Rising Up From Adversity: Connecting Transitional Age Youth to Life Skills

November 5, 2021

Rising Up From Adversity: Connecting Transitional Age Youth to Life Skills

A Catalyst Conversation with Otto Errett
Youth Advocate, Sycamores, and Transitional Aged Youth

Catalyst Center held a series of conversations with diverse providers and trauma survivors from varied sectors to discuss how to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), human-centered approaches to healing, and cross-sector collaboration to mitigate the toxic stress response and curb the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Otto is an example of a youth who has experienced adversity, developed resilience and grit, and is chasing his dreams to develop the life he wants to pursue. Otto’s story below lends personal insight from his lived experience as a Transition Aged Youth and Youth Advocate on desired changes to the foster care system, such as screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and then referring and connecting youth to opportunities that teach life skills to better prepare them to transition out of the system. Otto’s story and recommendations demonstrate what hope science, resiliency research, and public health approaches tell us about protective factors, such as learning in safe, stable, protective, and equitable environments that allow one to feel cared about and heard when things are hard, and establishing social connectedness and a sense of belonging in the community. Paired with life skills training, Otto describes the need and impact this recommendation could have on today’s foster youth in the following Catalyst Conversation.

Lessons learned from the foster care system

Q: I understand that you've been someone who's needed the foster care system and are also now helping to provide that care as a Youth Advocate. What are some of the things that you learned about the system that work, and some of the things that you think can be improved?

A: I definitely have a lot to say about what can be improved, but there's definitely benefits. It doesn't make up for being in a regular family situation, but it’s better than nothing, you know, [having] something there.

One thing I think needs to be improved is that the youth in the system, they're not taught any skills they could use for when they leave. I've been to like seven, eight different placements, and every time I left, I’d just be in the same or worse situation, like they just put you back in the same place you were before you leave. And you're just back out doing the same stuff. If they're taught just ways that they can take care of themselves, just like getting a job or whatever they like to do, just getting involved in whatever field they want to get in, I think that would help a lot too.

Like for me, the last place I was at, I already graduated high school. So I got enrolled in college while still in my placement. And staying in college— that helped me stay focused, but there's plenty of people I know, like in jail, some dead on the streets. And I see a lot of them, just a majority of them are in that situation.

Follow your passion to heal from trauma to lead happier lives

Q: It seems like you've been through a lot of adversity, and it's good to see you come out of that, but you know, like you said, a lot of people don't have that same opportunity or achieve that kind of positive outcome. What kind of advice can you give to others that can help them heal from their trauma to lead happier lives?

A: I think a big thing would be to find something that they enjoy doing, that they're passionate about, and just get involved in that community. Try to make like a living off of it. I'm pretty deep in the gardening community. I can get a job easily, anywhere, do gardening, and I enjoy it. You might not be able to get money off of it right away, and even now, I'm still not getting paid big bucks to go do it, but I feel like I can eventually. I'm in there, you know, I’ve just got to work for it now.

That's for anything, like whatever you enjoy doing. If you like art, go get involved with artists and figure out where they're doing, like mural projects or something, you know, stuff like that. And then talk to people there and they might be able to get you a job that's involved in that somehow.

On resilience…

Q: Would you like to share any words of wisdom, or anything else you want to share, with the people who may be reading this?

A: Just keep going. Sometimes it gets hard, but that's just how it is sometimes.

Catalyst deeply thanks Otto for his generous sharing of self, spirit, and mind.

We also want to acknowledge that supportive services exist to uplift those who have fallen under vulnerable circumstances, particularly when enabled by systemic, institutional, and historical forces of oppression and discrimination. The onus of responsibility need fall upon the community to step up with connected, cross-sector referrals. Networks of Care that include healthcare providers, social service providers, education, early childhood, justice, public health, and faith leaders must align to offer seamless referrals and supportive services to ensure holistic patient wellness and inclusive social care, as outlined in the California Office of the Surgeon General’s Sector-Specific Briefs: From Adversity to Resilience. It’s time to achieve transformative justice, shifting away from patient blame and individual responsibility, toward healing-centered Networks of Care.

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