From turbulence to triumph for foster youth
For more than half of Amanda Kissell-Bradley’s life, she’s struggled. Her mother passed away when she was 10 years old. She was placed in the foster care system at 12. She moved from an emergency foster home to a family foster home to a treatment facility to another family foster home to couch hopping with friends until she was 19. Now, she is turning her life around.
Through her own fortitude and with the help of services geared to foster youth leaving the system, Kissell-Bradley moved into her own apartment in Minneapolis, and received life coaching, transitional care, job counseling and transportation services through the YMCA and YouthLink.
“I have grown up a lot in the past couple of years,” she said. “I have been able to confront my past, which I was always ashamed of before. I used to shut down and push people away. I can now face situations and be okay with the outcomes. Now I am able to ask for help.”
Kissell-Bradley is employed by the YMCA’s Elements of Transitions program, funded by the Andrus Family Fund, helping youth understand, articulate and manage the transition from foster care to independent living. As a youth consultant, she advocates on behalf of foster youth to a variety of groups in Minnesota and Florida, including state legislators. “I don’t want kids to go through what I went through,” she said. “I learned really quickly how to take care of myself. Because of my foster care experiences, I am determined to change the system.”
Director of the YMCA’s Youth Development Christopher Aldrich said, “Youth in foster care face very specific barriers to educational success and self-sufficiency, including un- or underemployment, lack of job training, limited access to affordable housing, lack of connections to their communities and having to manage a personal budget for the first time.”
Aldrich and Kissell-Bradley, as well as other Elements of Transitions staff, presented at the department’s 2014 Tomorrow’s Leaders Today conference in Duluth, providing interactive training on making transitions and managing changes. “We are participating because we want to support, specifically, Minnesota youth to help them successfully transition out of foster care to independent living,” said Aldrich.
Under contract with the department’s Minnesota Child Welfare Training System, Kissell-Bradley also consults on Family Group Decision Making and Youth in Transition training.
She began school at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in fall 2014 for a career in social work.
As an advocate and future social worker, she encourages social workers to get a better feel for the homes they are placing children in, to give youth a 30-day trial period in a foster home before deciding it’s the right fit for them and to hold foster parents more accountable for their financial responsibilities in supporting foster youth.
“We get the label that we’re ‘bad kids’ but we’re not,” she said. “We’re doing our best. We’re human beings, people just like you but we’ve had a more difficult time.”