Both programs are life skills-based meaning the development of a youth’s life skills comprises a large component of the work that is done during the stay.
Life skills are extremely important for this population and are skills that a youth might normally obtain when growing up in a stable family environment.
“I think the difference for our young people when they come to us, around their life skills, is that they haven’t been in stable family situations. They haven’t been part of families where they would come together around cooking; where each kid in the family would have a piece to contribute to the meal. Or [where] they would be part of going out to buy groceries and understanding where you should get groceries and how to get groceries cheaply. I think those are normal conversations that you have in a family where people talk about budgets and constraints, and ‘we can do this, or we can take this kind of holiday or we can’t take that kind of holiday. We can have hamburgers for dinner but we can’t have steak every night, it’s a special occasion kind of meal.’ And these kids haven’t been exposed to that. So, when they come to us, they haven’t got that normal sort of family experiences that help them or give them a bit of a leg up when they go on their own.” — Carol Howes, Director of Program Services, Covenant House Toronto
The Covenant House Vancouver Participant Guide defines life skills as “the skills and abilities that help you deal with challenges you face in life. They are skills needed to carry out the day-today operations of independent living and that help us live the lives we want to lead.”
Life skills may include, but are not limited to:
- Money management
- Job training
- Housing after ROP
- Education and training
- Health and well-being
- Daily living skills
- Personal and social development
- Legal rights and responsibilities
“Well, we have life skills workers who do weekly sessions with us on skills for life. Some kids might need to learn how to do laundry; some kids might need to learn how to cook. For me, it’s been a lot of budgeting and goal planning.” — “Patrick”, 21, Covenant House Vancouver current ROP participant
Life skills are designed to meet an individual youth’s needs and “help facilitate healthy, positive and productive growth.”
Early on in their stay each youth at ROP conducts an assessment to determine what life skills they already have and where they may need support. This can lead to the development of a life skills plan, which can be revised throughout a youth’s stay. Assessments are also done at departure to show the youth how many skills they have gained during their residency.
“I think it’s just more of setting a routine of doing these things so that way when you leave it’s not such a big shock that, ‘oh, I’m on my own and I have to do laundry today’.” — Vanessa, 28, past ROP participant, Covenant House Toronto
At times, life skills are offered as part of a class, while at others youth work one-on-one or in a small group with a worker to help develop their skills. For example, at Covenant House Toronto, the overnight staff offer a Wednesday morning breakfast life skills session – youth learn a skill and get a bonus meal.
Life skills are also broken down into practical, manageable chunks. Learning to manage money is an important skill. Youth need to open bank accounts, create a monthly budget, set up debt repayment plans etc. Jennifer Morrison, the Life Skills Worker at Covenant House Vancouver, says,
“Within the budgeting spectrum, we might have youth track their spending for a week and keep all of their receipts so that we can look at their spending habits. And then we would sit down with that youth and we would go over what their expenses are and what some of their spending habits are, and what some of their needs are versus their wants, and really start to make it make sense for them.”
CHT: Toronto uses its life skills program to provide rewards, such as overnight privileges and extended curfews. A minimum of two life skills are required each month.
A Life Skills assessment is completed at intake and reviews are undertaken at the six month point and upon departure. The life skills assessments lead to a life skills plan which is shared at the Case Management Team (CMT) meeting. The CMT follows the progress of the youth in their life skills plan. The reviews are similar to the assessment and look to map growth in specific life skills areas.
CHV: Vancouver uses a six-step program as a framework that guides youth’s progress in the program during the stay. Life skills are a key component of the step program.
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
Life skills are the foundation of the Rights of Passage program and are essential to providing support to young people leaving homelessness. Best practices in Housing First suggest that it is necessary to provide supports that are individualized and meet the needs of the person who has been experiencing homelessness. The life skills training programs offered by ROP form a core means of providing individualized supports.
Agencies looking to develop their own transitional housing program are advised to consider some of the key points about life skills from ROP at Covenant House:
- Life skills programs are offered in both class/workshop format and as one-on-one lessons to meet needs expressed by the youth.
- All staff at ROP are trained in, and provide, life skills. While there are life skills coordinators at both locations, all staff can do life skills sessions with the youth. This allows for the creation of mini-learning opportunities to respond to issues as they arise and for youth to bond and work with a variety of helping adults.
- Life skills are also considered quite broadly – for some youth it is specific skills such as cooking, financial management or job search – but for other youth, inter-personal skills and addressing social anxiety are considered to be just as important.
- Life skills are mandatory and are connected to rewards and privileges. At CHT this reward system is clear and immediate: completing life skills earns credits, which are equated with extended curfews. At CHV life skills are necessary to progress through the steps. Completion of the steps affects the percentage of the program fee returned to the youth at the end of their stay.