As California began responding to the COVID-19 crisis with restrictions on gatherings and Shelter in Place/Safer at Home orders, the staff of our San Francisco and Solano County Independent Living Skills Programs (ILSP) recognized the challenges coming their way. It was immediately obvious that closing our offices and cancelling scheduled ILSP events was necessary to protect the health of our youth, staff, and the larger community. But it was also clear that the young people who rely on ILSP’s support and community connection would need us even more as they faced uncertainty and disruptions in their lives.

Program Managers Susan Kimball (Solano) and Marcie Johnson (San Francisco) immediately began working on solutions.

Keeping Connected

The first question Susan and Marcie faced was: how do you keep a “drop-in” service running when dropping in isn’t an option?

There was a simple answer. Focus on reaching out.

Phone and video calls with youth have replaced our traditional open drop-in hours as staff work to find out how our young people are coping and what they need. Of course, finding out what young people need is only the first step. From grocery assistance to mental health services, staff are working every day to provide for young people’s physical and emotional well-being. They are coordinating with youth and their social workers for delivery of needed goods, and sharing information on additional community resources available.

And while in-person workshops are out of the question for now, video conferencing is allowing staff to pivot to online workshops accessible to participants in both counties. The new approach launched last week with a session addressing an important topic for the current situation: Practicing self-care to reduce stress and anxiety. These online workshops will continue weekly until we are able to re-open our offices and return to in-person events safely.

What is ILSP

Operating at the county level, and managed by First Place for Youth in San Francisco and Solano counties, the Independent Living Skills Program provides young people in foster care—ages 16 to 21—with a welcoming, understanding community, where they can access support services and resources as they prepare for independence. Through workshops, academic and employment supports, social events, and open drop-in hours, more than 600 young people found much needed connection and resources through our ILSP offices last year.

Continuing support in school

Schools moving to online classes has created a host of new challenges for all students, but these are amplified for many foster youth who were already struggling to succeed due to past disruptions.

Academic support is a core component of ILSP services, and staff are always committed to helping young people succeed in school no matter their circumstances. Our First Foundation program provides intensive academic and personal counseling to help foster youth who are academically behind and in danger of dropping out of school reach high school graduation. The young people of First Foundation have shown such determination and perseverance in putting themselves back on a path to success, and we will not allow the current crisis to derail their progress.

While our offices remain closed, staff are continuing the important work of supporting educational achievement, using alternative channels like online study sessions to answer questions and provide encouragement. We know that finishing out this unusual school year successfully may be difficult for our young people, but we are with them every step of the way.

Help San Francisco and Solano County ILSP continue to meet the needs of young people during the continuing COVID-19 response. Donate to the First Place for Youth Emergency Fund.