Assessing Life Skills

Assessing Life Skills

How does a kid know he’s ready to go out on his own?

It’s hard enough for the lucky ones, with functional families who raised them well, or who bail them out now and then as life lessons take them by surprise. So what about the kids somewhat shorter on resources? This is particularly an issue for kids aging out of the foster care system, and too often unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

Schools have enough students “graduating” without basic academic skills, let alone everything else. What about making sure they know how to open a bank account, handle monthly bills, look for an apartment, change a flat tire, or seek out further education? How about what to wear to a job interview, and what to say? How about preparing a resume, using the library or reading a recipe? How about gathering essential identification documents, such as birth certificate, social security card, high school diploma and immunization records, and keeping them safe?

Fortunately, there are groups who have thought this through a bit – at least for the kids in the system. One organization I recently came across is the Daniel Memorial Institute out of Florida, and I was impressed by what they had to offer ( ).



They do a lot, covering everything from outpatient services to foster, adoptive and residential care. But one particular product they’ve developed is a life skills assessment tool that does a thorough job of:

  1. Assessing life skills and deficits.
  2. Making a cohesive plan for filling the gaps.
  3. Keeping track of progress over time.


Institute staff have identified sixteen essential core competencies needed for independent living:

1) Money Management/Consumer Awareness: Everything from basic math to managing credit cards and loans.

2) Food Management: Making a shopping list, cooking a meal and the details in between.

3) Personal Appearance: What to wear to a job interview, and why it’s a good idea to take a shower once in a while.

4) Health: How to choose insurance, a doctor and a dentist.

5) Housekeeping: Dish washing, laundry and minor repairs.

6) Housing: How to seek out affordable housing, the whole concept of first, last and deposit, and why it’s smart to maintain courteous relations with your landlord.

7) Transportation: The costs of car ownership versus bicycles or mass transit.

8) Educational Planning: If they’d like further training or education, how to find it, and an awareness of the long lead time involved.

9) Job-Seeking: How to look for work, the importance of connections and self-presentation.

10) Job Maintenance: Showing up on time, dressing appropriately, proving yourself and establishing a reputation.

11) Emergency and Safety Skills: Basic first aid, who and when to call for help.

12) Knowledge of Community Resources: Where is the closest full sized grocery store, library, recreation center or employment office?

13) Interpersonal Skills: Appropriate, responsible and respectful communication. When to assert yourself, and how.

14) Legal Skills: How to respond to police, find a lawyer, or contest a bill.

15) Religion (optional): Different religious beliefs, cults and tolerance.

16) Leisure Activities: Self-entertainment that goes beyond alcohol, drugs and video games.

The assessment determine strengths and needs within these areas with the help of thorough long and short form questionnaires, some for self-use and some for use by interviewers, using hundreds of questions. Some examples are as follows:

4___ Understands (with assistance) how to create a monthly budget covering regular independent living expenses, can read monthly bank statements, compare balances and make adjustments such as deductions for fees.

a. What monthly expenses do you need to consider when creating a budget? Responses should include utilities, housing, food and transportation. Additionally, wheat is the approximate monthly cost of each budgeted item and what additional factors must be considered when creating a budget? (Seasonal billings, etc.)

b. The assessor may wish to have a sample budget sheet available so the youth may have the opportunity to show

budgeting skills.

5___ Understands the difference between gross wage and take-home pay.

a. What is “take-home pay”?

b. What is “gross pay”?



The data is fed into a program that then weaves together a skills development plan, with clear steps spelled out such as:

Question #10

GOAL: The youth will be able to correctly carry out banking transactions: opening accounts, writing checks, making deposits and withdrawals.

STRATEGY: a) Teaching materials are available through most bank websites and walk in locations . Libraries can also assist in teaching this skill. There are also many games to help facilitate this skill

b) Youth Care provider will assist the youth in opening accounts.

c) Youth Care provider will assist the youth in making banking transactions (writing checks, making deposits and withdrawals, and recording transactions).

RESPONSIBLE PERSON_________________________TIMELINE_____________________

It’s a remarkably well thought-out program, worth taking a look at. Check it out at




Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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