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A Real-Life Test for Foster Care Teens

An office building in Orange will be transformed into a mall of reality today as 50 teen-agers in foster care get a taste of what life will be like when they set out on their own.

The unusual program will feature real-life bankers, grocers, furniture sales people and others who will staff mock businesses throughout the building. The teen-agers will spend the day visiting each office in an effort to understand what it takes to create households of their own.

Social workers who organized the program said that foster children sometimes have difficulty adjusting to adult life.

“They often don’t have parents to fall back on, so they need the survival skills,” said social worker Robert Munoz. “It’s been my experience that these (teen-agers) are more likely to fall into something, whether it’s welfare, some illegal activity or homelessness.”

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The teen-agers are forced to leave the foster care system on their 18th birthday or after they’ve graduated from high school, whichever comes last.

Today’s program, sponsored by Lions Club, Orangewood Children’s Foundation and Orange County Social Services Agency, is aimed at “providing some reality-based training in a nurturing environment,” Munoz said.

Each teen-ager will receive an “identity” for the day, including a job, income and savings. For the most part, they will be prescribed service-level jobs that pay the minimum wage.

Then they will go to the various “offices” to open checking accounts, buy groceries, rent apartments, find bus routes, get telephone service and buy furniture. Volunteers from various Orange County banks, apartment-location services and utilities will guide the teen-agers through the process.

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At the end of the day, the participants will be able to open real-life bank accounts and learn about receiving low-cost utility service. Instruction also will be offered in how to select compatible roommates and resolve conflicts peacefully.

During the program, the each teen-ager’s fictional circumstances will change. One participant, for example, might be told that he was fired from his job and must talk with a social services representative about finding new employment, Munoz said. Another participant might learn he fathered a child and is required to go to court.

“What’s unique about this is the volunteers,” Munoz said. “We’ve really created a community-based city.”


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