robbed many children of their caregivers. When parents are addicted and dysfunctional, and there are no grandparents or other family members to step in, foster homes may be the only option.
Similarly, the incarceration of caregivers may leave offspring with no options other than foster care.
When an elderly grandparent or relative who has been the sole caregiver passes away, there may be no one else to offer care.
Sometimes, a child who enters foster care before the teenage years has suffered such significant trauma that lingering mental health issues prevent them from being adopted and they are still in foster care after they turn 13.
There are times when the parent/teen conflict becomes so severe that the parent refuses to let the youth remain in the home. When resources to address the disrupting issues are unsuccessful, foster care is, again, the only option.
As always, thank you to the First Unitarian Church community for all your generous support, especially your response to our recent New Apartment Kits donation drive.

What are the resources available in Delaware for foster youth as they age out of the system at 18?

Housing
While a few foster families continue to support youth who have lived in their homes, many teens are on their own when they turn 18. Those students going on to a post-secondary education at a college or university may have an opportunity to live in a college dorm. Recent legislation passed by the Delaware General Assembly and signed by the Governor makes such housing available at Delaware State University and the University of Delaware at no cost to the student who has spent a year or more in foster care after the age of 14 and who has been accepted at one of those institutions. State vouchers for subsidized housing may be available for others who can find landlords who will accept the vouchers. Programs such as the Lifelines program at West End Neighborhood House offer shared housing units dedicated for this population. Other young adults are left to return to their biological families, live with friends or, sadly, become homeless.

Life Skills
Independent Living caseworkers begin counseling kids in foster care at 16 to prepare them for the transition into adulthood at 18. The young adults can stay in the program until they are 23.
DFS contracts with People’s Place, West End Neighborhood House, Progressive Life, and Children’s Choice in New County; and Murphey School. DFS also contracts with People’s Place and Children’s Choice in Sussex County.

Continuing Education
*Resource: Link to HB123 DE HB123 | 2021-2022 | 151st General Assembly | LegiScan
* Delaware legislation covers tuition and year-round room and board (where offered) at Delaware State University, the University of Delaware, and Delaware Technical and Community College to youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition, federal grants, loans, and scholarships are available.

Community and Advocacy
HOPE, Delaware’s Youth Advisory Council, is made up of current and former foster care youth aged 14 to 23. HOPE, which stands for Helping Our Peers Evolve, provides a safe and respectful forum for youth to share ideas, opinions, concerns and develop leadership skills by planning and facilitating activities that enhance the foster care system, independent living program and community.