PIERRE, S.D. – The Department of Social Services’ Division of Child Protection Services will host the 17th Annual Independent Living Teen Conference held June 6-9, 2006, on the campus of South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings. Young people in attendance are in the custody of Child Protection Services or the Department of Corrections. Also involved in the conference are the Casey Family Programs and Lutheran Social Services. This four-day conference is designed to help young people improve their independent living skills as they transition from foster care into self-sufficiency.
“The idea of having the conference on a college campus is to encourage youth who have been in the foster care system to think about the option of post-secondary education,” said Director of Department of Social Services’ Child Protection Services Virgena Wieseler. “This type of atmosphere opens their eyes to the endless possibilities of what they can do next with their future. The conference itself gives youth in foster care the opportunity to interact with other teens in similar situations and to learn important life skills.”
Much is scheduled for the 80 teens, ages 16-18, who plan to attend the conference. Topics include:
On Thursday, June 8, an all day “Real Life Fair” takes place; which consists of networking with professional adults, learning about credit cards and taxes, and touring the SDSU campus. Bobby Smith and Darryl Knight are the two motivational speakers. Bobby Smith, a former prisoner, will speak about the mistakes of his past, what he has learned, and who he is today. Darryl Knight, Cultural Coordinator for Volunteers of America, Dakotas, will speak about Native American culture.
Independence can be a frightening and scary experience for any young person leaving home, especially for teens who have been in foster care most of their lives. However, independence for teens in foster care can also be exciting and adventurous as they approach adulthood and prepare for real life circumstances.
“We want teens in foster care to have ambitious aspirations,” stated Wieseler. “We want them to advocate for themselves; to have a future in becoming doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers, writers, graphic designers, and to have the opportunity to create their own strong family. These teens want to educate themselves, live in safe neighborhoods, and they have the potential to do so through the Independent Living Program.”
For more information on the South Dakota Independent Living Program or Conference, visit Independent Living or call (605) 773-3227. For more information on becoming a foster parent in South Dakota visit www.fosterourfuture.sd.gov.